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Facebook Dating makes its debut

Privacy concerns won’t go away, but Facebook is doing everything it can to get ahead of any potential issues with the new app

Facebook has officially entered the dating world, albeit only in Colombia for the time being.With one out of every three people dating online and a $1....

Twitter cracking down on spam bots with new rules

The company says it will be limiting the use of automation

Twitter says it’s taking aim at spam bots and automated accounts by making it harder for people to simultaneously tweet the same message to multiple accounts by using third-party apps.

The company has made changes to Twitter and TweetDeck to limit coordinated posts across several accounts. Particularly aggressive retweeting will also be considered spam.

In a blog post published Wednesday, Twitter’s trust and safety manager Yoel Roth explained that the changes are being implemented to “stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter.”

With the new rules, the company aims to prevent users from creating or controlling accounts in an organized fashion to achieve a particular goal -- for example, by making a specific point of view appear to have more support than it actually does.

Public service-related tweets still okay

While the site is cracking down on spam bots, it will still allow content to be posted to accounts using an authorized app to broadcast public service-related information such as weather alerts, RSS feed updates, and more.

“As a sole exception to this rule, applications that broadcast or share weather, emergency, or other public service announcements of broad community interest (for example, earthquake or tsunami alerts) are permitted to post this content across multiple accounts who have authorized an app,” Roth wrote.

The new rules will go into effect starting March 23. Any developers who don’t update their apps in time risk having their applications and/or accounts suspended.

Twitter says it’s taking aim at spam bots and automated accounts by making it harder for people to simultaneously tweet the same message to multiple accoun...

Facebook funded many of the experts who stood behind Messenger Kids

The company donated money to at least 7 members on its advisory board

Most of the experts who vetted Messenger Kids -- Facebook’s messaging platform geared specifically toward children under 13 -- received funding from the social media giant.

When the app was first launched back in December, Facebook emphasized that it had worked closely with leading experts in the field of child development in order to protect its youngest users.

However, many of the organizations and experts that vouched for the app’s safety received funding from Facebook, WIRED reports.

"At least seven members of Facebook's 13-person advisory board have some kind of financial tie to the company," the report said.

Reviewers were given previous donations

At the time of the app’s release, the company asserted that Messenger Kids would be filling “a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.”

Facebook said the app was created with the help of input from more than a dozen experts, associations like National PTA and Blue Star Families, and conversations with thousands of parents.

But most of the experts who helped “co-develop” the controversial app have previously received funding from Facebook, sparking even more concern over whether the app is as safe for kids as Facebook claims.

The National PTA said Facebook donated money for the first time in 2017, which it used to fund a survey and roundtables. Facebook also donated “small amounts” to Blue Star Families, as well as several other organizations with representatives on the board that favorably evaluated the app.

Advocates call for app to shut down

Since it was first rolled out in December 2017, the app has faced widespread criticism from many parents and child advocates. In an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, nearly 100 child health experts called for the app to be shut down.

"We are writing to urge you to discontinue Messenger Kids, Facebook's first social media app designed specifically for children under the age of 13," the letter from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood read.

Encouraging children as young as six to join social media is likely to create problems, not fill a need, the experts argued.

In addition to the developmental issues that have been linked to screen time and social media use by young children, the experts argue that those under the age of 13 “aren’t old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.”

The app is still available and has been rolled out to even more users. Starting today, Android users can download Messenger Kids.

Most of the experts who vetted Messenger Kids -- Facebook’s messaging platform geared specifically toward children under 13 -- received funding from the so...

Unilever puts pressure on tech giants to clean up their content

The company says it doesn’t want to advertise on online platforms filled with ‘toxic’ content

Unilever has threatened to pull ads from Facebook, Google, and other online platforms if the tech giants don’t do a better job of controlling the spread of what the company calls “toxic” online content.

In a speech delivered Monday at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in California, Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever, called on technology companies to step up their efforts to improve transparency and consumer trust.

"We need to redefine what is responsible business in the digital age because for all of the good the tech companies are doing, there's some unintended consequences that now need addressing," Weed said.

Some of those unintended consequences include facilitating the spread of fake news and illegal content, he noted.

Rebuilding trust

Unilever -- which makes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap, and more than 1,000 other brands worldwide -- is one of the biggest online advertisers, and digital advertising on platforms like Facebook and Google accounts for a significant portion of its ad spend.

But the company says it does not want to advertise on platforms that are rife with abusive, divisive, and unethical material. Unilever says consumer trust in social media platforms is waning due to the perceived lack of effort on the part of tech giants to keep out this “toxic” content.

In his speech, Weed argues that some online platforms are “sometimes little better than a swamp,” though he stopped short of mentioning any specific companies.

“2018 is either the year of tech-lash, where the world turns on the tech giants — and we have seen some of this already— or the year of trust. The year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society,” he said.

Improving the industry

The company says it has already offered solutions to tech companies and wants to work with them to improve the industry.

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” Weed said. “We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

In a statement on Monday, one Facebook spokeswoman said that the platform “fully supports Unilever’s commitments and [we] are working closely with them.”

"Keith has always pushed us and the industry to be better," Google said in its own statement. "There is nothing we take more seriously than the trust and safety of our users, customers and partners, and we will continue to work to earn that trust every day."

Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook is flawed and vowed to make “fixing Facebook” his personal goal for 2018. Several changes -- including showing users more local news and less commercial content on their News Feeds -- have already been rolled out to users.

Google has announced that a new task force will be dedicated to policing extremist content on YouTube in 2018.

Unilever has threatened to pull ads from Facebook, Google, and other online platforms if the tech giants don’t do a better job of controlling the spread of...

Facebook wants to show users more local news

A new update will highlight more news from local sources

Facebook announced Monday that it’s going to put more local news in users’ news feeds as part of an ongoing campaign to make users “happier.”

“Starting today, we’re going to show more stories from news sources in your local town or city,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and cofounder, wrote in a post announcing the change. “If you follow a local publisher or if someone shares a local story, it may show up higher in News Feed.”

The push to promote local news in users’ feeds marks the third major change to the site’s News Feed this month.

‘Fixing’ Facebook

Facebook has drawn criticism in the past year over allegations that it enabled fake news, foreign election meddling, and filter bubbles. Zuckerberg says he’s made “fixing” the site’s problems his personal goal for 2018.

Earlier this month, the company announced that it would de-emphasize commercial content in order to show more content from friends. Facebook also says it is trying to prioritize news from sources that users deem “trustworthy.”

In order to promote local content, Facebook said in a blog post that it will "identify local publishers as those whose links are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area. If a story is from a publisher in your area, and you either follow the publisher's Page or your friend shares a story from that outlet, it might show up higher in News Feed.”

The company added that “large local publishers will benefit, as well as publishers that focus on niche topics like local sports, arts, and human-interest stories.”

“That said, small news outlets may benefit from this change more than other outlets because they tend to have a concentrated readership in one location,” the post continued.

Facebook has also been testing a new section that connects people to local news and events in their community, called Today In (currently available in six U.S. cities).

Last week, Google also begun testing a platform for hyperlocal news.

Facebook announced Monday that it’s going to put more local news in users’ news feeds as part of an ongoing campaign to make users “happier.”“Starting...

Health experts urge Facebook to discontinue ‘Messenger Kids’

Children under 13 aren’t ready for social media accounts, experts say

A group of 100 child development experts and advocates has published an open letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the site’s new messaging app aimed at kids.

Back in December, Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app, touting it as a safe way for kids under 13 to chat with family members and parent-approved friends.

Since parents are given control of their child’s account, Facebook asserted that Messenger Kids would be filling a “need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.”  

But health experts argue that younger kids aren’t ready to have their own social media accounts and say the app should be pulled.

Targeting younger children

Led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group of experts and advocates includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators, parenting organizations, and the children’s music singer Raffi Cavoukian.

"Messenger Kids is not responding to a need - it is creating one," the letter states. "It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts," the letter reads. Another passage criticized Facebook for "targeting younger children with a new product."

The group says children under 13 aren’t old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.

“They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos,” the letter continued.

‘Gateway drug’

When the app was launched, Facebook said there were “no ads” or paid content downloads inside the app. It also assured parents that their “child’s information isn’t used for ads.”

In defense of the app, Facebook released a statement emphasizing that parents are “always in control” of their child’s activity.

"We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families," said Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, in a statement to the Washington Post.

However, the company has been accused of using Messenger Kids as a ‘gateway drug’ to get kids hooked on social media at a younger age, making them more likely to use their service when they become teenagers and can be subjected to ad-targeting.  

Health effects of technology

The group says it’s “particularly irresponsible” of Facebook to launch an app geared towards preschoolers when there is growing concern about how social media use affects children’s development.

“Already, adolescents report difficulty moderating their own social media use,” they write. “Messenger Kids will exacerbate this problem, as the anticipation of friends’ responses will be a powerful incentive for children to check – and stay on – a phone or tablet.

“[T]he app’s overall impact on families and society is likely to be negative, normalizing social media use among young children and creating peer pressure for kids to sign up for their first account,” they said.

“Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough,” they added. “We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the wellbeing of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids.”

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg vowed to try to make users “happier” in 2018 by making certain changes to the site. Shutting down Messenger Kids would be a highly positive move, the group of experts contend.

“Doing better is leaving younger children alone and allowing them to develop without the pressures that come with social media use,” they said.

A group of 100 child development experts and advocates has published an open letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the site’s new messagi...

Snapchat launches feature that lets users share stories outside the app

By enabling story-sharing, the company hopes to encourage others to use the app

Snapchat has rolled out a new feature that lets users share Snapchat Stories with people who aren’t on the platform.

The addition of this new feature, part of a major redesign announced late last year, makes it possible for anyone -- not just those who use the app -- to see public stories on Snapchat’s redesigned Discover tab.

To share content, users tap and hold tiles in Discover. From there, Snapchatters can tap “share story” and decide to send the content via text message, email, Twitter, or copy the link.

For now, three different types of stories -- Official Stories, Our Stories, and Search Stories -- are currently available to share outside the platform. Our Stories and Search Stories will be viewable outside the app for 30 days, while Official Stories will disappear after 24 hours.

Sharing content

Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., says the new feature was introduced partly in the hope of showing non-Snapchat users what the app can do. Each link includes a "Download Snapchat" button that encourages those who view the story and aren't on the app to try it out for themselves.

The company’s third quarter results revealed that its global daily active users was lower than what analysts had predicted (178 million). Attracting more eyes to the content within the app is one way to grow its user base.

The new feature will be available immediately to any iOS and Android Snapchat user running the redesigned Snapchat app.

Snapchat has rolled out a new feature that lets users share Snapchat Stories with people who aren’t on the platform.The addition of this new feature, p...

Twitter to notify users exposed to alleged Russian propaganda

The company will contact nearly 700,000 users who followed, retweeted, or liked content from suspicious accounts

Twitter announced on Friday that it will be sending notices to nearly 678,000 of its users who either followed, retweeted, or liked content from an alleged Russian propaganda service in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

In a company blog post, Twitter said that notifying affected users is part of its continuing effort to update both congressional committees and the public about possible Russian interference that occurred on its platform.

“Since we presented our findings to Congress last fall, we have updated our analysis and continue to look for patterns and signals in data,” the company said. “Today, we are sharing an update on several aspects of that ongoing work, as well as steps we are taking to continue to make progress against potential manipulation of our platform.”

Propaganda efforts

In its update, Twitter says that it has identified and suspended over 1,000 additional accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA) – a Russian government-linked organization that has been accused of interfering in the 2016 election through propaganda efforts.

In all, Twitter says it found over 13,000 IRA-linked user accounts and 50,000 automated accounts that posted election-related content during the election period. While those numbers only represented a fraction of Twitter’s total users during the time period, officials admit that any manipulation is unacceptable.

“Any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue,” the company said.

Improving for future elections

Since the accounts have already been taken down, consumers won’t necessarily be able to see which piece of content they engaged with if contacted by Twitter. However, the company says that it is making “significant improvements” to detect and prevent this type of activity on its platform.

For future elections, the company says it will be verifying major candidates, offices, and national party accounts to protect against impersonation. It has also pledged to monitor trends and spikes around content related to 2018 elections to root out potential manipulation.

“Even as we continue to learn from the events of the 2016 U.S. election, we are taking steps every day to improve the security of our platform and stay one step ahead of those who would abuse it,” the company said.

Twitter announced on Friday that it will be sending notices to nearly 678,000 of its users who either followed, retweeted, or liked content from an alleged...

Instagram launches new ‘last active’ feature

Here’s how to disable the new feature if you’d rather not have your activity status known

On Thursday, Instagram rolled out a new default feature that allows people you follow or have direct messaged to see when you last used the service.

In Direct Messages, under a person's username, you can now see when they were last active with a message like "Active Now" or "Active 2h ago."

Your online status is visible to people you follow or have previously shared a private message with; general followers can’t see when you were last on Instagram.

Activity status sharing is already found on other apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. However, if you’d rather not have your online status available on Instagram, it can be disabled via the settings menu.

Disabling the feature

To turn off the feature that allows people you’ve previously interacted with to see when you were last online, go into “Edit Profile,” find “Show Activity Status,” and toggle off the new feature.

If you disable the feature, you won’t be able to see the activity status of others either.

On Thursday, Instagram rolled out a new default feature that allows people you follow or have direct messaged to see when you last used the service.In...

Facebook to de-emphasize commercial content in news feeds

Social media giant wants users to be happier

To a large extent, Facebook controls what users see on their news feed, and the social media company says users will soon see more posts relating to family and friends and fewer posts by commercial interests.

Currently, users might see news articles and videos posted by publishers, with content relating to the users' interests. In the weeks ahead, Facebook will begin emphasizing content that comes from users' family and friends.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the change is designed to make users feel “happier” and more connected to the people with whom they have relationships.

In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg writes that feedback from users indicates that posts from businesses, brands, and media are crowding out more personal content.

"Balance has shifted"

“It's easy to understand how we got here,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other.”

For businesses, Facebook has become a major marketing platform and many are using it as a low-cost way to reach tens of millions of potential customers. Publishers whose posts show up in news feeds register significant increases in internet traffic, which can be monetized.

Zuckerberg says Facebook is just trying to make its users happier, pointing to research that he says shows connecting with friends and family leads to good results.

“We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health,” he wrote. “On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos -- even if they're entertaining or informative -- may not be as good.”

Unhappy users

A check of ConsumerAffairs reviews shows some Facebook users have issues that go beyond simply reading articles or watching videos. The social media site sometimes turns into a place where users hurl insults at one another over political and social issues.

“In the past, I have lodged complaints about inappropriate posts and have had people attack me and was told repeatedly that the content doesn't violate their policies. However, when I defended myself, I was immediately put in jail, supposedly for 24 hours, which has now stretched for 48+ hours,” Melissa, of Culleoka, Tenn., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

“I am sick and tired of seeing neo-nazi, evangelical, hate-filled posts that are deemed ‘acceptable,’ but me defending myself is offensive.”

In fact, recent reviews of Facebook reveal a significant number of users who either feel they are being harassed by others on the site or have been punished by Facebook for something they posted.

Zuckerberg's announcement of a policy change may or may not make these users happier, but he says he hopes the company's changes will make time spent on the site more valuable for most users.

“And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too,” he concluded.

To a large extent, Facebook controls what users see on their news feed, and the social media company says users will soon see more posts relating to family...

More consumers prepare for 2018 with New Year's resolutions

One expert reveals tips for how to achieve your goals

A recent poll revealed that more than a quarter of Americans (29 percent) plan to make New Year’s resolutions for the year ahead -- a slight increase from 2016.

Researchers from Saint Leo University found that traditional New Year’s resolutions held steady, with top responses being: lose weight (55 percent), save more money (56 percent), travel more (29 percent); and spend more time with family (26 percent).

A small number of respondents (4.4 percent) said they want to spend less time with family in 2018 -- up from last year’s response of 0.4 percent. Vacationing more and finding a new job also ranked in the top five resolutions with 29 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

“On the whole, the top resolutions found on the poll all reflect a desire toward self/life improvement with saving money and more time with family also being big winners,” Dr. Christopher Wolfe, associate professor of psychology at Saint Leo University, told ConsumerAffairs.

Age differences

The poll also revealed a few demographic differences when it came to New Year’s resolutions. Millennials were more likely to make resolutions that would help them improve their life and health in the coming year compared to Gen Xers.

Almost half of millennial respondents (49 percent) plan to make resolutions, while only 31 percent of those in the 36 to 55 age group will do so; just 16 percent of those in the 56+ age demographic said they will make New Year’s resolutions.

Positive change

While younger consumers may be more likely than their older counterparts to make resolutions, the reason for creating New Year’s resolutions tends to be the same across all age groups.

People make resolutions in an effort to create positive change in their life, Wolfe says. Resolutions “can act as a sign post, a benchmark, or even a line in the sand; from a static point, this change can begin,” he said.

“We are often so wrapped up in our day-to-day routine that the thought of change can be daunting,” he added. “But as one year gives way to the next, we take the opportunity to set out a goal and try to embrace a desired change in ourselves.”

Tips for keeping resolutions

To improve your likelihood of sticking to resolutions, it’s important to try to see them as a beginning point -- “not an ultimatum or a race,” says Wolfe.

Setting small goals and embracing the fact that you may occasionally fail at keeping them can make sticking to resolutions seem less daunting.

“As our bad habits took time to set in, these new patterns of change will also take time to take hold and for real results be seen,” Wolfe said. Embracing this mindset towards resolutions can help ensure you don’t abandon your goals at the first sign of a setback.

Wolfe recommends focusing on small victories that support your resolution to help you stay motivated. It can also be helpful to take note of obstacles that you experience along the way..

“Look for triggers that may distract you from keeping your resolution and consider writing them down. Keep a small notebook of these triggers and add to it as you experience them,” he said. “The acts of writing them down and carrying the reminder may help to curb these triggers over time.”

A recent poll revealed that more than a quarter of Americans (29 percent) plan to make New Year’s resolutions for the year ahead -- a slight increase from...

Feminism gains new ground with Word of the Year selection

From marches to media, Merriam-Webster recognizes a renewed focus on women

Merriam-Webster just announced “feminism” as its 2017 Word of the Year. 

The dictionary publisher has been issuing a list of 10 words that are important or highly-searched during the year since 2003. Other words on this year’s list include complicit, recuse and empathy. 

What is feminism? 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism as, “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” but it hasn’t always had that meaning. 

When the word first showed up in the dictionary in 1841, “feminism” described “the qualities of females.” Feminism was first used in the modern sense in 1895, during the first wave of the political movement the word now describes. 

Since then, the feminist movement has advocated for women’s rights, such as the right to vote and participate fully in government. The movement also works to advance women’s place in society and to eliminate gender stereotypes that affect women’s careers, legal recourse, health care and more.

Why this year? 

If this word has been used for well over 100 years, what made it so important in 2017? 

Many people “think of feminism as a dated movement, because women have achieved so many of our goals and have more freedoms than our predecessors,” says Dr. Jennifer Fuller, Assistant Lecturer of English at Idaho State University at Idaho Falls. 

But this year, many people have come to terms with the fact that the movement is contemporary and ongoing, instead of something relegated to the past. Internet searches for the word spiked at times when its meaning was in question. 

As these fights happened on the public stage and were increasingly shared and re-shared on social media, internet searches for the word increased.  

2017 events involving feminism

Google data shows a spike in searches for feminism during and after the Women’s March, a human rights march which took place on January 21, 2017. While some saw it as a strong showing of female political power and solidarity, others disagreed with its core assertion that women are still treated unequally.

The term had another spike in February when Kellyanne Conway, a top aide in Donald Trump’s administration, said she did not identify as a feminist and identified feminism as being “anti-male.” 

However, as HuffPost contributor Mycah Hazel observed, Conway speaks and writes about women's issues (such as unequal pay), showing that she is a proponent of many ideals considered to be feminist.

Searches spiked around the releases of Hulu’s series “The Handmaid’s Tale” in April, and the film “Wonder Woman” in June. Both stories highlight questions about female agency within society, and women’s roles in the modern world. 

In June alone, Google shows nearly 20 million searches for “is Wonder Woman feminist.” 

More recently, spikes occurred around breaking stories of sexual assault and harassment by powerful male figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Al Franken. TIME magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year was the collective group of “the silence breakers”; women who broke their silence as victims of sexual harassment, some of whom used the social media hashtag #MeToo. 

Why does this matter? 

Merriam-Webster’s choice of feminism as the 2017 Word of the Year reminds us that words–and their expanding definitions in the context of societal change–have a great deal of power. 

Why is it important to 20 million people if Wonder Woman is a feminist? 

“Feminism isn't just in the big fights,” Fuller says. “It’s also in the daily things that we continue to say to girls and women. As #MeToo showed, women are still facing issues on a daily basis. Now as well as in the past, feminism is our way of calling back that we can and must continue to point out problems as we see them."

Merriam-Webster just announced “feminism” as its 2017 Word of the Year. The dictionary publisher has been issuing a list of 10 words that are important...

Survey finds Americans are obsessed with sending GIFs

The short, looping videos have risen to prominence in modern pop culture

When creator Steve Wilhite first created his short, looping video format (commonly known as a “GIF”) back in 1987, there was some doubt that the medium would be able to keep up with other emerging formats.

But now, 30 years later, consumers have become obsessed with sending the bite-sized clips. A recent survey of 1,000 people by Gfycat – the world’s largest user-generated GIF platform – shows that nearly a quarter of Americans (24 percent) send GIFs every couple of hours.

However, GIFs are much more popular than even that number indicates. The study finds that a whopping 85 percent of Americans admit to sending GIFs occasionally, and perceptions of GIF users are positive overall.

Over half (55 percent) of Americans say that a person is funnier if they send GIFs, while 21 percent say that a person is “cool” if they use the format. Another 20 percent say that a GIF sender is more likely to be in touch with pop culture, and 18 percent perceive them as being more tech-savvy.

The rise of the GIF

It’s possible that GIFs have risen in popularity in tandem with the emergence of millennials as the largest living generation. In an age dominated by constructs like social media, the GIF can be used in a variety of ways to relate how users are feeling.

The survey shows that the favorite type of GIF Americans like to send is the Reaction GIF. Has your boss made you stay late and you want to express your frustration? A GIF of Michael Scott from the popular TV show “The Office” might relate just how you feel about the situation.

The survey also finds that GIFs are helping consumers connect with other people. Thirty-one percent of respondents said that they have bonded with a friend over similar taste in GIFs, while 21 percent say they regularly send GIFs to co-workers. Another 22 percent even say that GIFs are their favorite way to flirt online.

What’s next?

So, what will the next evolution of the GIF likely be? While the format has come a long way from the first small, animated versions, other formats will likely seek to capitalize on the concise, easily consumable media style. We’ve seen this already on platforms like Vine, which was wildly popular for a time before being shut down by Twitter last year.

Instagram’s recent acquisition of Boomerang shows that companies are continuing to buy into the concept underlying GIFs, so it’s likely that our obsession with the medium won’t be dying anytime soon.

When creator Steve Wilhite first created his short, looping video format (commonly known as a “GIF”) back in 1987, there was some doubt that the medium wou...

Twitter announces tests of 280-character limit for some users

The change is meant to alleviate ‘cramming’

Avid Twitter users frequently employ creative edits to get their tweets under the maximum character limit, but that might not be so difficult in the near future.

Twitter announced on Tuesday that it would be testing an expanded character count for users’ tweets that would double the limit from 140 characters to 280 characters. Product Manager Aliza Rosen says the change, which will be rolled out on a limited basis initially, is meant to help close the gap between users of different languages.

“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean),” she said.

Alleviate cramming

What exactly is cramming? Rosen and Twitter senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara explain that certain languages – such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean – are able to convey much more information in far fewer characters than languages like English or Spanish. As such, users who speak character-heavy languages like English or Spanish often have to cram their ideas into a tweet to get their message across.

This is perhaps most easily seen in the tweet lengths of users from different languages. Rosen and Ihara point out that only 0.4 percent of tweets from Japanese users utilize all 140 characters, while tweets from English speakers use 140 characters 9 percent of the time.

“Our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English, but it is not for those Tweeting in Japanese,” Rosen said.

“Although we feel confident about our data and the positive impact this change will have, we want to try it out with a small group of people before we make a decision to launch for everyone. What matters most is that this works for our community – we will be collecting data and gathering feedback along the way.”

Still keeping it brief

This isn’t the first time that Twitter has made changes to its format. Last year, the company changed which characters contribute towards the maximum limit by saying that @names in replies and attachments like photos, videos, and polls would no longer count.

While some users may worry that the expanded character limit will ruin any semblance of brevity on Twitter, the company says that tweets will still have to be straightforward and concise.

“We understand since many of you have been Tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters – we felt it, too. But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint,” said Rosen. “We are excited to share this…and we will keep you posted about what we see and what comes next.”

Avid Twitter users frequently employ creative edits to get their tweets under the maximum character limit, but that might not be so difficult in the near f...

Facebook vows to crack down on clickbait

Videos using fake play buttons or static images will be demoted in the News Feed

If you’re a Facebook user, then you may be all too familiar with clickbait videos on the platform. While some of these videos may be annoying because of their relatively low pay-off, others can actually lead to malicious websites that can compromise personal information.

To combat the problem, Facebook has announced that it will be cracking down on clickbait videos that feature a fake video play button or static image meant to lure in users. In a blog post, a team of engineers say that the effort will help stop the spread of low-quality content in the News Feed and help protect users.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook, and so do we. When people click on an image in their News Feed featuring a play button, they expect a video to start playing," they said.

The authors point out that both forms of clickbait are harmful because they often trick people into clicking on something that provides a “low quality experience.” In the coming weeks, they say that Facebook will be demoting stories that use these devices to disguise themselves in the News Feed.

While most Facebook users shouldn’t see significant changes because of the move, the company says that publishers should refer to its best publishing practices to make sure they are complying with the platform’s rules.

“Publishers that rely on these intentionally deceptive practices should expect the distribution of those clickbait stories to markedly decrease,” the authors said. “Authentic communication is one of our core News Feed values, and we know our community values it.”

If you’re a Facebook user, then you may be all too familiar with clickbait videos on the platform. While some of these videos may be annoying because of th...

New dating site aims to connect dog lovers

The creators of Hotdiggiddy believe dog people are usually warm, loving individuals

Whether you’re looking to meet someone who shares your political views or hates the same things you hate, there’s likely a dating app out there to help you find your ideal match.

Now, there’s a dating site specifically geared toward those who love dogs. Hotdiggiddy, the new "Social Dating Site" for Dog Lovers, is centered around the idea that those who care for dogs are usually warm, loving, and responsible people.

The creators of the site say finding romance or friendship with a dog lover won’t only be a boon to your happiness, it’ll be a positive influence in the life of your four-legged friend as well.

Romantic or platonic relationships

"Have you ever invited someone over for a visit and as soon as they walked in the door your dog immediately reacted to them? Not in a nice way. Well, we have time and again,” said Scott Murray, CEO of Hotdiggiddy.

“We find that the people who our dogs like are usually people who we can trust and get along with; even if they are not dog owners themselves. These people just seem to give off good vibes that you and your dog can feel."

But you don’t have to own a dog to use the Canadian based dating site and app -- a love of dogs is all that’s required.

Dog lovers in relationships

In addition to giving off good vibes, dog lovers may also be better communicators. According to a University of Buffalo study, couples with pets have closer relationships and interact more than couples without pets.

The researchers explained that dogs make people want to seek out more social contact. As a result, they tend to form stronger and longer-lasting relationships.

Another potential perk of dating a dog lover: they may be more empathetic. A 2014 study found that dog owners are more engaged with their communities, likely as a result of being tapped into their empathetic, understanding side from all the hours spent caring for their pet.

Hotdiggiddy says it’s looking for people who are living life to the fullest. And while you only need to be over the age of 18 to use the site, its key demographic is 30 years of age and older.

Whether you’re looking to meet someone who shares your political views or hates the same things you hate, there’s likely a dating app out there to help you...

Why checking Facebook can be so addictive

Researchers say just seeing the logo can change some users' frame of mind

You might think that checking in on your Facebook profile is just something to do to pass the time, but two new studies from Michigan State University show that disconnecting from social media can be more than a little challenging for some consumers.

Researcher and assistant professor Allison Eden says that many users compulsively check their Facebook feed because they’re addicted to the positive feelings they associate with the site. She says that this learned reward response can be especially hard to overcome for some people.

"People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook," she said. "What we show with this study is that even with something as simple as the Facebook logo, seeing the Facebook wall of a friend or seeing anything associated with Facebook, is enough to bring that positive association back."

Facebook cravings

In the first study, Eden and her team exposed participants to a Facebook-associated image – such as the site’s logo or a profile page – and immediately followed it with an image of a Chinese symbol. Each person was asked to judge whether they thought the symbol was pleasant or unpleasant.

The results showed that heavy Facebook users were more likely to rate the Chinese symbol positively when compared to less frequent users; the researchers say this is likely due to the positive emotions associated with Facebook bleeding over into their judgment.

In the second study, participants were given a survey that asked them to measure their cravings to use Facebook. Many of the responses indicated that users harbor feelings of guilt when it comes to giving in to their cravings.

The researchers explain that this is especially harmful since users can trap themselves in a cycle of self-regulatory failure where they repeatedly feel bad for not regulating their Facebook activity. They say that one solution may be to remove certain triggers or cues from users’ environment, such as removing the Facebook logo from their phone’s home screen.

"Media, including social media, is one of the most commonly failed goals to regulate," Eden said. "People try to regulate themselves and they really have difficulty with it."

The full study has been published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

You might think that checking in on your Facebook profile is just something to do to pass the time, but two new studies from Michigan State University show...

Nearly half of couples argue about money, survey finds

Differences of opinion related to spending habits vary by age and gender

A new study conducted by the Cashlorette.com finds nearly half of Americans in serious relationships butt heads with their partner over finances.

For 60% of couples, the biggest topic of financial contention was that either one person spends too much or one person is too frugal. The rest of participants surveyed had qualms pertaining to their partner’s dishonesty about spending or savings and how to divide the bills.  

Gripes about money-related issues often begin early in a relationship, starting with who takes care of the check on a date. In this arena, the study found a few gender and demographic differences.

Millennials like splitting the tab

The research revealed that women are more likely than men to let the other person pay for it (46% versus 2%) or to split the bill (37% versus 9%). Men are more likely to take care of the entire tab themselves (85% versus 8%).

Splitting the bill is more popular with Millennials than with any other group -- 33% of Millennials polled said they were check splitters, compared to just 17% of Gen Xers.

"It's nice to see that splitting the bill is popular with Millennials and hopefully catching on with older generations," said Sarah Berger, founder of TheCashlorette.com. "Dating can be expensive. A person shouldn't have to go into debt while looking for a significant other."

Dating spending differences

When it comes to dating, the survey of 1,000 adults found that certain age cohorts are stingier than others. In response to the question “how much is appropriate for adults to spend on a first date,” older Millennials (ages 27-36) and Gen Xers said $100.

Younger Millennials, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation said they were only willing to spend about half that amount. And demographic differences were also evident in engagement ring spending.

According to the poll, 41% of Millennials said someone should spend one month’s salary or less on an engagement ring. People who were married or living with a partner also didn’t subscribe to the old “3 Months’ Salary” rule for engagement rings -- 35% of those who were currently cohabiting said one month’s salary was an acceptable amount to spend.

A new study conducted by the Cashlorette.com finds nearly half of Americans in serious relationships butt heads with their partner over finances.For 60...

Instagram rolls out tools to help users filter offensive and spam comments

The filters will be applied automatically but can be turned off by users

One of the great things about the internet is that it caters to all kinds of people, but unfortunately that also means that it’s open to people who won’t bat an eye when it comes to spewing hateful or vitriolic rhetoric.

However, users of the popular photo-sharing site Instagram should be seeing less of these offensive comments going forward. In a blog post, Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom said that the company is rolling out two new tools on the site to filter out offensive and spam comments.

“Today, we’re introducing two new tools to help keep Instagram a safe place for self-expression – a filter to block certain offensive comments and a spam filter in nine languages,” he said.  “These tools are the next step in our commitment to foster kind, inclusive communities on Instagram.”

Filtering out offensive and spam comments

Systrom says that the comment filter is intended to stop toxic messages that prevent Instagram users from freely expressing themselves on the site. It is designed for both posts and live videos, but users are reminded that they can still report, delete, or turn off comments if they so choose.

The filter can also be turned off completely by clicking on the settings menu from a user’s profile and tapping the “Comments” section. The tool will launch first in English but will be adopted for other languages over time.

The other tool that Instagram is rolling out – the spam filter – is designed to automatically remove spam comments posted on photos and live videos. Systrom says the tool is available in English, Spanish, Portugese, Arabic, Frech, German, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese.

“Powered by machine learning, today’s filters are our latest tools to keep Instagram a safe place. Our team has been training our systems for some time to recognize certain types of offensive and spammy comments so you never have to see them,” the CEO said.

One of the great things about the internet is that it caters to all kinds of people, but unfortunately that also means that it’s open to people who won’t b...

What does it really mean when a story is 'trending?'

Who's doing the Tweeting, people or robots?

A story trends on Twitter. The news media notices. Suddenly, it's getting covered in blogs, on TV newscasts and on the front page of newspapers, causing government policymakers to take notice.

That's the world in which we live, and that's fine if thousands of people care about it and are pushing the issue to the front burner. But what if all those Tweets and re-Tweets are the work of robots?

New research from the University of Georgia suggests that could often be the case.

“When a topic trends on Twitter, chances are a lot of central or very well-connected accounts are tweeting about it and perhaps shaping how others react. We found that some of these central accounts are actually bots,” said Carolina Salge, who co-authored the research. “Once enough accounts are tweeting about the same thing, that creates buzz, and organizations really respond to buzz.”

We've known about these simple computer programs for years. They can be used for all manner of automated tasks, some legitimate and some not. The Georgia researchers say this is the first time bots' clout in social media has gone under the microscope. Elena Karahanna, study co-author and professor of management information systems, says bots' may be anonymously affecting media reports and social media research.

Amplifying the message

“Bots amplify the message," said Karahanna. "They amplify how many people the message reaches and how fast it reaches them.”

Salge discovered what she calls odd patterns in data she was researching that led her to uncover "a secret world of fake Twitter accounts" working to push different agendas. It was similar, she said, to the “fem bots” created by the extramarital dating site Ashley Madison, that came to light a couple of years ago.

While companies may be using bots to increase profits, the researchers say advocacy groups are using them to advance a cause.

"We know from prior research that boycotts and protests that attract mainstream media attention are in a better position to get their demands met," Salge said. "It appears that a lot of movements are using bots to increase awareness of their cause on social media with the hopes to be reported by the mainstream media."

For information consumers, it can be confusing and unsettling. Bots can be used to spread so-called "fake news," but also to spread facts. Bots occupy an ethical gray area, Karahanna says, which makes being able to identify them important.

A story trends on Twitter. The news media notices. Suddenly, it's getting covered in blogs, on TV newscasts and on the front page of newspapers, causing go...

Social media users tailor their profiles to best fit in on each platform, study finds

The researchers found common trends for different demographics across several sites

What kind of person are you when it comes to your social media persona? Are you the selfie-taker who posts daily? The frequent commenter on others’ posts? The news sharer or poster of cute cat videos? Or do you prefer to remain aloof and not post much at all?

According to a new study, how you portray yourself online might have a lot to do with fitting in with those around you. Researchers from Penn State and King’s College compiled data on 100,000 consumers who used multiple social media outlets and found that they modified their personality to fit in with the tone of each site.

“In the social media era, without realizing it, people are leaving their marks. If we can tap into these digital footprints, then we can learn a lot about their behavior,” said researcher Nisanth Sastry. “Social media consumes an increasingly large portion of our lives. Therefore, understanding how we interact with each other on social media is important to understanding who we are in the online world, and how we relate to each other in virtual but still meaningful ways.”

Common trends

Using the site About.me, which acts as a social media directory for users who volunteer their information, the researchers analyzed consumers’ profile pictures, biography information, and other ways that they portrayed themselves online. The findings showed some similarities for certain demographics on each site.

For example, the researchers found that women tended to avoid wearing corrective glasses, like reading glasses, in their profile pictures. Users under the age of 25 were also less likely to be smiling in their profile pictures.

The researchers said that when presented with the profile description and photo, models could identify the platform it was created for between 60% and 80% of the time.

The "perfect" profile?

Sastry and her colleagues don’t believe that users are consciously changing aspects of their profiles to fit a certain norm. Instead, they say that users subconsciously modify different profile aspects to fit in with the users around them.

“[The data shows that subtly], despite our best efforts, we do still fit stereotypes of gender and age in the way we tailor our personas,” said Sastry.

The team believes that further research into this area could help social media users tailor their profiles to best fit in with the tone of each site. “We should be able to choose and suggest the best images from their personal collections for putting up on each of these platforms,” said Sastry.

What kind of person are you when it comes to your social media persona? Are you the selfie-taker who posts daily? The frequent commenter on others’ posts?...

Twitter to launch lite version of its mobile platform

The service will cater mostly to users outside the U.S. or those with low data limits and poor connections

Consumers who have low data limits need to be careful when it comes to using their devices, but the launch of a new Twitter version may keep the tweets coming.

Reuters reports that the social media platform is launching a faster version of its mobile platform that caters to users with sporadic connections and more restrictive data limits. Twitter Lite, as it is being called, is largely being targeted for individuals in developing areas outside the United States who enjoy fewer connective resources.

“We didn’t feel like we were reaching these other countries well enough, and this will allow us to do it faster, cheaper and with a better experience than we’ve had before,” said Keith Coleman, Twitter’s vice president of product.

Up to 70% less data

The company estimates that its new lite version, which runs through a web browser rather than a standalone app, will allow users to use up to 40% less data. Reports indicate that an additional feature that users can turn on may decrease data consumption even more to 70%.

In addition to the savings, users shouldn’t feel like they’re missing too much by switching to the lite version. Previews shown to reporters appear to have the same appearance and functionality as the mobile app version.

While the move may help Twitter expand to a greater audience, the platform has quite a lot of work to do before it catches up to its competitors. At the end of last year, its active monthly user base stood at around 319 million users, but that’s leagues behind the likes of Facebook, which boasts 1.9 billion active monthly users. 

Consumers who have low data limits need to be careful when it comes to using their devices, but the launch of a new Twitter version may keep the tweets com...

Why staying motivated to achieve a goal can be so difficult

A study shows that our source of motivation tends to change over time

Having plenty of motivation can be great when setting out to achieve a goal, but it’s often hard to maintain. Whether it’s a promise to lose weight, learn something new, or improve your relationship, the drive to keep at it can dissipate as time goes on.

So, what is it that saps our motivation? Part of it may be attributed to willpower, but researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba in Canada say that another factor may be that our motivation changes as we move toward our goal.

In their study, they found that people are often first motivated by the thought of reaching their desired outcome – something they call “promotion motivation.” However, as time goes on, they say that our focus turns to the negative consequences of not reaching their goals, referred to as “prevention motivation.”

"Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them," said lead author Dr. Olya Bullard.

Sustaining motivation

To prove these points, the researchers conducted five experiments to see how participants’ motivations changed over time. The results showed that each person was better at sustaining their motivation over the long-term if they shift their prevention motivation mindset to focus on practical things they can avoid to reach their goal.

For example, the researchers say that someone who is trying to save money for a big purchase should focus on positive saving strategies, such as securing a better job or investing their money wisely. Later, consumers can focus on practical avoidance steps, such as not going out to dinner as often or not spending money on other expensive purchases.

The authors say that their findings have some relevance to companies and marketers who are trying to engage consumers. They point out that a gym may approach new members by accentuating the excitement of losing weight and using the latest fitness technology. However, consumers who already go to the gym and are well on their way to reaching a fitness goal may be more affected by “proven technologies” and “satisfaction guarantees.”

The full study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Having plenty of motivation can be great when setting out to achieve a goal, but it’s often hard to maintain. Whether it’s a promise to lose weight, learn...

Twitch turns social with the unveiling of Pulse

The new social media tool will allow streamers to connect with their audience

It may feel like it happened all at once to some consumers, but social media has become completely pervasive in our connected world. It’s becoming more and more rare for someone to not have some sort of online presence, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or one of the other numerous sites that attract users these days.

Now, a new social network feature is being added to a popular site that caters to online gamers. Online social video and gaming platform Twitch began rolling out a new tool, called Pulse, on Monday. Its goal is to allow users of the site to post and interact with their online friends and followings through the sharing of game clips, highlights, schedules, photos, and other content.

Twitch was originally snatched up by Amazon back in 2014, and since then it has accrued a massive following. The site boasts 100 million monthly viewers who watch an average of 106 minutes of content daily. The site has become a haven for high-profile and professional streamers, who can make a living from fan donations and associated brand deals.

How it works

The system works much like other social media sites like Facebook; users can post content to their own personal channel pages, as well as like and comment on posts from friends and followers. For high-profile and professional streamers, selected moderators will be able to delete posts and comments that they deem inappropriate, or limit posts and comments to select groups.

Streamers will also be able to find their new Channel Feed on the far-left column of their Channel page, below the video player. However, the format is subject to change as Twitch receives feedback.

As with many rollouts, not all users will be receiving the update at the same time. The company says that web and mobile versions of Pulse will be rolling out for the next few weeks, and any feedback can be submitted here.

“We can’t wait to see what stories, highlights, comebacks, and rants you bring to the party,” the company said to its community in a blog post.  

It may feel like it happened all at once to some consumers, but social media has become completely pervasive in our connected world. It’s becoming more and...

Social media isn't so social, study finds

Young adults who are connected online are more likely to be socially isolated

The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world see themselves as bringing people together, but a new study finds that social media, like Zuckerberg's Facebook, can actually contribute to social isolation among young adults.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that the more time a young adult uses social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated.

The finding, published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests that social media does not help reduce perceived social isolation -- when a person lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others, and fulfilling relationships.

Social isolation has been independently associated with an increased risk for mortality, including suicide.

Social creatures

"This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults," said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt's Schools of the Health Sciences.

"We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together. While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for," Primack said.

In 2014, Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social media use by asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn.

They found that participants who used social media more than two hours a day had twice the odds for perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day. And participants who visited various social media platforms 58 or more times per week had about triple the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.

Which came first?

"We do not yet know which came first -- the social media use or the perceived social isolation," said senior author Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Pitt and chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

"It's possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It also could be a combination of both," Miller said. "But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations."

Among the researchers' theories is that using social media displaces authentic social experiences simply by taking up time that could otherwise be used in real-world interactions. 

Also, some aspects of social media contribute to feelings of being excluded -- like seeing photos of friends having fun at an event to which one was not invited. 

The researchers said doctors should ask patients about their social media use -- just as they ask them about smoking, alcohol, diet, and other activities -- and counsel them to reduce their time online if it seems linked to symptoms of social isolation.

The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world see themselves as bringing people together, but a new study finds that social media, like Zuckerberg's Facebook, can actu...

Trump's use of Twitter cited in sex offender case

Supreme Court hears argument that North Carolina law is too broad

Donald Trump is not known as a civil libertarian, but his nonstop use of Twitter was invoked by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan as the court heard oral arguments about a North Carolina law that limits use of social media by registered sex offenders.

“In fact, everybody uses Twitter,” Kagan said. “All 50 governors, all 100 senators, every member of the House has a Twitter account. So this has become a crucially important channel of political communication.”

The case involved Lester Gerard Packingham. He was arrested for dating a 13-year-old girl when he was 21, Courthouse News Service reported. That made him subject to a 2008 state law that prohibits sex offenders from using commercial social networks.

Things were going along just fine until Packingham went to court and beat a traffic ticket, then took to Facebook to celebrate his win.

“Man God is Good!” the post said. “How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? No fine, no court costs, no nothing spent … Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thank JESUS!”

Police troll

A police officer trolling the web for sex offenders found the post and Packingham was once again in trouble. Packingham's lawyer, David Goldberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the state law is "sweeping" and too broad. He called it a "stark abridgement of the freedom of speech."

"[The law] reaches vast swaths of core First Amendment activity that is totally unrelated to the government's preventative purpose. Mr. Packingham is not accused of communicating with or viewing the profile of a minor," Goldberg said. "He violated [the law] by speaking to his friends and family about his experience in traffic court."

Arguing for the state was Deputy Attorney General Robert Montgomery, who cast the law as similar to laws that prohibit sex offenders from visiting schools, playgrounds, and similar locations. He was questioned by justices about whether the law was so broad it took away inalienable rights not related to sexual contact with minors.

"So a person in this situation, for example, cannot go onto the President's Twitter account to find out what the President is saying today?" Justice Kagan asked Montgomery, according to a Supreme Court transcript. "Not only the President. I mean, we're sort of aware of it because the President now uses Twitter. But in fact, everybody uses Twitter. ... So this has become a crucial -- crucially important channel of political communication. And a person couldn't go onto those sites and find out what these members of our government are thinking or saying or doing; is that right?"

"That's right," Montgomery conceded. "However, there are alternatives. Usually those congressmen also have their own web page."

A ruling on the case is expected later this year.

Donald Trump is not known as a civil libertarian, but his nonstop use of Twitter was invoked by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan as the court heard oral a...

Think about your current relationship before 'friending' an old flame on Facebook

Social media researcher says Valentine's Day is an ideal time to discuss boundaries regarding social media

Open and honest communication can foster trust, and trust is an essential component of a healthy relationship -- but the rock-solid trust you worked so hard to establish may crumble if you or your significant other crosses a boundary on social media.

While you might think ‘friending’ an old flame on facebook is innocent enough, social media researcher Joyce Baptist says this move is capable of damaging a relationship.

"Social media can enhance romantic relationships when it's used to stay in touch throughout the day or honor your partner's achievements, but there are pitfalls to avoid that could damage the relationship," said Baptist, an associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Kansas State University.

Baptist says it’s important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page regarding social media. A lack of agreement regarding boundaries on social media can hurt a relationship, but having clear-cut boundaries as to what is and isn’t acceptable can help to preserve trust.

Could hurt your partner

To find out how social media affects relationships, Baptist studied nearly 7,000 couples who use social media. Her research showed that while some people accepted the fact that their partners interacted with old flames or flirted with others online, they weren’t always happy about it.

"Although they may say, 'I trust you and it's OK,' they are not happy about it," Baptist said. "They eventually perceive that their significant other is spending too much time connecting with others on social media rather than paying attention to their own partner."

Situations like these can take a toll on relationship satisfaction and interfere with the levels of care people receive from their partner, says Baptist. But a simple conversation regarding social media boundaries can help to protect a relationship from these situations.

Setting boundaries

In addition to sharing what you are willing to tolerate, Baptist recommends sharing what you would prefer. Coming to an agreement regarding boundaries on social media can create a secure and satisfying relationship.

"When you come across an old flame or another attractive person on social media, the question to ask is: Will communicating with this other person enhance my relationship or harm it?" she said. "Just because you see that your girlfriend or boyfriend from high school is on Facebook doesn't mean that you need to 'friend' them."

Allowing a former significant other back into your life via social media can be a slippery slope, says Baptist, because people can be tempted to confide in their previous partner during the lower points of their current relationship.

But ebbs and flows in a relationship are normal, and a low point doesn't necessarily mean that your relationship is doomed to fail. But Baptist says reigniting an old flame could, in fact, destroy your relationship.

Her best advice? “If you are serious about your relationship, cut off those ties.”

Open and honest communication can foster trust, and trust is an essential component of a healthy relationship -- but the rock-solid trust you worked so har...

Older adults considering the idea of 'living apart together' with new partners

Couples who have experienced divorce may be more comfortable living separately

Many U.S. consumers might envision a typical, mature relationship as two married adults who own a house and live in harmony. But a new study shows that a new global trend may be taking form among older adults who have previously been divorced.

Researchers from the University of Missouri say that some older couples are choosing to forego typical living patterns for a more relaxed arrangement. Instead of living in the same place, they say that older couples that have experienced divorce are opting to keep separate homes, dubbed “Living Apart Together” (LAT).

“What has long been understood about late-in-life relationships is largely based on long-term marriage. There are now more divorced and widowed adults who are interested in forging new intimate relationships outside the confines of marriage,” said researcher Jaquelyn Benson.

Positives and negatives

While LAT relationships are more commonly accepted in Europe than in the U.S., the researchers point out that there are some advantages to the system. In their study, the researchers found that LAT couples tended to be more self-reliant – tending more towards financial and social independence than couples in a traditional relationship.

However, there were also some drawbacks observed about LAT relationships. LAT couples had more trouble than traditional couples when it came to expressing the nature of their relationship to others, with many stating that the terms “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” were not sufficient. Additionally, LAT couples had trouble determining how caregiving for a child or “family” decision-making should be handled.

“While we are learning more about LAT relationships, further research is needed to determine how LAT relationships are related to issues such as health care and caregiving. Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families," Benson said. 

"Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior these conversations may be more important than ever.

Avoiding heartache

While some may suggest that the negatives outweigh the positives, Benson says that an LAT relationship may be perfect for older couples who have experienced the sting of divorce before.

“Recent research demonstrates that there are other ways of establishing long-lasting, high-quality relationships without committing to marriage or living together. . . If more people—young and old, married or not—saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache,” she said.

The full study has been published in Family Relations.

Many U.S. consumers might envision a typical, mature relationship as two married adults who own a house and live in harmony. But a new study shows that a n...

Twitter announces changes to curb abuse and harassment

The company hopes to make abuse less visible and harder to get away with

In the past couple of years, Twitter has taken several steps to try and curb abuse and harassment on its platform. In April of 2015, the company changed some of its policies to more easily ban users who threatened violence against others.

Last month, it announced a feature that allows users to report abusive tweets and harassment. And now, a new announcement has provided details on three more improvements that company is making.

In a blog post released earlier today, Vice President of Engineering Ed Ho said the company will now be able to better stop users from creating new abusive accounts if they were previously banned, provide safer search results to users, and give users the option of collapsing potentially abusive or low-quality tweets.

“Making Twitter a safer place is our primary focus. We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That’s put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices. We won’t tolerate it and we’re launching new efforts to stop it,” said Ho.

Curbing abuse

In the post, Ho says that Twitter will be taking steps to identify people who have been permanently suspended on the site due to abusive behavior. He says that stopping these people from making new accounts will help curb the practice of creating accounts solely for the purposes of harassing others.

The search results will also be getting revamped so that users no longer see “potentially sensitive content” or tweets from users that they have blocked or muted. Ho clarifies that this content will still be searchable if users want to find it, but it will no longer clutter more generic or ambiguous searches.

To further curb harassment, Ho’s team is developing a feature that will identify and collapse potentially abusive or low-quality replies to tweets. The change will accent high-quality and relevant replies to tweets as it does now, and other replies will be clearly marked lower down on the screen. Users will still be able to read these replies by clicking on the “Show less relevant replies” button.

Ho says that these changes, and other like them, will be rolling out in the days and weeks ahead, but not all of them may be as visible. He concludes by saying that Twitter will be listening to user feedback to help the company can “learn faster, build smarter, and make meaningful progress.”

In the past couple of years, Twitter has taken several steps to try and curb abuse and harassment on its platform. In April of 2015, the company changed so...

Simple ways to 'date your mate'

What one author says couples can do each week to strengthen their relationship

Carving out time to focus on the health of your relationship isn’t always easy when there are kids to raise and careers to be managed, but author Tina Albrecht says it’s possible with a little time management.

Albrecht, who is also a mother of three, recommends “dating your mate” to keep the spark alive. The key to staying in love is making time each week to enjoy a few simple and inexpensive dates with your partner, says Albrecht.

But in order for this strategy to be effective, she says both partners must resist the urge to handle other chores or obligations while the date is in progress.

Date ideas

Many years may have passed since your very first dates, but thinking back to how you managed your time on those dates may give you an idea of how to date your spouse.

Albrecht observes, "When you were dating and falling in love with your spouse, did you set up times to meet and have plans for things to do? Did you focus exclusively on what you were doing with him or her … or were you trying to juggle the date, your work, the phone, making a meal, and doing your laundry?"

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Albrecht has a few timely suggestions for dating your mate.

  • Set aside at least one hour a week to talk to your mate alone about the upcoming week, the kids, books you are reading, or anything on your mind.
  • Rub each other's feet while talking about pleasant topics.
  • Watch a TV program you both enjoy. Invoke a "no interruptions" rule.
  • Build in a mid-week snuggle and catch-up session.
  • Designate one night a week as date night.

Keep a journal

She also recommends that couples keep a journal of what works best for them and their schedules. In that journal, make notes about what you did together and jot down what you’re already habitually doing that connects you.

Additionally, couples can boost their level of gratitude by writing every day about what they’re grateful for about their spouse and the experiences they have had together.

Carving out time to focus on the health of your relationship isn’t always easy when there are kids to raise and careers to be managed, but author Tina Albr...

Study reveals best and worst states for lovers

Top states for lovers had high marriage rates and low numbers of people living in isolation

Where you live is an important factor when it comes to stocking your closet and making certain landscaping decisions. But could your geographic location also determine the quality of your relationship?

Maybe so, according to a new study by a Michigan State University researcher, which found that some states may be more conducive to healthy relationships than others.

Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin were found to be the top states for lovers, while North Dakota and the Great Plains (South Dakota, Kansas, and Colorado) ranked in the bottom 10 for quality relationships.

And “Virginia is for lovers” seems only to apply if your true love is history. Virginia actually received a mediocre ranking in the study, which measured attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance in 127,000 adults from every state.

Attachment anxiety

Many states fit their respective stereotypes, said lead researcher William Chopik, an assistant psychology professor who studies relationships and their effects. The state of New York, for example, was deemed ninth worst for lovers, while California and Utah were both in the top 10.

"When I think of New York, I think of the anxious Woody Allen type, and New York had one of the highest scores for attachment anxiety," Chopik said in a statement.

"California, on the other hand, seems like a romantic place with beautiful sunsets, oceans and warm weather. And Utah residents are known to be very nice, warm and generous, which many people attribute to the large Mormon population."

Top states for lovers

For the study, Chopik and his colleague Matt Motyl of the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at levels of attachment anxiety (often referred to as “clinginess”) and attachment avoidance (whether the individual dislikes intimacy and tends to be more distant toward their partner).

Because neither characteristic sets the stage for a healthy relationship, the best states for lovers were those that scored low on both measures.

Top states for lovers also had high marriage rates and low numbers of people living in isolation. The Pacific coast was found to be the top region for quality relationships, while other high-ranking states included Vermont, Alaska, North Carolina, Delaware, Minnesota and Oregon.

Worst states for lovers

The worst states for lovers had the highest attachment anxiety and avoidance scores. North Dakota ranked the worst for quality relationships, followed by Kentucky, Kansas, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Ohio, South Carolina, Colorado, New York, and Indiana.

Certain states (especially those with secluded mountainous areas) may cater to loners, while the weather and temperature in other regions might promote more positive interactions, the authors noted.

But romantically-challenged residents of North Dakota shouldn’t take these findings as a sign that it's time to move.

“To a certain degree, positive relationships are found everywhere and transcend time and place,” the authors concluded. “After all, home is where the heart is."

The study has been published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Where you live is an important factor when it comes to stocking your closet and making certain landscaping decisions. But could your geographic location al...

Twitter says a pared-down Vine camera app will launch in January

Users of the original app will still be able to access their archive of videos

Back in October, Twitter started making some major cuts to try to minimize costs. It laid off around 9% of its workforce and announced that it would be discontinuing its Vine mobile app. Users of the popular program promptly lost their minds, and many companies started mulling over the possibility that they might pick up Vine and revive it.

However, Twitter has managed to hold onto the mobile app and has announced that it will be releasing a pared-down version called Vine Camera in January. The new camera app will still allow users to post their six-second videos to Twitter or save them on their devices, and Twitter has said that it will be making it easier to follow your favorite content creators on its social media platform.

“Thank you for the culture that you have helped shape, and for the content you’ll continue to make everywhere. You make the world a funnier, weirder, richer, more beautiful place,” the Twitter and Vine teams said in a post.

Transitioning content

In an FAQ section about the update, the teams mention that the when the new app goes live, the original Vine app will effectively be dead in the water.

“The Vine Camera will allow you to make 6.5 second looping videos and post them to Twitter, or save them to your camera roll in a logged out state. You will not be able to do any of the other things you can currently do with the Vine app. Once the Vine Camera is live, you will no longer be able to download your Vines from the app,” officials said.

However, all the Vine content that has been made over the years isn’t going to suddenly vanish. The Vine website will soon be transitioned into an archive of videos that can be browsed through or downloaded. Users of the mobile app can also download videos until the transition date in January. All Vine files will include an index.html file that contains information like captions, likes, comments, and revines.

For those of you who want to keep tabs on your favorite content creators, the Vine and Twitter teams are rolling out a “Follow on Twitter” feature that will be made available soon. “We’ll notify you through the app when this feature is available. We hope this will help you grow your audience on Twitter and continue making and sharing videos there,” the teams said. 

Back in October, Twitter started making some major cuts to try to minimize costs. It laid off around 9% of its workforce and announced that it would be dis...

Ashley Madison reaches $1.6 million data breach settlement

FTC and states claimed company deceived members and failed to protect data

The 2015 data breach at AshleyMadison.com, which caused widespread embarrassment and perhaps even some marital stress, is the subject of a $1.6 million settlement.

The Toronto-based company, which at the time had the marketing slogan “life is short, have an affair,” has agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and 13 states. The agreement also requires the company to establish a comprehensive data-security program.

The federal and state governments charged Ashley Madison deceived consumers and failed to protect their account and profile information. That data was hacked and published online in July 2015.

“This case represents one of the largest data breaches that the FTC has investigated to date, implicating 36 million individuals worldwide,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The global settlement requires AshleyMadison.com to implement a range of more robust data security practices that will better-protect its users’ personal information from criminal hackers going forward.”

Attackers wanted site taken down

At the time of the 2015 data breach, the hackers demanded that the Ashley Madison site be taken down. The group, identified as The Impact Team, said it was not offended that the site promotes adultery, but rather it claimed the company lied to its customers. The hackers said Ashley Madison offered to “fully delete” members' profiles for a $19 fee, but the information, they said, was not removed.

The states and the FTC got involved after it was charged that most of the female profiles on the site were made up, and placed there only to draw male members. The purpose of the site was to match people who wanted to have affairs.

“Creating fake profiles and selling services that are not delivered is unacceptable behavior for any dating website,” said Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell, “I was pleased to see the FTC and the state attorneys general working together in such a productive and cooperative manner. Vermont has a long history of such cooperation, and it’s great to see that continuing.”

A year after the data breach, Ashley Madison announced a reset. Among the changes it announced at the time, Ashley Madison said it would no longer be just a dating site for married people looking to cheat, but will also be a site for “the open-minded dating community.” It says it is now trying to appeal to a wider group of people seeking relationships.

The 2015 data breach at AshleyMadison.com, which caused widespread embarrassment and perhaps even some marital stress, is the subject of a $1.6 million set...

For better customer service, use positive language and focus on the problem

Aggressive words can take a toll on the quality of service a person gets, study finds

By the time you’re frustrated enough to give customer service a call, being nice may be the last thing on your mind. But choosing your words carefully could help improve the quality of service you get.

Callers who refrain from taking out their aggression on customer service employees often experience a smoother conversation and better service, a study from the University of British Columbia Okanagan found.
 

After analyzing over 30 hours of calls between customers and call center representives, faculty of management assistant professor David Walker and his colleagues found that callers who used positive words were more likely to receive better service.

But when callers used second person pronouns (such as “you” and “your”) and interrupted the employee, customer service worsened in more than 35% of calls. The research suggests that having a little compassion toward stressed-out employees can go a long way.

Focus on the problem

Instead of saying “your company is the worst” or “I’m getting ready to sue you,” keep the conversation focused on the product or service. Doing so, Walker says, can result in better service.
 

By mixing positive language (like great and fine) into the conversation, customers can alleviate some the stress that service employees often experience on the job. An employee who isn’t the target of aggressive words or phrases is less likely to have a negative reaction, the researchers said.

"In general, when customers use aggressive words or phrases to personally target customer service employees, or when they interrupt the person they are talking to, we found that the employee's negative reaction is much stronger," said study co-author Danielle van Jaarsveld, associate professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

Incivility breeds incivility

The study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was one of the first to show that using specific words can undermine the quality of service that a customer gets.

"Employees can handle a lot, but when aggressive language and interruptions happen together -- combined with minimal positive language from the customer -- employees get to a point where customer service quality suffers,” said Walker, who is a former call center worker himself.
 

“Customers need to remember that they're dealing with human beings,” he concluded.

By the time you’re frustrated enough to give customer service a call, being nice may be the last thing on your mind. But choosing your words carefully coul...

Facebook announces tests for a new job recruitment feature

The new addition could be a direct challenge to other sites like LinkedIn

Social media giant Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the company has progressively been trying to find more ways to keep users engaged in its network. Last month, it launched Marketplace, an apparent answer to Craigslist, that is meant to allow users to see and buy items that people close by have for sale.

Now, the company says it will be testing out a new feature on some Pages that’s designed to help with job recruitment. It said in an announcement on Monday that the tool will help employers find new, prospective candidates for job openings. So far, the tool is only in the testing phase, but it could provide a challenge to popular networking site LinkedIn, which is also heavily invested in job listings and recruitment.

“Based on behavior we’ve seen on Facebook, where many small businesses post about their job openings on their Page, we’re running a test for Page admins to create job postings and receive applications from candidates,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

Applying via Facebook

According to TechCrunch, Pages can now formally share a job opening by accessing an option in the status update composer; details such as salary and prerequisites can be added to the opening before it is published. An “Apply Now” button on the job posting will allow prospective candidates to begin the application process, and any relevant information collected by Facebook can be used to fill in answers more quickly.

Users will be able to find the postings in a couple of different places. Currently, they can go to a company’s Page and look under the “Jobs” tab to see if there are any openings. In the future, businesses will also be able to post a job opening to their News Feed, allowing all their followers to see it.

Completed applications will be sent to the appropriate Page as a Facebook message, and administrators will be able to take the information from there.

Providing incentive

If successful, the new job listing feature is sure to drive even more internet traffic to Facebook. Since the jobs tab of each Page acts as its own landing site, companies and businesses may be able to attract more Facebook followers and increase their reach.

Also, since each application is sent as a Facebook message, it might incentivize businesses to start committing to the social network’s chat feature. However, TechCrunch notes that if this feature doesn’t work well due to the variety of Facebook messages a Page receives, moving to an email-based system may be better.

The whole development comes at an inopportune time for LinkedIn. Not only is it dwarfed by Facebook’s user base – a difference of nearly 1.32 billion – but its recent acquisition by Microsoft could put the service on its heels as it seeks to adjust. Whether it will be forced to recover and try to retain users over the long-term remains to be seen. 

Social media giant Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the company has progressively been trying to find more ways to keep users engaged in its...

How Vine may survive after all

Twitter is reportedly reviewing bids from other companies to buy the app

Last month, Twitter seemed to be in a bit of frenzy to cut costs. It laid off 9% of its workforce and announced plans to axe its mobile video app, Vine.

Upon receiving news of the latter, the internet promptly blew up with indignation and mourning. Fans of the service couldn’t believe that the once-popular six-second video app was going to fall by the wayside, and that got the attention of several prospective new suitors.

A report from TechCrunch reveals that Twitter is fielding several different offers from companies who want to buy Vine. Initially, as many as 10 bids were made for the company, but Twitter has narrowed it down to less than a half-dozen.

Tough choices

There are a couple of problems for Twitter when it comes to making a selection, though. The first is that it isn’t likely that Twitter will earn much revenue from selling off the service. Reports suggest that several of the bids were less than $10 million, which is about what it cost for Twitter to operate the service for a month. So, right off the bat, the compensation might be relatively low.

Secondly, Twitter can’t be sure how selling off Vine will reflect on its own business. Critics suggest that things could go one of two ways: if Vine is bought by a company that can help it flourish, then the strong integration between Vine and Twitter’s app can lead to more video being served on the Twitter platform, attracting users. Twitter may even earn some money from sponsored content deals.

However, if Vine’s new owner ends up shutting down the mobile app or shutting down its archives, the backlash from users and fans could be overwhelming. That kind of negative sentiment could reflect poorly on Twitter, since Vine is so heavily associated with the social media giant. Additionally, another company taking over Vine and making it a huge success could indicate weakness in Twitter’s leadership, who have been unsuccessful with revitalizing the app.

So, it seems that Twitter will have to be very careful when it comes to choosing a new home for Vine. The company could still refuse all offers and continue with plans to phase out the app, but the hard financial times that it’s going through make that a little less likely. Whichever path it chooses, internet users will be sure to be watching. 

Last month, Twitter seemed to be in a bit of frenzy to cut costs. It laid off 9% of its workforce and announced plans to axe its mobile video app, Vine....

Facebook friend requests may predict longer lifespan, study finds

Research suggests that people who receive the most friend requests may live longer than people who send requests

Logging too many hours online may negatively impact your health and happiness, but a new study finds that some Facebook users may be poised to live longer.

A team of researchers, led by University of California researchers William Hobbs and James Fowler, found that people who receive and accept the most friend requests lived longer. However, the same did not hold true for those sending the friend requests.
 

"People who are more popular live longer, but we can't say the same of people who are more social -- (those who reach out to others more)," said lead author Will Hobbs, a postdoctoral researcher at Northeastern University.

"We've known for a long time that people with stronger social connections in real life live longer," Hobbs said. "We live in a new reality where many of our social interactions now take place online. We wanted to find out if the same rules apply online."
 

To find out, the researchers worked with Facebook and honed in on 12 million users from California (all born between 1945 and 1989). They matched them to California Department of Public Health vital records, and ultimately ended up with a sample of more than 4 million people.

Lower mortality rate for Facebook users 

After comparing the past Facebook activity of those who had died with the activity of other California users, the authors found that individuals who didn’t use Facebook were 12% more likely to die each year. (A crude number which the researchers say could be influenced by other factors, including social and economic differences.)
 
Interestingly, the team found that the number of friend requests people sent had no bearing on their longevity. There was, however, a link between longevity and the number of friend requests accepted. People who received and accepted the most friend requests were 34% less likely to die compared to those who didn’t field as many friend requests.
 

"The mortality rate for users with the most accepted friendships was about 35 percent lower than those with the least accepted friendships, and those with even average to moderately large friend networks saw similarly low mortality rates compared to the most socially isolated users," Hobbs said.

Reason for association

In attempting to zero in on an explanation for the association, Hobbs and Fowler noted that more research is needed. A person’s popularity isn’t necessarily the main predictor of longevity; it could simply be that those who are more likely to live longer are more attractive to others in the first place.
 

But it’s clear that social relationships, when carried out offline, can have a positive impact on one’s health. Fowler cited a recent meta-analysis that showed that “social relationships seem to be as predictive of lifespan as smoking, and more predictive than obesity and physical inactivity.”

Hobbs and Fowler believe the same is likely true of online social relationships. They hope their associational study will set the stage for many follow-up studies on the topic of online social experiences and their link to health.
 
The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Logging too many hours online may negatively impact your health and happiness, but a new study finds that some Facebook users may be poised to live longer....

Consumer groups ask Facebook to clarify content removal policies

The company has said that it will be allowing more 'newsworthy' and 'significant' content in the future

As social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand accounts of incidents straight from the people who witnessed them can be very powerful, but many worry whether some of these accounts are being censored.

That’s the case for over 70 rights groups that reportedly asked Facebook on Monday to clarify its policies for removing content. The groups allege that the social media giant has repeatedly acquiesced to governments and agencies that ask it to block user content and posts that show human rights violations.

They cite recent examples, in which the company blocked content showcasing police violence and Vietnam imagery, as well as the suspension of two accounts belonging to Palestinian journalists. The groups say that this kind of censorship is dangerous because it deprives people of news from the source.

“News is not just getting shared on Facebook: it’s getting broken there. .  . When the most vulnerable members of society turn to your platform to document and share experiences of injustice, Facebook is morally obligated to protect that speech,” the groups said in a letter.

Preventing censorship

The letter goes on to say that censoring content not only prevents the spread of news, but perpetuates the injustices that many posts seek to expose. The groups say that blocking content related to police brutality “sets a dangerous precedent that further hurts and silences marginalized communities, particularly communities of color.”

In particular, the groups point out the case of Korryn Gaines, whose account was deactivated by Facebook after she was fatally shot by Maryland police after an armed standoff. According to multiple sources, the deactivation occurred after Baltimore police issued an emergency request through the company’s “law enforcement portal.”

The groups asked Facebook to clarify its content removal policy, especially in regards to live broadcasts and journalistic material. It also asked the company to provide a platform in which users could protest the removal of content.

Facebook responds

In an announcement made later in the day, Facebook addressed the issue of content removal and said that it would be allowing more content in the future that would have been removed previously.

Senior executive Patrick Walker addressed “The Terror of War” photo – a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of a Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War – which was blocked from the accounts of a Norwegian author and newspaper last month. He affirmed that Facebook would be doing more to make sure controversial and newsworthy material was being protected and circulated.

“We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly. . . in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” he said.

Though he could not provide further details, Walker told Reuters that Facebook was beginning to address its guidelines for removing content so that changes can be implemented.

As social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand...

Twitter cuts 9% of its workforce and decides to shut down Vine

The moves are an attempt to halt a long stretch of slowing revenue growth

The hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell itself off. In the last few weeks, there seemed to be a good number of buyers lining up for a shot to snap up the social media platform – including Google and Disney.

A deal has yet to pan out, though, and many companies have walked away from the negotiating table. That may very well have contributed to an announcement today that the company would be cutting 9% of its workforce, mostly in sales and marketing, and shutting down its Vine mobile app, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Company struggles

While Twitter started off very well, recent times have not been kind to the company. It has produced nine straight quarters of slowing revenue growth and the number of monthly active users began stalling as early as last year; the well-known social media platform boasts 700 million accounts, but only 317 million are active each month, and an even lower number are active on a daily basis.

Shareholder expectations have also gradually lowered for Twitter, as share prices have declined by 50% since the summer of 2015. Altogether, the company lags far behind its competitor Facebook, which has done very well during the same period and attracted more advertisers.

“Twitter monetizes its user base at about half the rate of Facebook, and we are not sure it can close the gap entirely,” said Mark Mahaney of RBC Capital Markets.

Despite the hardships, the company has said it is committed to finding a sustainable path forward. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has stated that adjusting the user interface will be a key element of the company’s future strategy.

“We will make tweeting easier and more meaningful by providing more context and letting people not only broadcast to the world but also have deeper, open conversations about the topics they care about. . . We’re focused on building the largest, most comprehensive news network on the planet,” he said in a statement.

Shutting down Vine

In a separate announcement today, Twitter said that it will be shutting down its Vine mobile app in the coming months. Twitter bought Vine before it had even launched in January, 2013, and for a while it did pretty well. The app uses a six-second format that has been great for capturing sports highlights, singing exhibitions, or comedically timed moments.

However, Vine never seemed to live up to Twitter’s performance standards. The founders of the app gradually left, and the launch of other services like video on Instagram stunted its potential. Over half of the top 9,725 accounts on the app had been deleted or had stopped posting by July, with content creators leaving for greener pastures on sites like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

Although Twitter hasn’t given a precise date for when the app will be shut down, it has guaranteed users that they will be able to download their videos before the plug is pulled.

“We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You’ll be able to access and download your Vines. We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website,” the company said in a statement.

“To all the creators out there – thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day. To the many team members over the years who made this what it was – thank you for your contributions. And of course, thank you to all of those who came to watch and laugh every day.”

The hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell...

For men, the effects of a happy childhood may span decades

Having a caring family could translate to a more secure marriage, study finds

Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more likely to be in a happy marriage when they’re older.

Findings from a recent study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that a nurturing childhood could pave the way for a secure marriage later in life.

According to researcher Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School, loving families play a big role in helping children develop certain social and emotional skills that can help them in their relationships decades later.

Better emotional management

To conduct the study, Waldinger and his colleagues studied 81 men for over six decades, beginning when they were teens. Half of the men went to Harvard; the others were from inner-city Boston.
 

The researchers gathered information on participants’ early home environment through questioning, interviews with their parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker.

By the time the men reached middle age, the researchers discovered that those who had grown up in caring homes were better at managing stress. This important ability was found to come in handy in participants’ marriages.  

“Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians,” said Waldinger.
 

“We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life.”

"Far-reaching effects"

It’s no surprise that the effects of a happy childhood can be felt within a marriage, but these findings show just how long-lasting the effects can be.
 
Having a happy home life as a kid can have "far-reaching effects on well-being, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan," Waldinger said.
 
The study’s co-author, Marc Schulz, a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, adds that it is “remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen” decades after adolescence.
 
Dr. Waldinger's TED talk on the study can be viewed here
Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more li...

Facebook's political candidate endorsement feature: is this really a good idea?

Some people think there is already too much politics on the social media site

Every four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where “friends” get into heated arguments over politics.

Millions of people, it seems, believe the rest of the world needs to know their political opinions, and they often express them as though they were auditioning to host a talk show.

Facebook apparently believes there isn't enough political give-and-take on its pages, so it has introduced a new feature that encourages users to endorse a political candidate.

It works like this: a user goes to the Facebook page of their favored candidate. There, he or she selects the “Endorsement” tab, and then selects “Endorse.” A user can also post a comment to go along with the endorsement.

Limiting visibility

Facebook has built into the endorsement feature a way to limit who can see your endorsement, but that assumes you know the political leanings of all your Facebook friends. Most likely it's designed to keep peace between friends and family members who are known to hold strong opposite political views.

But one has to wonder whether such an endorsement feature is necessary, since people posting on Facebook are rarely shy about sharing their views. And in years past it has damaged friendships, and even family relationships.

As recently as August, Politico reported that the presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was wrecking friendships. Democratic consultant Brent Blackaby told the site that when Trump suggested “Second Amendment people” might stop Clinton, he broke ties with his Trump-backing uncle. Before it was over, he said the arguments and name-calling spilled over to his extended family.

You're waiting your times

An anonymous poster on Slashdot appealed to Facebook users to do everyone a favor and keep their opinions to themselves, claiming spouting off for one candidate or against another is pointless.

“Those long rants about how Trump is a bully and a buffoon, Hillary is a crook, and conspiring against Bernie Sanders has doomed America forever aren't changing voters' minds,” the poster wrote. “A staggering 94% of Republicans, 92% of Democrats, and 85% of independents on Facebook say they have never been swayed by a political post, according to Rantic, a firm that sells social media followers.”

So why do we do it? Would we say the things we post on Facebook to someone's face? Probably not. The safe distance afforded by the internet likely makes us bolder, which is not always a good thing.

So one as to wonder what Facebook was thinking by introducing its new political endorsement feature. In the meantime, people sick of looking at their politics-riddled Facebook pages might want to check out this Facebook group, a refuge for people who want to escape politics.

Every four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where “friends” get into heated arguments over politics.Millions of people, it seems, believe the res...

Facebook announces new app that exclusively handles events

Whether or not users will have to download it in the future is uncertain

Facebook users may remember back a couple of years when the social media giant decided to create an app that exclusively handled its messages feature. The decision ended up being very controversial, with many consumers saying that they preferred to deal with all of their Facebook-related activities in one place instead of having to download a different app to divide the work up.

Since then, things have cooled down significantly and mobile users have gotten used to dealing with both apps. But in an announcement on Friday, Facebook said that it will be creating an app that exclusively deals with its “Events” feature, appropriately called “Events from Facebook.” Whether or not there will be backlash from users is uncertain, since the Events feature is much less used on Facebook than Messenger is -- although the company says the former draws 100 million users.

The new app doesn’t really add anything new to the Events experience, but it will allow users to keep track of all their social occasions without having to launch the base Facebook app. Users can also open the app and see what events friends are “interested in,” or see events that are linked to pages they have “liked.”

Additionally, users can use a feature that allows them see what events are happening in their area. The events are sorted by time, location, and personal interests, and they are viewable on the app’s interactive map. Users can also check out future events in any city, possibly facilitating activities on an upcoming vacation or trip.

At this time, users can still access their events on the base Facebook app, but whether or not the company will force the use of Events from Facebook in the future like it did with Messenger is still up in the air. The app is currently available on iOS and will launch on the Android platform in the near future.

Facebook users may remember back a couple of years when the social media giant decided to create an app that exclusively handled its messages feature. The...

How our ability to handle stress is determined during childhood

Individuals who grew up without an emotionally responsive caregiver are less able to control their emotions

Have you ever had to take a test or sit in for an interview that you felt utterly unprepared for? That feeling may have been intensified by a friend or colleague who didn’t seem to be fazed by the task at all. So why do they seem to have such an easy time while you struggle to perform?

A recent study shows that childhood emotional experiences can play a major role in our ability to perform a given task. The researchers say that the relationships that we form with our primary caregivers heavily influences our ability to handle stress and regulate our emotions when we grow up.

Controlling emotions

Dr. Christine Heinisch, one of the authors of the study, says that the connections to our parents and guardians have a direct influence over how we develop socially. However, they also determine how we handle emotionally charged conditions.

A perfect example of this, she says, is how a person reacts when coming up to a traffic light. Under neutral circumstances, it is generally easy for a driver to look at the signal and follow its directions. However, under emotionally driven circumstances, the results can be a little different.

“Usually, people tend to make more errors, like stopping too late or even driving through when the traffic light is red. Sometimes they stop although the light is still green,” explained Heinisch.

Worse task performance

The significance of our emotional relationships with our caregivers is key to what psychologists call the attachment theory. It says, in part, that having an insecure childhood with weak emotional bonds can lead to a decreased ability to handle stress or perform well at a given task. It was with this premise in mind that Heinisch and her colleagues designed their study.

“We expected those having problems with emotional regulation to make more errors in performing a task – and one significant variable influencing this is our attachment experience,” said Heinisch.

The researchers used participants who had a range of emotional experiences with their caregivers and asked them to identify a target letter among a series of flashing letters. The tests were administered under different emotional conditions to different groups of subjects. Some tests were designed to evoke a positive emotional state; others provoked either a neutral or negative emotional state.

Out of participants who took a test that was designed to provoke a negative emotional state, those who did not have an emotionally responsive caregiver did the worst. The researchers believe that this was the case because emotionally insecure individuals had to expend more cognitive resources to control their emotions, which led to fewer resources being available for the task at hand.

The full study has been published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Have you ever had to take a test or sit in for an interview that you felt utterly unprepared for? That feeling may have been intensified by a friend or col...

Male Tinder users' self-esteem takes a hit, study finds

The quest for external validation may be detrimental to a user's body image

Tinder offers users a quick and easy way to meet new people, but it may come at a cost. A new study finds that Tinder users have lower levels of self-esteem and more body image issues.

Male users tend to be the most down on themselves as a result of being an active member of the popular dating app, but neither gender is impervious to the emotional toll of a left swipe.

“Tinder users reported having lower levels of satisfaction with their faces and bodies and having lower levels of self-worth than the men and women who did not use Tinder,” wrote study author Jessica Strübel, PhD, of the University of North Texas.

Measuring body image

To come up with these findings, Strübel and her colleague Trent Petrie PhD, who is also a faculty member at the University of North Texas, asked 1,300 people to rate how they felt about themselves.

Questionnaires and self-reports revealed participants’ answers to such questions as, “How satisfied are you with your thighs?” and “How likely are you to make physical comparisons to others?”

Compared to non-users, the 10% of participants who were Tinder users reported less satisfaction with their looks. Interestingly, only men had lower levels of self-esteem.

Likelihood of rejection

In a world where women are usually hardest on themselves, why might it be that the dating app causes men’s confidence to plummet?

First, it may be the simple fact that more men than women use Tinder. Additionally, the researchers speculate that men may increase their own likelihood of rejection due to the fact that they are usually not as picky as women when it comes to swiping right (showing an interest).

Strübel and Petrie point out that the app itself may not be to blame for this phenomenon. Rather, it may just be that people with lower self-esteem are more likely to be found on dating apps such as Tinder.

The research was recently presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Tinder offers users a quick and easy way to meet new people, but it may come at a cost. A new study finds that Tinder users have lower levels of self-estee...

Facebook purging 'clickbait' from news feeds

Stories with misleading or non-revealing headlines getting kicked to the curb

You've seen those headlines. They're written to grab your attention.

“He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”; or “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

Often they start with “You won't believe,” or “You'll be amazed,” and are likely to have the word “jawdropping” in them somewhere. The publishers wrote them that way because they are trying to get you to click on them. If you do, they build traffic and make a little more money.

There's no real harm, except that the story is never anywhere as interesting as the headline, which is usually misleading.

Facebook cracks down

A lot of these “clickbait” headlines have been showing up in Facebook news feeds, but the social media site has told users it is cracking down on them. They're just too phony, the company says.

“One of our News Feed values is to have authentic communication on our platform,” Facebook said in a release. “People have told us they like seeing authentic stories the most. That’s why we work hard to understand what type of stories and posts people consider genuine, so we can show more of them in News Feed.”

At the same time, Facebook said it is trying to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading and spammy and weed those out, developing an algorithm that looks for certain words.

Mislead the reader

The complaint with “clickbait” headlines is they intentionally leave out crucial information, or worse, mislead the reader. They often appeal to people's baser instincts, promising to reveal embarrassing photos of a celebrity or reveal damaging information about them.

A team at Facebook came up with this criteria to determine whether a headline is “clickbait:”

  • A headline that withholds information needed to understand what the article is about
  • A headline that exaggerates to mislead the reader

The move is being applauded in many corners of the internet. According to TheNextWeb, “it's a potentially huge move, and one that makes journalism better for almost everyone involved.”

You've seen those headlines. They're written to grab your attention.“He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Be...

Pok app may help Pokémon Go users find love

The Tinder-style app could open the door to a relationship for users

Pokémon Go has users stepping out of their comfort zones. As a result, some trainers are catching more than just Pokemon.

Jeffery Zhang, an MBA student at the University of Tampa, managed to catch a girlfriend while playing the game.

The long-single lad hadn’t been successful finding love on apps like Tinder and was too shy to participate in social activities. It was while hunting for Pokémon that he managed to bump into his future girlfriend -- literally.

The two collided while Zhang was making a dash for a Pokéstop while hunting for an evolved Eevee.

“Out of nowhere a girl crashed into me and hurt my foot,” Zhang said. "She apologized profusely and we ended up talking throughout the night. I found out she is single and also a student. We started dating shortly after that and have been together ever since."

On the heels of his love connection, a lightbulb came on for Zhang. He realized that a dating app for Pokémon Go players could be, as it was for him, more effective than Tinder.

Shared interest

With the help of his friends, Zhang created Pok: a dating app for Pokémon Go players that works like Tinder.

For those who find traditional online dating sites to be a challenge, Pok could be a welcomed alternative. Matches made on dating sites may struggle to find time to meet, and the meeting itself could reveal a lack of common interests.

Pok may solve both dilemmas by offering users a way to meet other Pokémon Go users who are looking for love. Sparks could fly as single users hunt for Pokémon together.

Like Tinder, the app offers anonymous “likes” and allows users to chat. Additionally, users can share “exciting moments and achievements anytime” by heading over to the activity feature on the app.

Pok is available as a free download for Android and iOS

Pokémon Go has users stepping out of their comfort zones. As a result, some trainers are catching more than just Pokemon. Jeffery Zhang, an MBA student...

Equal division of labor may be the key to a lasting marriage, study suggests

Could this spell trouble for stay-at-home dads?

In the healthiest, longest-lasting marriages, research shows that partners tend to have two traits in common: kindness and generosity.

But what factors predict divorce? Money might come to mind first, but a new study finds that cash isn’t the culprit at all. Rather, it’s a couple’s division of labor that may increase the risk of divorce.

For couples who tied the knot prior to 1975, the study showed that the share of housework done by the wife affected the risk of divorce. But for couples who wed more recently (between 1975 and 2011), the divorce risk was affected by whether or not husbands worked full-time outside the home.  

Simply put, the stability of a marriage can be affected by an unequal division of labor. And changing gender roles may be at the heart of the shift in partners' expectations of one another.

Spouse’s expectations

The expectations with which an individual enters into a marriage may impact their level of satisfaction within the partnership, according to study author Alexandra Killewald, a professor of sociology at Harvard University.

And as times have changed, so have expectations. Compared to 1975, couples have different ideas of what employment status and division of household labor should look like within a marriage.

“For contemporary couples, wives can combine paid and unpaid labor in various ways without threatening the stability of their marriage,” Killewald said in a statement, adding that women are now finding it easier to step into traditionally male-dominated roles.

Men as breadwinners

But men’s roles and responsibilities haven’t diversified quite as much since 1975, she explained. Although the amount of money men bring home doesn’t affect divorce risk, men are still expected to be employed full-time. 

“While contemporary wives need not embrace the traditional female homemaker role to stay married, contemporary husbands face higher risk of divorce when they do not fulfill the stereotypical breadwinner role by being employed full-time,” Killewald said.

Research showed that in marriages where men were not employed full-time, whether due to being laid off or only being able to procure part time work, there was a 3.3% risk of divorce the next year. After husbands obtained full-time employment, the risk dropped to 2.5 percent. 

The full study will appear in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.

In the healthiest, longest-lasting marriages, research shows that partners tend to have two traits in common: kindness and generosity. But what factors...

Twitter adds verification option to more accounts

Until now, verification has been limited mostly to celebrities and other big names

Back in the day, it was considered clever to say that on the internet no one knows you're a dog. Sadly, it's still true that just about anyone can impersonate just about anyone else and get by with it. This has enabled thousands of successful scams, crimes, and outright tragedies.

There's still no universal solution, but Twitter is now offering to verify your identity so that everyone will know you're who you say you are. It has always done this for certain celebrities and public figures, placing a blue check mark next to their name, but it is now opening it up to others.

Details are available on Twitter's site. Among other things, you'll need to provide your birth date, phone number, a headshot, and a scan of your driver's license or other photo ID.

Note that Twitter isn't promising to verify everyone who applies. You'll need to have a good reason, and you may need to provide quite a bit more information than the scant details mentioned above. But aside from celebrities, it's easy to see why financial advisors, journalists, government officials, and healthcare providers -- among others -- might want to add a layer of credibility to their tweets.

For now at least, having that little blue check mark next to your name is a little like having a vanity license plate or phone number. With more than 310 million Twitter users, only 187,000 or so are verified.

Back in the day, it was considered clever to say that on the internet no one knows you're a dog. Sadly, it's still true that just about anyone can imperson...

Good communication may not always predict a happy marriage

Study suggests that marital satisfaction fuels good communication

Does good communication make a happy marriage, or are satisfied couples simply more likely to communicate better?

It’s a chicken-or-egg question that researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) recently attempted to crack.

In attempting to determine the specific correlation between communication and marital satisfaction, the team unearthed a more complicated relationship than previously thought.

Satisfaction leads to communication

Sitting on a couch opposite a therapist, couples might insist that poor communication is to blame for their lack of marital satisfaction. What UGA researchers discovered, however, is that satisfaction tends to lead to better communication, not the other way around.

“It’s absolutely right to say more satisfied couples do communicate more positively, as well as to say couples who communicate better on average are more satisfied,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Justin Lavner, an assistant professor in UGA’s clinical psychology program in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

But, adds Lavner of the three-year study of 400 low-income newlywed couples, it wouldn’t necessarily be safe to assume that one causes the other one.

Correlation, not causation 

The study showed no strong causal link between communication and satisfaction; neither event predicted the other. It was more common, however, for satisfaction to predict good communication.

“I think what this leaves us wondering is what are some of the other factors that matter for couples’ relationships and how these factors predict how couples do over time," Lavner said in a statement.

Previously, the link between communication and marital satisfaction had only been studied from the perspective of communication leading to satisfaction.

In addition to showing that satisfaction is usually the driving force behind good communication, the team also discovered that satisfied couples also demonstrated higher levels of positivity, lower levels of negativity, and more effectiveness.

The findings are published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Does good communication make a happy marriage, or are satisfied couples simply more likely to communicate better? It’s a chicken-or-egg question that r...

After a reset, Ashley Madison says it's back

Company says it has improved its security and opened the site to all kinds of relationships

Ashley Madison, the dating website that helped married members find partners for affairs, has repositioned itself and hit the reset button.

Two new top executives of parent company Avid Life Media – CEO Rob Segal and President James Millership – have unveiled what they call transformative changes to help the company bounce back from last year's system hack that made members' names public.

“A year ago, Avid Life Media was silenced by a devastating, criminal hack that affected our company and some of our members,” Segal said. The company is truly sorry for how people’s lives and relationships may have been affected by the criminal theft of personal information. That’s why we’re charting a new course and making some big changes.”

Among the changes, Ashley Madison will no longer be just a dating site for married people looking to cheat, but will also be a site for “the open-minded dating community.” The company says the website will try to appeal to a wide range of people seeking relationships.

Like any major business, Segal says Avid Life Media has made major investments in new security safeguards to counter cyber threats. After last year's exposure, Segal says Ashley Madison worked with Deloitte’s cyber security team to set up new security systems that include 24/7 monitoring.

The Impact Teams strikes

The Ashley Madison system hack took place nearly a year ago by hackers who identified themselves as The Impact Team. The hackers' objective was the removal of the website, claiming the company lied to its members.

A month later, some Ashley Madison members filed suit against the company over the data breach. However, the suit was complicated by the fact that the plaintiffs did not want to be publicly identified. That was the issue behind the suit in the first place.

Meanwhile, Segal confirmed to The New York Times that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Ashley Madison, but he isn't sure of the focus. Nonetheless, he said the company is cooperating.

Ashley Madison, the dating website that helped married members find partners for affairs, has repositioned itself and hit the reset button.Two new top ...

Your happiness may depend on whether you value money or time

A new study suggests that what you value is more important than what you have

Given the choice between more money or more time, which would you choose?

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) posed this question to 4,400 people. Participants’ answers to this seemingly simple question proved to be a measure of something deeper: their happiness.

The majority of participants (64%) said they would rather have more money. But those who yearned for more time were generally happier, the researchers discovered.

This finding -- which held true even when the team controlled for the participants’ time and money -- suggests a ‘mind over matter’ type of association between the amount of resources people have and their level of happiness.

In other words, a person’s level of happiness depends on what they consider important.

Happiness linked to value

"What matters is the value people place on each resource," the researchers explained in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. "Beyond the amount of these resources people have, happiness is linked to the resource people want."

Older participants were the most likely to covet time, Vox reports. This could be because older participants were more likely to already have money as a result of having spent more time working. Older participants were also more likely to have children, and children aren’t known for giving parents an abundance of free time.

The married and wealthy also tended to be more likely to choose time over money -- a finding that the team believes warrants further research.

The key takeaway: if it's happiness you're after, set your sights on time rather than focusing on the amount of cash in your wallet. While both are resources in high demand, only one of the two can't be earned back once it's gone.

Given the choice between more money or more time, which would you choose? Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Califor...

Millennial dads are more involved than dads of older generations, research shows

Studies show that an involved dad can be good for kids' health

Today’s fathers seem to be taking on a bigger role in the household. More dads than ever are handling the child care, tackling the grocery runs, and taking on the role of stay-at-home dad.

According to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. dads are more involved in child care than ever, which could be a boon for kids’ health.

Studies have found that an involved dad can make all the difference. In fact, older kids with involved fathers tend to have fewer behavioral problems, symptoms of depression, and lower rates of teen pregnancy.

So how are dads of this generation stepping up to the plate when it comes to household responsibilities and caring for kids?

“Bro-cery shopping”

Millennial dads are spending more time in the grocery aisles compared to previous generations. In fact, a new survey by Ibotta finds that today's dads have increased the number of grocery purchases by 62% since 2013.

Younger fathers (ages 18 to 24) are purchasing 25% more groceries than dads in older generations. The numbers also show that men are making more trips to the grocery store each month (up 5% since 2013).

And it seems as though dads’ upped grocery game is taking some of the burden off of mom; the share of groceries purchased by millennial mothers has decreased by nearly 2.5% in the same time span.

Increase in stay-at-home dads

Today, there are roughly two million dads who do not work outside the home, according to Pew Research. While this number represents only 7% of fathers in the U.S., it’s an increase from 1989 when just 4% of dads stayed home.

Pew researchers note that the reasons more dads are staying home are changing, too. In 2012, nearly a quarter of dads said caring for home or family was their main reason for staying home -- four times as many as in 1989.

But not everyone is on board with these changes. A majority (62%) of those surveyed say an ideal marriage is one in which the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the house and children. However, 74% also say that having women in the workplace makes it more difficult for parents to raise children.

Today’s fathers seem to be taking on a bigger role in the household. More dads than ever are handling the child care, tackling the grocery runs, and taking...

Facebook will zap your photo albums if you don't upgrade to Moments

"Unlimited" photo syncing ends July 7

Back in 2012, Facebook introduced a photo syncing feature and promised "unlimited" automatic photo uploads from smartphones into a private album, similar to Google Photos and Apple's iCloud Photos.

But unlimited means different things at different times, and right now, it means the photos will be deleted if you don't install Moments, Facebook's new dedicated photo-sharing app by July 7.

This is basically the same thing Facebook did when it introduced its messaging app. It required everyone to install a dedicated messaging app if they wanted to continue sending messages. The app quickly grew to 900 million users.

Moments was released in June 2015 and Facebook stopped supporting automatic syncing of photos from the main app, forcing users to install the Moments app.

Now it is turning up the heat and saying that existing photos will be zapped into oblivion for users who don't add the Moments app to their smartphones.

The deletion of synced photos won't affect photos or videos shared on Facebook separately from the synced albums.

Facebook hasn't said anything publicly about the change but has been notifying users with messages like this one, sent to a user in the U.K.: 

“Photos you privately synced from your phone to Facebook will be deleted soon. Earlier this year, they were moved to Moments, a new app from Facebook. If you want to keep these photos, download and log into Moments before 7 July. If you don’t want Moments, download these photos directly to your computer from your Facebook profile before 7 July.”

It's not so much that Moments needs an extra push. It's already the third most popular free ap on iOS and second most popular on Google Play in the U.S. 

Back in 2012, Facebook introduced a photo syncing feature and promised "unlimited" automatic photo uploads from smartphones into a private album, similar t...

Millennials are choosing life with parents over other living arrangements

Delayed marriage may be fueling the change

Millennials aren’t anxious to leave the nest. In fact, a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that more millennials are currently living at home than in any other living arrangement.

Pew’s analysis concludes that this is the first time in American history that such a large percentage (32.1%) of young adults are living with mom and dad, rather than with a partner or roommates.

The force behind the change? According to Richard Fry at Pew, it’s primarily the fact that more millennials (defined as ages 18 to 34) are waiting to settle down romantically.

Since the 1880s, living with a romantic partner has been the most common living arrangement among young people. But with more millennials choosing to delay their walk down the aisle (often until closer to age 35), life with parents may be a more practical living arrangement.

Men more than women

Millennial men were found to be more likely to live with their parents than with a spouse or partner. About 35% are opting to stay with parents, while 28% are living with a romantic partner.  

The scales tip the other way for young women, albeit only slightly. Thirty-five percent of millennial women live with a significant other and 29% live with their parents.

Economic factors

Fry notes that changes in economic status may be partially responsible for the difference between men and women. While the percentage of young men employed in the workforce has decreased since the 1960s, the opposite is true for young women.

As job prospects for women improve, more young women are choosing to put off setting up a household with a romantic partner in favor of following a career path.

Other economic factors -- including student debt, the high cost of first-time homes, and slow wage growth in recent years -- may also be contributing to the cohort’s desire not to leave the nest as early as older generations.

Millennials aren’t anxious to leave the nest. In fact, a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that more millennials are currently living at home than...

Twitter expands what users can do with Tweets

But the 140 character limit remains in place

Twitter, whose stock has been battered on Wall Street in recent weeks, has announced some changes that it says will allow users to do more with their Tweets.

What isn't changing is the 140 character limit on messages. However, the company said it plans to change what counts as characters. For example, it says @names in replies and attachments, such as photos, videos, and polls, will no longer count as characters.

That, Twitter says, will make Twitter conversations easier and more straightforward. The company also said it will enable the Retweet button on users' own Tweets, making it easy for users to Retweet or Quote Tweet themselves.

The changes will simplify rules for Tweets that begin with a username. Those Tweets will reach all followers. It allows user to drop the “@” at the beginning.

ReTweet yourself

“If you want a reply to be seen by all your followers, you will be able to Retweet it to signal that you intend for it to be viewed more broadly,” the company said in the company blog.

The changes have not yet taken effect. Twitter says it will take a few months to roll them out gradually. It says its developer partners need the time to make needed adjustments.

The company perhaps hoped the announcement would help lift its sagging stock price, but the timing was unfortunate. Just before the announcement, investment research firm MoffettNathanson downgraded Twitter's stock from neutral to sell. It also cut its price target from $15 to $12.

To make matters worse, MoffettNathanson wasn't alone. Monnes Crespi Hardt maintained its buy rating on the stock but slashed its price target.

As a result, Twitter shares sank further in heavy trading Tuesday, reaching a new low of $13.73 a share.

Twitter, whose stock has been battered on Wall Street in recent weeks, has announced some changes that it says will allow users to do more with their Tweet...

Facebook hopes more live video will encourage personal posts

Facebookers are online longer but are posting fewer personal stories

Facebook is inviting publishers to start streaming live video feeds. You won't be able to save them for future viewing, so you'll need to keep your eyeballs pinned to the screen.

The idea is not necessarily to build traffic. Facebook has plenty of traffic already, but it wants its users to share more personal fare -- you know, cute kittens, spring graduates, and so forth. 

A recent survey found that users shared 21% fewer personal stories last year, while posting more news stories and other posts from professional outlets. That stuff's OK, but it doesn't build the user loyalty and engagement that Facebook is counting on.  

It's hoping that live, high-quality video will excite users and cause them to post more of their stuff. Just how that's supposed to work isn't quite clear, but Facebook seems to think it's a logical progression.

The live video will be accessibe through a tab in the Messenger app. It was one of many initiatives announced at Facebook's F8 Conference, which featured a "10-year roadmap to connect everyone and to give people new ways to share using artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Facebook is inviting publishers to start streaming live video feeds. You won't be able to save them for future viewing, so you'll need to keep your eyeball...

Widows, widowers may be hardier in the face of adversity

Study finds that widowed patients have higher levels of psychological resilience

Losing a spouse can leave a deep, lasting wound. But widows and widowers just might be emotionally hardier as a result of the loss, new research suggests.

A study led by Virginia Commonwealth University found that widowed patients suffering from a neurological illness were happier than married patients with a similar illness.

The study -- published recently in the journal Healthy Aging Research -- builds upon the findings of a 2013 study, in which VCU and Virginia Tech researchers examined post-traumatic growth following loss of a spouse in chronic pain suffers.

In both studies, widowed patients experienced less emotional suffering and greater psychological hardiness than those who were married, divorced, separated, or single.

Better coping strategies

According to researchers, the reason for the discrepancy may have something to do with a widowed individual's ability to cope.

“Humans are incredibly resilient,” said principal investigator James B. Wade, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the VCU School of Medicine.

“By being confronted by and forced to deal with challenge, we develop new strategies for coping that allow us to better deal with future lifestyle threats.”

In other words, having already coped with major lifestyle adversity can leave individuals better prepared to face adversity the next time it comes along.

Societal implications

Wade says the study's findings have important implications for all people, especially now that humans are living longer.

“Everybody is going to experience their own challenges, and this study shows that being confronted with adversity changes you,” Wade said.

He adds that people grow, adapt and develop new coping strategies following the death of a partner, ultimately leading to higher levels of psychological resilience.

Losing a spouse can leave a deep, lasting wound. But widows and widowers just might be emotionally hardier as a result of the loss, new research suggests....

Lawsuit takes issue with Facebook's facial recognition practices

Illinois residents say the photo tagging violates state law. Facebook argues it's in California

Facebook's facial scanning software is the subject of a lawsuit that has just cleared one hurdle and may finally be headed to trial. The lawsuit charges that Facebook is violating an Illinois state law by scanning uploaded photos and trying to put names with the faces.

The suit was filed last year by three Illinois residents who alleged that Facebook had violated state law by failing to properly alert users to the fact that it was storing millions of photographs and trying, through its Tag Suggestions feature, to match them with identifying information.

Facebook argued that the case could not be brought under Illinois law because its terms of use specify that California law governs any disputes.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Donato held that Illinois "has a greater interest in the determination of the case" and said that its Biometric Information Privacy Act would be "written out of existence" if Facebook's argument was allowed to stand.

Facebook is expected to appeal Donato's ruling, as it could set a precedent making it easier for users of social media to bring lawsuits based on the laws of the states where they reside.

"Ambiguous statements"

Users can opt out of the Tag Suggestions feature, but the lawsuit says doing so is difficult, thanks to "ambiguous statements" in Facebook's help pages. We decided to take a look and see if the explanations were clear.

Here's how Facebook explains the tagging process in its Help section: 

"When you’re tagged in a photo, or make a photo your profile picture, we associate the tags with your account, compare what these photos have in common and store a summary of this comparison. If you’ve never been tagged in a photo on Facebook or have untagged yourself in all photos of you on Facebook, then we do not have this summary information for you."

And here's how Facebook says you can turn off tagging:

To choose who sees suggestions to tag you in photos:

  1. Click  at the top right of any Facebook page and choose Settings
  2. Click Timeline and Tagging in the left column
  3. Next to How can I manage tags people add and tagging suggestions?, click Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?
  4. Choose an option from the dropdown menu

When you turn off tag suggestions, Facebook won’t suggest that people tag you in photos that look like you. Keep in mind that friends will still be able to tag photos of you.

There's more, but these perhaps somewhat murky examples may provide a preview of the semantic arguments likely to be tossed about if the case ever makes its way to trial.

Facebook's facial scanning software is the subject of a lawsuit that has just cleared one hurdle and may finally be headed to trial. The lawsuit charges th...

Complaining can harm your health, research shows

Chronic curmudgeons may also be harming the health of those who listen to them

Releasing some steam by way of complaining may seem like a healthier alternative to keeping it all inside. But according to author and human nature researcher Steven Parton, the logic behind thinking that complaining will make you feel better is flawed.

Not only is complaining ineffectual, it can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health, he explains. Beyond that, the health of our listeners will also be negatively affected.

Complaining is contagious

We all know it’s unpleasant to be around the Negative Nancys and Debbie Downers of the world, but the reason why might surprise you.

As it turns out, the brain is hardwired to try to duplicate the emotions -- or, fire the same synapses -- of whomever we’re talking to.

“This is basically empathy,” explains Parton via Psych Pedia. “It is how we get the mob mentality ... It is our shared bliss at music festivals. But it is also your night at the bar with your friends who love to constantly bitch."

Harms your health

Complaining is also shown to do a number on the complainer’s own physical health. According to Parton, the body doesn't react too kindly to an abundance of negative emotions.

"When your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you're weakening your immune system,” explains Parton. “You're raising your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and a plethora of other negative ailments."

The reason for this is the stress hormone cortisol, which is released in greater quantities when you’re expressing negative thoughts and emotions, says Parton. Stress hormones can take a toll on a whole host of bodily functions, including learning and memory, blood pressure, weight, bone density, immune health, and cholesterol.

Bottled emotions 

But while complaining may not be the healthiest way of letting go of negative thoughts, there's also research to show that bottled up emotions can do just as much harm. One study found that bottling emotions can even shorten your life. 

So how can one slip into that healthy middle ground between complaining and bottling? Experts say a technique called "effective complaining" may be useful. Where regular complaining is essentially just passively "admiring" the problem, effective complaining (also called "positive complaining") is doing something to change it. 

There is also the "but-positive" technique, which entails tacking on a positive addition to your complaint. (For example, "I don't like driving to work, but I'm thankful I can drive and I even have a job.")

Joe Gordon, author of The No Complaining Rule, recommends this technique as a way to deal with our natural desire to complain. Gordon says this kind of "complaint filtration system" can be an effective first step towards eradicating unnecessary complaining from your everyday life, especially for those who might find complaining hard to vanquish altogether.

Releasing some steam by way of complaining may seem like a healthier alternative to keeping it all inside. But according to author and human nature researc...

Study: photographing a meal prior to consumption leads to greater overall satisfaction

The 'amateur food-photographer' phenomenon is here to stay and holds opportunities for marketers, researchers say

Before social media, it would seem strange -- at least somewhat -- to see someone snapping a photo of their meal before eating it. But nowadays, it’s become common to see someone pick up their phone before they pick up their fork.

Young people, especially, seem to believe that the internet should be apprised of all things, including the fact that they are about to consume a particularly pretty meal. Food-related hashtags rack up millions of posts on Instagram and other social media platforms. But why?

What is driving consumers’ newfound desire to postpone the consumption of a meal in favor of sharing a photo of it? This new social norm carries with it some interesting impacts and implications, according to experts.

Greater satisfaction

Consumer-generated images of food play a big role in marketing, according to Sean Coary, Ph.D., assistant professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

“When we take a photo of something before eating, we create a momentary but intentional delay in consumption, allowing all of the senses to be engaged and building the anticipation of enjoyment,” says Coary, who teamed up with Morgan Poor, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at the University of San Diego, to study the effects of taking a photo of food prior to eating it.

The team’s research, published recently in the Journal for Consumer Marketing, showed that taking a picture of food prior to consumption leads to greater overall satisfaction. And consquently, more favorable evaluations of the dish -- but only when the dish was considered “indulgent.”

Demonstrates healthy habits

Photographing healthy dishes played a similarly large role in influencing consumer satisfaction. Taking photos of healthy dishes can help people share their healthy motives with their friends and social networks, the researchers said.

“Diners want to remember the visual aesthetic of their food, especially when it’s something indulgent,” said Coary. But they also want to “signal to others that they are part of the ‘fit’ club,” he explains.

When consumers are aware of the healthy eating habits of others, the satisfaction-generating effects of photographic food can be seen.

Marketing implications

Poor says these studies and the ‘amateur food-photographer phenomenon’ they’re centered around have implications for brands and restaurants. She also predicts “this is only the beginning.”

The researchers say more restaurants and brands should embrace the trend and capitalize on their customers’ eagerness to share photos of their product. In a world where 'likes' are currency for consumers, there are advantages to be had for marketers.

“If your food is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, your customers will want to take a photograph and potentially share it,” said Coary. “Training staff who understand the importance of aesthetics and finding creative ways to take advantage of this free advertising are crucial for both brands and restaurants”

Before social media, it would seem strange -- at least somewhat -- to see someone snapping a photo of their meal before eating it. But nowadays, it’s becom...

Facebook moves beyond the Like button

After all, not everything we read on the Newsfeed is likeable

Let's face it, Facebook, we humans aren't quite as simple as we look. When informed of an event, circumstance or observation, we have a wide range of potential reactions -- amusement, anger, dismay, skepticism, denial and so forth.

That's why we have been annoyed, irate and disappointed that until now, we have been able to display only a single emotion on Facebook -- the dim-witted, happy face "Like."

But now we are happy, amused, relieved and downright jubilant to learn that one of the world's largest and supposedly forward-looking corporations has finally recognized that there is more to life than liking stuff.

Wider range

All of which is by way of saying, in case you haven't already heard, that Facebook is expanding its Like button to display a somewhat wider range of emotions, though the permitted range is still limited to those that might be displayed by one who is heavily medicated.

Facebook calls this new function Reactions, "an extension of the Like button, to give you more ways to share your reaction to a post in a quick and easy way," as product manager Sammi Krug put it in a likeable enough posting.

Why is it called an extension? Because to make it work, you start out with the Like button we've all come to know and like.

"To add a reaction, hold down the Like button on mobile or hover over the Like button on desktop to see the reaction image options, then tap either Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry," said Krug. 

Much as we like hearing this, it's unlikely anyone would argue that these six emoji-like figures represent the entire range of human emotions. Fortunately, last time we checked, Facebook still accommodates text, meaning we can use the old shopworn but nevertheless likeable collection of alphabet extensions called words to express ourselves. 

Let's face it, Facebook, we humans aren't quite as simple as we look. When informed of an event, circumstance or observation, we have a wide range of poten...

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but Yik Yak?

Researchers say it may be too early to condemn the popular app

If you haven't heard of Yik Yak, it's a "hyperlocal" app that lets users post anonymously to other users in a specific area. It has gotten a bad rap from college administrators and others because it has been used to post threats and racial slurs.

But a study by University of Florida researchers finds it may not be as bad as all that. Writing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the UF researchers say they didn't find much of that kind of activity in their study.

"Our analysis was brief and focused on a specific point in time -- not enough time to make an accurate representation of postings on Yik Yak," said Erik Black, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine's department of pediatrics and lead author of the paper. "But the most intriguing finding with this study is we didn't see what we expected to see."

"There was definitely profanity and some aspects that would make anyone uncomfortable -- but those aspects weren't in any way worrisome since the profanity wasn't directed at anyone," said Lindsay Thompson, M.D., a physician in the department of pediatrics and co-author of the paper. "I think having a healthy skepticism is appropriate. But in this situation, among college students, fears and moves toward censorship would be unfounded."

Worrisome posts

A "worrisome" post would be one that could cause an individual to be singled out for abuse or ridicule, Black and Thompson said. 

The researchers defined "worrisome" postings as any yaks that could cause an individual to be revealed. Otherwise, Black and Thompson felt they could not label any particular posting as worrisome primarily because they lacked the understanding of the yak's context on that campus.

Social media in general offer the opportunity for users to post comments anonymously that they might not make in person. The researchers said that while Yik Yak is no different in that respect from other social media, they found few instances in which yaks included the full name of the person being discussed.

"We're not condoning the type of rhetoric we see on the application. Profane, racist and misogynistic language is not OK," Black said. "Yik Yak may provide the opportunity to pull back the proverbial covers on underlying sentiment on campuses."

If you haven't heard of Yik Yak, it's a "hyperlocal" app that lets users post anonymously to other users in a specific area. It has gotten a bad rap from c...

Grieving on social media - Staying connected while mourning your loss

Online memorials are becoming more personal than the traditional forms

It was right before Christmas when I saw the first post. My friend Kelley had made a comment on one of her friend’s Facebook posts and it appeared in my news feed. The friend, someone who I did not know, had shared that her mother was dying. As she sat vigil, she posted on Facebook and her friends wrote loving and encouraging messages.

This reminded me of the journalist who tweeted to his million plus followers as he sat with his mother in the ICU while she lay dying. I’m sure these frequent connections helped both of them feel less isolated during a wrenching time.

Social media has rapidly become the primary channel for connecting with a wide circle of people. Users freely communicate their joys so it’s no surprise that they now share their sorrows. In disclosing news of an illness, impending death, or the death itself, users are finding support as they mourn their losses.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, SnapChat, and other social media are new forums for grief and loss. They have driven a social change, opening up conversations on death and dying, cancer and death by suicide, miscarriage and other losses -- topics that were often social taboos and off-limits.

More personal

Unlike obituaries that provide death and funeral specifics, social media postings are more personal narratives comprising text and images. Communications are fueled by emotion and rarely follow a set format. You’ll find death and funeral announcements, links to obituaries, photos with tributes sharing an illness or loss, and eulogies.

As users become more comfortable with sharing, many will post photos and narrative that coincide with death anniversaries and the deceased’s birthday, no matter how many years have passed.

For those that seek support, but are uncomfortable sharing highly personal news, you may see subtler announcements; they may change their profile photo to that of a family member (now deceased) or one of themselves with the deceased family member.

As we rely more and more on social media, grief and mourning will move further away from traditional practices. Obituaries will give way to online death announcements; handwritten condolences will move to an online “I’m sorry for your loss.” Mourning will take place not in funeral homes, houses of worship, or the home of the bereaved but instead on Twitter feeds and memorial pages on Facebook.

While many of us bemoan the loss of personal connections, in an era where so much is impersonal, the ability to find support though social media may be just what is needed during a sorrowful time.

It was right before Christmas when I saw the first post. My friend Kelley had made a comment on one of her friend’s Facebook posts and it appeared in my ne...

Are you Facebook dependent? It's not necessarily a bad thing

Dependency and addiction aren't the same thing, after all

Do you check Facebook several times a day? Maybe you play games with friends, post your opinions, check feedback on your posts, and look for chances to meet new friends.

If so, you may have a Facebook dependency. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, says Amber Ferris, an assistant professor of communication at The University of Akron's Wayne College.

Ferris, who studies Facebook user trends, says the more people use Facebook to fulfill their goals, the more dependent on it they become. However, she says this is not the same as an addiction.

Ferris and her colleagues studied 301 Facebook users who post at least once a month. They found that people who perceive Facebook as helpful in gaining a better understanding of themselves go to the site to meet new people and to get attention from others. Also, people who use Facebook to gain a deeper understanding of themselves tend to have agreeable personalities but lower self-esteem than others.

"They might post that they went to the gym. Maybe they'll share a post expressing a certain political stance or personal challenge they're facing. They rely on feedback from Facebook friends to better understand themselves," Ferris says.

Ferris explains that some users observe how others cope with problems and situations similar to their own "and get ideas on how to approach others in important and difficult situations." Other Facebook dependency signs point to users' needs for information or entertainment. In other words, a user knows about the local festival scheduled for this weekend thanks to Facebook.

Personality traits

Ferris' colleague Erin Hollenbaugh uncovered personality traits common among specific types of Facebook users.

For example, people who use Facebook to establish new relationships tend to be extroverted. Extroverts are more open to sharing their personal information online but are not always honest with their disclosures, Ferris says.

The most positive posts online come from those who have high self-esteem, according to Ferris.

"Those who post the most and are the most positive in posts do so to stay connected with people they already know and to gain others' attention," Ferris says. "This makes a lot of sense - if you are happy with your life, you are more likely to want to share that happiness with others on social media."

Do you check Facebook several times a day? Maybe you play games with friends, post your opinions, check feedback on your posts, and look for chances to mee...

Erasing an ex-partner from your Facebook life

New tools designed to spare users those awkward moments

In the old Soviet Union, when a party official ran afoul of the Politburo and party doctrine, any public reference to him in official media or historical records quickly disappeared. It was called becoming an “unperson.”

Facebook is borrowing a page from the old Kremlin playbook, making it possible for users to remove any photos or references to a former lover or spouse.

Since so many people seem to live on their Facebook page, the current constant exposure to that now-ended side of life is like constantly bumping into your former significant other, at the supermarket, dry cleaner, and nearly everywhere you go on a daily basis. Awkward.

Available options

“Facebook is a place for sharing life’s important moments, which for many people include their romantic relationships, Kelly Winters, Facebook Product Manager, writes on the company blog. “When a relationship ends, we’ve heard from people that they sometimes have questions about the options available to them on Facebook.”

Winters says Facebook is now testing tools that will allow users to shield themselves from the sight of their former partners getting on with their lives without them. Now, when a user indicates his or her relationship status has changed, the user will be prompted to give the new tools a try.

You can view less of a former partner’s name and profile picture on Facebook without having to take the heavy-handed step of unfriending or blocking them. Their posts won’t show up in News Feed and their name won’t be suggested when people write a new message or tag friends in photos.

Limiting photos, videos and status updates

You can also limit the photos, videos, or status updates a former partner will see. You'll be able to edit who can see past posts with a former partner and untag yourself from posts with that person.

“This work is part of our ongoing effort to develop resources for people who may be going through difficult moments in their lives," Winters writes. “We hope these tools will help people end relationships on Facebook with greater ease, comfort and sense of control.”

If you happen to be coming off a bad break up, you can give these Facebook tools a test drive immediately on the mobile platform. Winters says the company will tweak the tools based on user feedback.

In the old Soviet Union, when a party official ran afoul of the Politburo and party doctrine, any public reference to him in official media or historical r...

Match.com responsible for violent date? Court doesn't think so

"Everybody lies on that thing," judge scoffs

Sometimes you can tell it to the judge and get a sympathetic hearing, but not always. "Anybody who thinks the guy on the other side is really that person is an idiot," said Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz in a case brought by a woman who was attacked by a Match.com date.

Mary Kay Beckman said she was attacked by Wade Ridley, a man she met through Match.com and who, not coincidentally, had a lengthy criminal record. He was later convicted of killing an ex-girlfriend in Phoenix and died in prison while serving a decades-long sentence.

Beckman, who was beaten and left for dead by Ridley after she tried to break off her relationship with him, said Match.com knew of his criminal record and should not have brought the two together, but Judge Hurwitz was not having it. 

"Everybody lies on this thing," Hurwitz said, according to Courthouse News Service, saying that Beckman had not shown that Match.com knew of Ridley's history.

"We would allege that in fact they had prior warning from other users and failed to act," Beckman's lawyer Marc Saggese told a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court Tuesday.

Insisting that Match.com had a duty to report users' criminal histories, Saggese argued that the website is not simply an unregulated forum where "everyone just throws their posting up on a wall and sees what sticks."

Judge Richard Paez was more sympathetic but still doubtful, saying that Communications Decence Act provides "a form of immunity, basically." The CDA says providers of "interactive computer services" such as dating sites, cannot be held liable for information posted by third parties, in this case, people who submit dating profiles.

Beckman's lawyer, Saggese, said the case goes beyond that. He argued that matching one person with another amounts to more than just posting data submitted by users.

Sometimes you can tell it to the judge and get a sympathetic hearing, but not always. "Anybody who thinks the guy on the other side is really that person i...

Peeple will let you put people in their places

Why should you not be able to point out everyone's failings, fears, and foibles?

Don't you know a lot of people who are just disgusting? You know -- empty suits, braggarts, loudmouths, dull as dishwater, stand-off-ish, and just a general waste of space?

Well, soon, you'll be able to do something about it -- you'll be able to rate them, just the way you now rate cars, hotels, dating services, restaurants, and psychics on Yelp, ConsumerAffairs, and other review sites.

Yes, someone's finally done it -- a review app for people. It's called, logically enough, Peeple. It's set to launch this fall.

"Peeple is an app that allows you to rate and comment about the people you interact with in your daily lives on the following three categories: personal, professional, and dating," as the app's founders put it. "Peeple will enhance your online reputation for access to better quality networks, top job opportunities, and promote more informed decision making about people."

You'll be able to give one- to five-star ratings to anybody -- your neighbor, your aunt, lovers past and present, that rotten teacher from fifth grade and, of course, your boss. Not to mention your former boss.

Peeple explains itself, sort of, in this video:

Of course, it won't be the kind of thing where you can just sling mud at anybody and everybody. Oh no. The founders assure us that there will be controls in place to ensure that you actually know the person you are grinding into little pieces. You'll also have to be 21, have a Facebook account, and use your own name.

“People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” said Julia Cordray, one of the app’s founders, according to a Washington Post story. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

Sure, why not indeed? Before you strike up a conversation with your seatmate on the subway, get his or her name and do the research.

You'll also be able to be an even better helicopter parent. The site's other co-founder, Nicole McCullough, is a mother of two who admits she doesn't know her neighbors too well. But when Peeple launches, she'll be able to check them out and decide if her kids should be allowed to play with their kids.

Can't be too careful, after all.

Don't you know a lot of people who are just disgusting? You know -- empty suits, braggarts, loudmouths, dull as dishwater, stand-off-ish, and just a genera...

Study: smartphone can be relationship killer

Researchers coin the term "Pphubbing" to describe couples who value their devices over their partners

The smartphone has become one of the most common consumer products in use today. It's a communications tool, entertainment platform, and fashion accessory.

Walk down the street and notice how many people are looking at their phones. Step into a cafe or coffee shop and you'll see more of the same.

Now, notice how many of those people with their eyes glued to their phones are part of a couple. If one or both halves of the couple are engrossed in their mobile devices, a Baylor University study suggests there's trouble ahead.

Researchers James A. Roberts and Meredith David have published a study with the impossibly long but highly descriptive title – "My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners."

They conducted two separate surveys that involved 453 adults in the U.S. in order to learn the relational effects of "Pphubbing" - or "partner phone snubbing." Pphubbing is a newly coined term to describe the extent to which people use, or are distracted by, their cellphones while in the company of their relationship partners.

Source of conflict

"What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction," said Roberts. "These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression."

Not to mention, one would assume, failed relationships.

Roberts and David used the first survey to develop a "Partner Phubbing Scale," a nine-item scale of common smartphone behaviors that respondents identified as snubbing behaviors.

Pphubbing behaviors

The behaviors include:

  • My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.
  • My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me.
  • My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.
  • If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone.

By developing the scale, the researchers try to show that "Pphubbing is conceptually and empirically different from attitude toward cellphones, partner's cellphone involvement, cellphone conflict, and cellphone addiction."

The second survey dug a little deeper. It measured Pphubbing effects on romantic couples. This was done, in part, by asking couples to respond to the nine-item scale developed in the first survey.

Here's what it found:

  • 46.3% of the respondents reported being phubbed by their partner
  • 22.6% said this phubbing caused conflict in the relationship
  • 36.6% reported feeling depressed at least some of the time

Tough on relationships

The inescapable conclusion is that this ubiquitous consumer product is very tough on relationships.

"In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal," David said. "However, our findings suggest that the more often a couple's time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cellphone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship.”

Fortunately, there's a pretty simple solution. When spending time with one's significant other, the researchers say, be cognizant of the interruptions caused by cellphones. And when you're trying to have a conversation, just turn them off.

The smartphone has become one of the most common consumer products in use today. It's a communications tool, entertainment platform, and fashion accessory....

Biggest relationship threat -- Facebook friend or a face from the past?

Technology isn't the winner in every contest

So which do you think is more dangerous to your existing relationship -- a smokin' hot Facebook friend or a fondly remembered face from the past?

A group of researchers set out to find the answer. Participants were shown their friends list and asked to pick out potential sexual partners. Not much happened.

But then the subjects were asked about romantically provocative people from their pasts and the responses were more enthusiastic.

Conclusion: Technology loses to memory -- or as the poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec put it: "You can close your eyes to reality, but not to memories."

In other words, the alternative, romantically desirable partners people keep in their memories are more of a threat to existing relationships than are alternative partners they might consider from scrolling through their list of Facebook friends.

Power of memory

The researchers found that merely thinking about a person one views as a potential romantic partner could lower an individual's relationship satisfaction and commitment to one's current partner. Facebook friends were not seen as romantic alternatives that threatened current committed relationships, which was reported in an article published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking

"The participants in this study were unmarried, younger adults, and although the results may not generalize to older, married adults, comparing the power of technology versus the impact of our internal memories on interpersonal relationships is an important area of research," said Journal Editor-in-Chief Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, California.

So which do you think is more dangerous to your existing relationship -- a smokin' hot Facebook friend or a fondly remembered face from the past?A grou...

Facebook adds an easier opt-out tool for targeted ads

You'll see just as many ads if you opt out but they won't be targeted

Facebook is adding a feature that makes it easier to opt out of ads that are targeted from data gathered through the "Like" and "Share" buttons that are scattered far and wide on the Internet -- just as it said it would when it started gathering that information.

After all, Facebook already knows an awful lot about the 1.49 billion people who use it each month, and gathering information about what we do when we're not on Facebook is just part of it.

Although Facebook has been collecting the information for quite awhile, it hasn't started using it to target ads but plans to do so next month.

Just to be clear, what we're talking about here are the Like and Share buttons that are on just about every commercial website -- not the ones that are on Facebook itself. If, for example, you're on a site for pet enthusiasts and you click the Like button for a story about dog safety seats, you may see ads for the seats next time you're on Facebook and the other sites where Facebook places ads.

Why would you care? 

Ads are relatively harmless, although the ones that block out the entire screen or trigger autoplay videos can be extremely annoying. But some people just don't like to feel they're being constantly measured, followed, profiled, and generally sized up. Also, they may have certain, shall we say, sensitive interests they'd just as soon not be reminded of.

Facebook's new process is supposed to make it easier to make your preferences known. 

Previously, opting out of behavioral tracking from external activities required clicking on a link that directed you to a page run by the Digital Advertising Alliance, which manages the industry's self-regulatory AdChoices program.

Making the choice on Facebook's site is a little simpler. Here's how it works:

Open the account settings section, using the "More" tab in Facebook's mobile app or the arrow in the top right corner on the desktop site. Then click the "ads" tab, which will display the new opt-out tool.

Facebook said it doesn't plan to make any explicit notification to users other than a company blog post tomorrow, Advertising Age reported.

Remember, opting out of the targeted ads doesn't mean you will see fewer ads, it just means they won't be targeted, which may make them less useful. 

Facebook is adding a feature that makes it easier to opt out of ads that are targeted from data gathered through the "Like" and "Share" buttons that are sc...

Brainless autoplay videos widen exposure to revenge killing

Social media users ambushed by grisly video of journalists' murders

The Internet is basically brainless. It has been built by thoughtless technocrats and heedless entrepreneurs who disdain the centuries-old notion that a human mind should make an informed decision about what to publish on public media.

Just a few decades ago, everything that went into print or got onto the air passed before one or more editors who at least tried to determine if it was a.) true and b.) "fit to print," as the New York Times motto has it.

This doesn't mean that shocking, even repellant, photos and videos are never used. News is often unpleasant but it's every citizen's duty to be informed on issues of public interest. Hence photos of war scenes, like the grisly Civil War photos taken by Mathew Brady and printed by newspapers around the country.

These days, anything and everything -- lies, pornography, stupid selfies, defamatory statements, false reviews and shocking acts of violence -- is immediately posted to social media. Everyone involved is very proud of what they have done and seem to think that it is somehow the pinnacle of free expression.

Live shot

Yesterday's fatal shooting of two Virginia television journalists and the wounding of their interview subject during a "live shot" was inadvertently broadcast on the local TV station but it also wound up on Facebook, Twitter and just about everywhere else.

Facebook and Twitter have only recently enabled "autoplay" videos on their platforms and may be regretting that today. Although they removed the videos and closed the account of accused shooter Vester Flanagan (who had posted his own video of the shooting), the video was already in wide circulation on the Web.

Flanagan, who Virginia State Police say shot himself after being apprehended, thus became the first non-ISIS perpetrator to use social media for something even worse than revenge porn. 

Many consumers were upset by the violent videos.

Twitter declined to comment and Facebook said the video was removed for "violating our Community Standards," according to a BuzzFeed report

The Roanoke TV station, WDBJ, couldn't avoid carrying the shooting as it happened but refrained from repeating it endlessly throughout the day, as did most other outlets staffed by humans. 

What to do

Bad things do happen and shouldn't be hushed up but being ambushed by an autoplay video is something many consumers would like to avoid. Parents, in particular, may want to shield their children from coming on such horrors without advance notice.

Fortunately, it is possible, at least for now, to disable autoplay on many social media feeds. PC World offers step-by-step instructions.

The Internet is basically brainless. It has been built by thoughtless technocrats and heedless entrepreneurs who disdain the centuries-old notion that a hu...

Adulterers file suit against Ashley Madison

John Doe files a class action suit seeking compensation from cheaters' website

You could see this coming -- angry adulterers are lining up to sue Ashley Madison, the dating site for married people looking for hook-up partners. There's just one problem: the plaintiffs don't want to be identified.

Thus, it's a certain Mr. John Doe who is the sort-of-named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against Madison's parent company, Avid Life Dating, Courthouse News Service reports.

The issue is, of course, the release by hackers of "highly sensitive user profile data such as photographs and sexual fantasies" of the site's 37 million registered users, including thousands who had paid $19 to have their profiles deleted.

You'll recall that hackers breached Ashley Madison's database, downloaded user data, and then released it publicly when Avid refused to close down the site.

"Catastrophic effects"

"Needless to say, this dumping of sensitive personal and financial information is bound to have catastrophic effects on the lives of the website's users," the complaint states. Indeed. There have already been at least two suicides blamed on the release.

The site -- like so many others -- assured its subscribers that their private data was safe and would never be revealed. It went so far as to call itself the "last truly secure space on the Internet," the complaint alleges, even though it actually stored the data in an unencrypted database.

Such behavior is exactly what the Federal Trade Commission has been trying to stop, through a series of actions against websites that have lost control of user data despite promises that the data was safe. A federal appeals court recently upheld the FTC's authority over such incidents. 

Mr. Doe asserts in his complaint that, although he himself was demonstrably not a very trustworthy dude, he trusted Ashley Madison to keep his nefarious affairs secret when he provided his credit card number and uploaded his photos and profile information in March 2012.

Doe seeks compensation for "mental anguish, disability, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, and expense of medical care and treatment" but -- as far as we know -- makes no such demands for his spouse. 

You could see this coming -- angry adulterers are lining up to sue Ashley Madison, the dating site for married people looking for hook-up partners. There's...

Hackers release data stolen from Ashley Madison adultery-dating website

The data dump appears real but the data might be fake; Ashley Madison never verified member registration emails

A month after the adultery-dating website AshleyMadison.com (registered motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.®”) admitted that hackers had managed to breach its database, those hackers have apparently made all of the stolen data available online.

Ashley Madison is owned by Avid Life Media, which also owns other hookup sites, including Established Men and Cougar Life. The hacker or hackers behind the breach self-identify as The Impact Team. At the time of the original breach, The Impact Team threatened to release all of the information it stole unless the site was taken down. And now, it appears that they have made good on that threat.

Released data

As Wired first reported last night, yesterday somebody hiding behind anonymizing software and browsers posted 9.7 gigabytes of apparent Ashley Madison data to the dark web. “The files appear to include account details and log-ins for some 32 million users of the social networking site, touted as the premier site for married individuals seeking partners for affairs. Seven years worth of credit card and other payment transaction details are also part of the dump, going back to 2007 [including] names, street address, email address and amount paid, but not credit card numbers.”

At the time of the breach, AshleyMadison.com claimed to have almost 40 million members in all.

According to its own statements, The Impact Team's main complaint with Ashley Madison isn't the fact that the website promotes or facilitates adultery, but that it allegedly lied to its clients. Specifically, people with dating profiles on Ashley Madison were also offered the chance to pay $19 for a “full delete” function – basically scrubbing their complete profile and activity history from the site.

The Impact Team claimed to have discovered proof that the “full delete” service was a lie, and the information never completely deleted from the database. (Granted, there's arguably some inherent contradictions in The Impact Team's claimed motivation “We dislike the fact that this website harmed its clients, so we're punishing the website by releasing data that will harm its clients.”)

Ashley Madison executives did not take the website down and so yesterday, according to Wired, somebody released an alleged data dump, preceded by an introduction saying, in part, that:

Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data.

Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world's biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters....

Profiles

Of course, there are other possibilities explaining how and why someone might apparently have a profile on the website. For starters, Ashley Madison doesn’t verify members' emails – you can register with any address, not merely your own. So, for example: although someone did apparently register there with the email address tblair@labour.gov.uk, this does not prove that a certain recent former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ever actually joined the site. The same holds true for the over 15,000 U.S. government or military email addresses found thus far, or the many teachers and professors whose current or former .edu addresses appear in the data dump (and it's easy to imagine students using their teachers' email addresses for joke registrations, in a more risque version of the old “Let's have a dozen takeout pizzas sent to Teacher's house” prank).

As computer security expert Graham Cluley pointed out on his blog (bold print lifted from the original):

…. being a member of a dating site, even a somewhat seedy one like Ashley Madison, is no evidence that you have cheated on your partner.

You might have joined the site years before when you were single and be shocked that they still have your details in their database, or you might have joined the site out of curiosity or for a laugh... never seriously planning to take things any further.

But more importantly than all of that, if your email address is in the Ashley Madison database it means nothing. The owner of that email address may never have even visited the Ashley Madison site....

Potential to ruin lives

This is especially important to remember because, as Cluley also says: “Others might find the thought that their membership of the site - even if they never met anyone in real life, and never had an affair - too much to bear, and there could be genuine casualties as a result. And yes, I mean suicide.”

This does indeed have the potential to ruin millions of people's lives — and not merely people who somehow “deserve” it, either.

After learning of the stolen data release, Avid Life Media released a statement saying that “Our investigation is still ongoing and we are simultaneously cooperating fully with law enforcement investigations, including by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Toronto Police Services and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. … This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. … We know that there are people out there who know one or more of these individuals, and we invite them to come forward. ... Anyone with information that can lead to the identification, arrest and conviction of these criminals, can contact [email protected].”

A month after the adultery-dating website AshleyMadison.com (registered motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.®”) admitted that hackers had managed to brea...

Sexting may be more common than you think

It may also be more beneficial than you think

Sexting may be a lot more common than you think, but it may also be more beneficial than commonly thought,,according to research presented at the American Psychological Association's 123rd Annual Convention.

More than eight out of 10 people surveyed online admitted to sexting in the prior year,,

But while sexting has received growing attention as a risky activity, associated with numerous other sexual risk-taking behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex) and negative health outcomes (e.g., sexually transmitted infections), researchers said this view fails to account for the potential positive effects of open sexual communication with a partner.

"This research indicates that sexting is a prevalent behavior that adults engage in for a variety of reasons," said Emily Stasko, MS, MPH, of Drexel University, who presented the research.,"These findings show a robust relationship between sexting and sexual and relationship satisfaction."

Stasko and her co-author, Pamela Geller, PhD, surveyed 870 participants from the United States age 18 to 82 to assess sexting behaviors, sexting motives, and relationship and sexual satisfaction. Just over half the participants were women.

Sexting was defined as the sending or receiving of sexually suggestive or explicit content via text message, primarily using a mobile device, said Stasko. Participants were asked if they had ever engaged in such behaviors.

88% said yes

The researchers found that 88 percent of participants reported ever having sexted and 82 percent reported they had sexted in the past year. Nearly 75 percent said they sexted in the context of a committed relationship and 43 percent said they sexted as part of a casual relationship.

Additionally, the researchers found that greater levels of sexting were associated with greater sexual satisfaction, especially for those in a relationship. Participants who identified as single (26 percent) had significantly lower overall scores for sexual satisfaction.

The researchers also found that greater levels of sexting were associated with relationship satisfaction for all but those who identified their relationship as "very committed."

The survey also asked about attitudes toward sexting and found that people who sexted more saw the behavior as more fun and carefree and had higher beliefs that sexting was expected in their relationships.

"Given the possible implications, both positive and negative, for sexual health, it is important to continue investigating the role sexting plays in current romantic and sexual relationships," said Emily.

Sexting may be a lot more common than you think, but it may also be more beneficial than commonly thought,,according to research presented at the American ...

Facebook rolls out new “See First” controls

Currently available only on iProducts; rolling out to all platforms eventually

Facebook has introduced a new tool called "See First" that's supposed to let you prioritize who and what you see in your Feed – and also what you don't.

The algorithms Facebook uses to make such determinations remain proprietary secrets, of course, but See First essentially lets you tweak the algorithm used to make these decisions for your Feed. See First will let you tell Facebook that you do want to see posts from certain people (or certain businesses), so Facebook will put their posts at the top of your Feed.

See First will also let you choose what you don't want to see. Facebook already has an “unfollow” option – wherein someone remains your “Friend,” but you don't see their posts. See First will gather all of your “unfollowed” friends and pages into a single list, making it easier for you to decide to follow them again, if you choose.

Another new feature will suggest pages you might want to follow based on your previous activity. (Facebook already has a feature showing you related posts or articles anytime you click on one, but that feature doesn't offer entire pages for your perusal.)

For now, the See First function is only available for iPhone and iPad users, but Facebook says it will eventually be made available for all platforms.

Adam Mosseri, the Facebook product management director who oversees News Feeds, said that See First was initially tested in Spain. “We didn’t promote it very heavily and it’s organically growing on its own,” he said.

Facebook has introduced a new tool called "See First" that's supposed to let you prioritize who and what you see in your Feed – and also what you don't. ...

Business names on Facebook? Punctuation makes it a scam. Period.

Like-farming scammers use added punctuation to squat on company names

If you spend enough time on Facebook, you're pretty much guaranteed to see lots of posts from “like-farming” scam pages.

Like-farmers start pages and fill them with content dedicated to collecting as many “likes” or “shares” as possible in the shortest amount of time, in order to drive up the page's popularity ranking. Once it's high enough, the like-farmer removes the original page content and replaces it with anything from scam advertising to dangerous malware infections.

Anytime you see a Facebook post with such phrases as “Like and share if you agree!” or “Like and share to win a valuable prize!” it's almost certain to be from a like-farmer seeking to drive up his popularity rank.

Many like-farms take the names of legitimate businesses, but alter them slightly. If you see a company Facebook page with the company's own name misspelled, it's a safe bet you're looking at a scam page. For example, there are two Disney-branded theme parks in the United States — a California park with the one-word name “Disneyland,” and a Florida park whose full name has three words: “Walt Disney World.”

So when you see Facebook pages with such names as “Disney Land” or “Disney World” or “Walt Disney Land,” you can dismiss them as fake pages without even inspecting their content.

Problem is, this particular scam-detection method only works if you already know the full, exact, trademarked name of a given business well enough to recognize a fake (and there are lots of non-Disney employees who understandably can't be bothered to keep track of the differences between Disneyland, Disney Land, Walt Disney Land, Walt Disney World, Disney World, and so forth).

Even easier

But there's an easier way to detect a scammy Facebook business page that requires no “name knowledge” at all: look at the page's business name to see if there's any punctuation. If there is, it's probably a scam.

Last month, we warned you about a then-new like-farming scam falsely promising the chance to win Disney theme park tickets and thousands of dollars cash spending money for anyone who “liked” and “shared” a particular Facebook post.

That scammy like-farming Facebook page went by the name “Disney World.” — with a period at the end of the name. Of course, the incorrect name and the unnecessary punctuation weren't the only signs indicating a scam page: the real Walt Disney World Facebook page is identified as a “Theme Park” in its cover banner, whereas the “Disney World.” like-farming page (which, at press time, hasn't been updated since that May 14 like-farming fertilizer promising bundles of cash and “all paid for Disney World Vacation[s]” to 75 lucky winners) identifies as a “Transport/Freight” company in its banner.

Most obvious of all, the real Walt Disney World Facebook page is entirely filled with various forms of pro-Disney advertising: videos, photos and articles all hammering home the message “Look how much fun you could have, if you spent money here at Walt Disney World!” But like-farming pages only have posts offering valuable prizes if you like and share their content.

A current search for Facebook pages going by the name “Disney World.” (two words followed by a period) shows over half a dozen different like-farms currently in operation: in addition to the “Transport/freight” page, there's “Disney World.” with a “Computers/Technology” banner, offering $5,000 cash plus Disney park tickets if you “like” and “share” their most recent post; “Disney World.” in the “Engineering/Construction” business offering $2,500 plus Disney tickets if you like and share; a Disney World-plus-period “University” (offering tickets plus $3,500); a “Food/Beverages” company (tickets and $2,000); a “Travel/Leisure” group (tix plus $5,000) and a “Community Organization” (ditto).

You'll find similarly scammy offers on Disney-name variants such as “Disney-World.” (note the period and the hyphen).

There's also such oddities as the “Walt Disney Land” page with a “Local business” banner which, as of June 18, has some fairly impressive statistics (27K people “like” this) and a page history dating back to 2010. Yet there's not a single post visible on that page, anywhere.

How does a Facebook page collect over 27,000 “likes” without posting any content?

It doesn't. What's happening is the “like farmer” has already stripped whatever posts he used to collect likes and shares – almost certainly posts promising the chance to win valuable prizes.

Of course, Disney isn't the only company whose theme parks are used as like-farming bait. Six Flags is another whose legitimate Facebook page has many poorly punctuated like-farming doppelgangers.

“Six Flags.” with a period includes a “Government Organization” whose most recent post, from January, offered the chance to win Six Flags tickets and $2,500 cash if you “Just Share & Like this photo. (Comment to double chances).”

A particularly lazy like-farmer must've been behind “Six Flags.” the “Community” page, whose most recent post, offering Six Flags season tickets and VIP perks, dates back to September 2013. Equally out-of-date are the pages belonging to “Six Flag's Vacation's” whose banner photo identifies them as a “Fictional Character,” and “Six Flag's Vacations” the “Community.”

But in all such cases, the incorrect name or unnecessary punctuation was only the first of many signs that these are scammy like-farming pages; the main clue is the content. With any post you see on Facebook, remember that if you see such phrases as “Like and share if you agree!” or “Like and share to win a valuable prize!” there's almost certain to be a like-farmer behind the post.

If you spend enough time on Facebook, you're pretty much guaranteed to see lots of posts from “like-farming” scam pages. Like-farmers start pages and fi...

Older people turning to online sex forums

Many seniors retain a high interest in sex

Stereotypes regarding senior citizens and their interest in sex and technology are quickly becoming a thing of the past. A new study shows that many older people are turning to online forums in order to keep their sexual interests satisfied.

While many of us would believe that the elderly no longer have much interest in sex, this could not be farther from the truth.

“Many older people preserve both a high interest in sex and a high involvement in sexual activities," explains Liza Berdychevsky, a professor at the University of Illinois who researches sexual behavior and well-being.

Berdychevsky and her co-author, Galit Nimrod, conducted a study that gauged how sex was discussed on 14 online communities that target adults over 50 years of age. Their findings show that threads with sexual content are very popular in this age group, with some posts receiving up to 5,000 views.

Varied but positive

The way in which sex has been discussed is varied, but mostly positive. It allows senior citizens to cope with many of the sexual vulnerabilities that occur later in life. Some of these include health issues and life circumstances that affect sexuality, difficulties communicating with health-care providers about sex-related problems, and limited access to sexual health information.

Other seniors use the forums to discuss why sex has become so taboo amongst the elderly. "Of particular interest was society's lack of acceptance of sexuality in older adulthood, the reasons for this ageist view and the importance of changing it," Berdychevsky said.

"Ignorant and prudish"

For a generation that grew up with more sexual restrictions, these forums allow shy people to overcome their embarrassment, ask questions, and participate in conversations that can improve their sex lives. As a result, many participants report that their offline relationships have improved dramatically because of their discussions. It has allowed them to reassess their lives and what their needs are.

Although many people benefit from the popularity of these sexual threads, other members are less comfortable with the openness of the conversations. Detractors cite that the sexual content is offensive and inappropriate. This has done little to stop proponents of the threads, though. They characterize objectors as ignorant and prudish, and still continue to take part in their discussions.

The study was published in the Journal of Leisure Research.

Stereotypes regarding senior citizens and their interest in sex and technology are quickly becoming a thing of the past. A new study shows that many older ...

Website operator sentenced to prison for facilitating prostitution

It's the first prison sentence for a website publisher accused of aiding prostitution

A website operator has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for facilitating prostitution and has agreed to forfeit nearly 1.3 million in cash and property. It's thought to be the first such conviction anywhere in the U.S.

Eric Omuro, also known as Red, 53, of Mountain View, California, published a site called myRedBook.com. It hosted advertisements from prostitutes containing photos, descriptions of their services and prices.

Omuro pleaded guilty in December and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California to using a facility of interstate commerce with the intent to facilitate prostitution.  

Omuro admitted that members of his website and prostitutes typically used acronyms for sex acts, which were defined in graphic detail in the website’s “Terms and Acronyms” section.  While prostitutes could post advertisements for free, myRedBook.com offered additional options for a fee. 

For example, prostitutes could pay a fee to have their advertisement featured more prominently on the website.  Similarly, customers could access myRedBook.com for free. If a customer purchased a membership, however, the customer obtained early and enhanced access to prostitute reviews, enhanced prostitute review search options and access to additional VIP forums, among other things.

According to an affidavit submitted in connection with the sentencing hearing, the FBI identified more than 50 juveniles who were advertised on myRedBook for the purpose of prostitution.

 

myRedBook seized by the fedsA website operator has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for facilitating prostitution and has agreed to forfeit near...

Surprise! Online forums may be good for you

Study finds forums have benefits for individuals and society

At various times, it's been thought that the following things, among others, were bad for you: Facebook, video games, online forums, rock 'n roll and reading by firelight. 

Could be, but a new study exonerates online forums, finding that they have positive links to well-being and are associated with increased community engagement offline.

Research just published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that online forums have benefits for both individuals and wider society and are of greater importance than previously realized.

Although seemingly eclipsed in the past decade by social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, forums are still regularly used by around 10% of online users in the UK and 20% in the US.

Anonymity

The study's authors say the apparent benefits derive partly from the fact that forums are one of the few remaining online spaces that offer anonymous interaction.

"Often we browse forums just hoping to find answers to our questions," said lead author Dr. Louise Pendry of the University of Exeter. "In fact, as well as finding answers, our study showed users often discover that forums are a source of great support, especially those seeking information about more stigmatising conditions."

Pendry said the study found that online forum users were also more likely to get involved in related activities offline, such as volunteering, donating or campaigning."

"In a nutshell, the more users put into the forum, the more they get back, and the pay-off for both users themselves and society at large can be significant," said Dr. Jessica Salvatore of Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

Study details

In the study, users were approached on a range of online discussion forums catering to a variety of interests, hobbies and lifestyles. Those recruited to the study were classified in two groups: those whose forum subject could be considered stigmatized (such as those dealing with mental health issues, postnatal depression or a particular parenting choice for example) or non-stigma-related forums (such as those for golfers, bodybuilders and environmental issues).

They were asked a set of questions relating to their motivations for joining the discussion forum, the fulfilment of their expectations, their identification with other forum users, their satisfaction with life and their offline engagement with issues raised on the forum.

The study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

At various times, it's been thought that the following things, among others, were bad for you: Facebook, video games, online forums, rock 'n roll and readi...

Twitter changes policies and features in crackdown on threats and abuse

New policies, new algorithms and new tools to stop trolls

Yesterday, Twitter took another step in its campaign to crack down on threatening or abusive content on its platform, by updating its policy regarding violent threats.

The original policy banned “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” The new policy removes the first two words, and now prohibits “threats of violence against others.” This added vagueness is intended to give Twitter's moderators more leeway to decide what constitutes a “threat.” Under the old “direct, specific” policy, trolls and abusers could, for example, wish for threats against people, which technically was not prohibited.

Last February, Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo admitted in an internal email (later leaked to outside media) that “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. ... We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

In March, the company announced that it would finally crack down on “revenge porn,” the practice of publishing nude or sexually explicit photos of people (usually women) without their permission. At the time, Twitter updated its “Content boundaries” to say “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”

Frozen out

But this time, Twitter has done more than change its posted policies; it's also changing its responses toward the writers of harassing tweets. Now, when an account is reported for suspected abuse, Twitter reserves the right to “freeze” that account, to require abusers to delete problematic tweets and also to require a valid phone number in order to reinstate their account.

(As a Washington Post blogger put it, “Essentially, Twitter is putting users in time-out and making it easier to identify them down the line.”)

In a company blog post discussing the new policies, Twitter's Director of Product Management, Shreyas Doshi, said that in addition to the policy changes,

[W]e have begun to test a product feature to help us identify suspected abusive Tweets and limit their reach. This feature takes into account a wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse including the age of the account itself, and the similarity of a Tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive. It will not affect your ability to see content that you’ve explicitly sought out, such as Tweets from accounts you follow, but instead is designed to help us limit the potential harm of abusive content.

In other words, Twitter has a new algorithm which will hopefully prevent abusive tweets from being seen in the first place; if a troll knows his intended victim won't see his threatening tweets he'll hopefully lose interest in sending them. This algorithm won't prevent you from seeing the tweets of people you've chosen to follow, but it will prevent (or at least reduce the frequency of) any random troll's threatening comment from appearing on your own feed.

Like all technologies, Twitter's new policies and features are a work-in-progress; Doshi's blog post ended with the observation that “as the ultimate goal is to ensure that Twitter is a safe place for the widest possible range of perspectives, we will continue to evaluate and update our approach in this critical arena.”

Yesterday, Twitter took another step in its campaign to crack down on threatening or abusive content on its platform, by updating its policy regarding viol...

Judge allows wife to serve divorce papers over Facebook

The husband refused to be served in person

In a precedent-setting ruling, a Manhattan judge said that a woman can use Facebook to serve divorce papers to her impossible-to-reach husband.

The New York Daily News first reported that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper is allowing the attorney of 26-year-old Ellanora Baidoo to serve divorce papers to her estranged husband, Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku, over Facebook's private messaging system, since that's the only way Baidoo knows of to reach him.

Baidoo's lawyer, Andrew Spinnell, said that the couple, both originally from Ghana, were joined in civil marriage in 2009, to be followed by a traditional Ghanian wedding ceremony. Problem is, Blood-Dzraku backed out of his promise to take part in the traditional ceremony. Therefore, the marriage was never consummated and the couple never lived together – yet Blood-Dzraku still does not want a divorce, and has effectively made it impossible for Baidoo or her attorneys to serve him a summons for one.

Judicial history lesson

Judge Cooper's ruling, (available in .pdf form here) starts off by establishing some background, noting that “As recently as ten years ago, it was considered a cutting edge development in civil practice for a court to allow the service of a summons by email. Since then, email has all but replaced ordinary mail as a means of written communication …. The past decade has also seen the advent and ascendancy of social media, with websites such as Facebook and Twitter occupying a central place in the lives of so many people. Thus, it would appear that the next frontier in the developing law of the service of process over the Internet is the use of social media sites as forums though which a summons can be delivered.”

Judge Cooper's ruling went on to note that under New York law, the standard method of serving a divorce summons is via personal delivery to the defendant, which “reflects the great emphasis that this state places on insuring that a person who is being sued for divorce – a proceeding that can have immeasurable financial and familial consequences – be aware of and afforded the opportunity to appear in the action.”

But personal delivery to the defendant is a problem when you don't know where the defendant actually is. Cooper notes that “the last address plaintiff has for defendant is an apartment that he vacated in 2011,” and that Baidoo has “spoken with defendant by telephone on occasion and he has told her that he has no fixed address and no place of employment. He has also refused to make himself available to be served with divorce papers .… the investigative firms that plaintiff hired to assist in locating defendant have all been unsuccessful in their efforts, the post office has no forwarding address for him, there is no billing address linked to his pre-paid cell phone, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has no record of him. Inasmuch as plaintiff is unable to find defendant, personal delivery of the summons to him is an impossibility.”

So Cooper will allow the summons to be sent over Facebook, once per week for three consecutive weeks or until Blood-Dzraku acknowledges receipt. Spinnell told the Daily News that he already sent the first of the three summonses, but “So far, he hasn't responded.”

In a precedent-setting ruling, a Manhattan judge said that a woman can use Facebook to serve divorce papers to her impossible-to-reach husband....

You can send money through Facebook Messenger

Tie your debit card to your Facebook account and pay away

It's always been easier to spend money than to make it. And now it's even easier yet for Facebook users, who can now send money to one another through the company’s standalone messaging app, Messenger.
 
Just link your debit card to your Facebook account and you'll be able to send and receive payments from others using Messenger.

The Messenger app now includes a small “$” icon above the keyboard which opens a payments screen where you type the amount you want to send.
 
The money is then transferred through Facebook, which holds the money for “seconds” before sending it along to the other user’s bank. 

How to do it

Here's the procedure as Facebook outlines it:

To send money:

Start a message with a friend
Tap the $ icon and enter the amount you want to send
Tap Pay in the top right and add your debit card to send money

To receive money:

Open the conversation from your friend
Tap Add Card in the message and add your debit card to accept money for the first time

The money you send is transferred right away. It may take one to three business days to make the money available to you depending on your bank, just as it does with other deposits.

The new product makes Facebook an instantaneous competitor to other peer-to-peer payments companies like Venmo, Square, and even Snapchat, which rolled out a similar pay-through-text service in November called Snapcash.

It's always been easier to spend money than to make it. And now it's even easier yet for Facebook users, who can now send money to one another through the ...

Guardian's corrections clarify little in its five-month-old battle with Whisper

How anonymous can anybody be on the Internet?

Last October, an online war broke out between the U.K.'s Guardian and Whisper, the anonymizing app and social media platform which billed itself as the “safest place on the Internet.”

Basically, the Guardian published a series of apparently devastating exposes alleging that Whisper actually tracks some of its supposedly “anonymous” users, and furthermore shared some of this data with the U.S. Department of Defense (which was interested in learing the general regions where U.S. soldiers Whispered thoughts about suicide or self-harm).

Representatives for Whisper officially denied the Guardian's assertions.

Complex "clarification"

This week, five months later, the Guardian published a set of “Corrections and Clarifications” which seem to withdraw most of its earlier claims made against Whisper.

The single paragraph, dated March 11, is 354 words long and ends with the sentence, “The Guardian has clarified an article about Whisper’s terms of service and removed an opinion piece entitled “Think you can Whisper privately? Think again.”

The paragraph is densely written and rather difficult to read, especially considering it was written by professional mainstream journalists (as opposed to bureaucrats, say). But among other things, the statement says that, contrary to the Guardian's own earlier reports, “the public cannot ascertain the identity or location of a Whisper user unless the user publicly discloses this information, that the information Whisper shared with the US Department of Defense’s Suicide Prevention Office did not include personal data, and that Whisper did not store data outside the United States.”

In other words, the Guardian claimed its own apparent bombshells turned out to be non-shells.

Or did they? Chris Ip at the Columbia Journalism Review analyzed the Guardian's correction and pointed out that, while the “densely worded statement appears to invalidate” the earlier claims, “none of [the Guardian's correction] invalidated the core allegation of the original reporting: whether Whisper tracked users who opted out of geolocation for story ideas — as The Guardian claims — or only did so when posts involved suicide or illegal activity, which Whisper says.”

So despite the Guardian's own apparent retractions this week, the core basis of the five-month-old disagreement between it and Whisper still appears to be unresolved.

Can anyone truly be anonymous on the Internet? Despite Whisper's claims (and the Guardian's apparent endorsement of them), the safest assumption still appears to be “no.”

Last October, an online war broke out between the U.K.'s Guardian and Whisper, the anonymizing app and social media platform which billed itself as the “sa...

Twitter announces crackdown on revenge porn

Presumably part of the platform's larger effort to crack down on "abuse and trolls"

Twitter updated its terms of service Wednesday evening in order to ban the distribution of “revenge porn,” the practice of publishing nude or sexually explicit photos of people (usually women) without their permission.

Twitter's online posted “Content Boundaries” now includes this rule under the subcategory Private Information: “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”

This intended crackdown on revenge-porn purveyors is presuambly part of a larger crackdown against trolls and abse in general. In February, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted in an internal email (later leaked to the outside media) that, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. ... We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

Not alone

Twitter isn't the only platform to announce a recent crackdown on revenge porn; last month reddit updated its own privacy policy to ban such it, too.

Last January, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on a website that specialized in posting nude pictures of people and then extorting money from them in order to take them down. However, the FTC's complaint relied not on the fact that he published such photos, but that the website owner had used deceptive methods in order to acquire them.

SImilarly in February 2014, California's attorney general and the police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma worked together to arrest an Oklahoma resident on five counts of felony extortion for operating another revenge porn website that acquired its photos by hacking into women's computers in order to steal them.

In all such cases, the crime was not the posting of revenge porn photos, but various illegal methods of acquiring them. Posting revenge porn photos of adults is not currently a federal crime (though Congresswoman Jackie Speier has proposed a bill to change that). However, posting revenge porn is banned in 16 U.S. states, and as of last month is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison in the United Kingdom.

Twitter updated its terms of service Wednesday evening in order to ban the distribution of “revenge porn,” the practice of publishing nude or sexually expl...

Striking a blow for civility on the Internet

Dating site automatically sweetens nasty comments

Last month the popular public radio program and podcast This American Life featured a story by writer Lindy West about her rather amazing encounter with an Internet “troll,” an anonymous individual posting nasty things about her online.

West said she was accustomed to this kind of abuse but the Tweet she received last summer struck her at her core. The troll had created a Twitter account in the name of West's recently deceased father, posting a message about how ashamed he was of his daughter.

“Conventional wisdom says never feed the trolls,” West said on the broadcast. “Don't respond. It's what they want. I do that. It doesn't help.”

And in the case of her father's impersonator, she couldn't ignore it. So against everyone's advice she used her next column to talk about how deeply the troll had hurt her.

Breakthrough

Then an amazing thing happened. The troll emailed her, apologizing profusely. This American Life arranged to record a telephone call between West and her former tormentor, which it included in the program. You can listen to it here.

West, of course, is not the only person on the receiving end of online torment and abuse. It's rampant on both social media and dating sites, so Netherlands-based TagDates, a hybrid social media platform and dating site, gets to see it up close.

Introducing clean mode

To enhance civility on its site, TagDate this week launched “clean mode,” a feature that automatically changes the language – and obviously the writer's intent – when the message or comment turns nasty.

“Content of inbox and status updates are subjected to the default 'clean mode' which convert high frequency foul language and dirty words into cheerful and positive-spirited alternatives,” the company says.

Imagine a troll's horror at firing off a nasty message to someone and seeing their words transformed into something like “you look like a very nice person!” A smiley-face emoticon would be a crowning touch. The company makes clear it is trying to strike a blow for Internet civility.

“The new feature is one key step for TagDates towards building a healthy community where men and women alike do not have to be subjected to harsh languages on visiting landing page sent to them by others,” it said.

Clean mode is used by default but TagDates says users may turn it off when they would like to know what was written in the original messages or statuses that were modified.

Part of a trend?

Some of these tactics may soon be adopted in the effort to stem online bullying. Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, an organization promoting what its name implies, is among the anti-bullying groups thinking outside the box. It says what schools are doing to combat the problem isn't working.

Meanwhile, a 2013 survey suggests Americans are getting fed up with rude behavior. The survey found respondents reporting personal experience with incivility twice a day, on average.

Last month the popular public radio program and podcast This American Life featured a story by writer Lindy West about her rather amazing encounter with an...

Looking for a perfect online match? Be humble

Profiles that look a little too perfect aren't as effective as more modest ones, study finds

By now everyone knows it's a good idea to avoid deals that sound too good to be true. And most everyone has also figured out that the warning applies not just to products and services but also to people, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Iowa say consumers using online dating services are searching for a perfect match, but not a perfect person.

In fact, they say people who are looking for love online are less apt to trust a person with a flashy profile, preferring instead a potential partner who appears not only successful, but humble and real as well.

"We found people want to contact a person who appears to be accurate in what they are saying about themselves online," says Andy High, assistant professor in the University of Iowa's Department of Communication Studies and corresponding author of the study.

"It's tough when it comes to dating profiles because we want someone who seems like an amazing person, but we also hopefully will have a relationship with this individual, so we want them to exist," High said.

Not over-the-top

High and Crystal Wotipka, lead author of the study, wanted to know how people who use dating sites respond to different ways people present themselves online.

What they discovered is most people in their study were drawn to individuals whose profiles were positive but not over-the-top glowing. More important, however, participants preferred people whose online persona could be clearly traced to a real person.

That means people want details, not broad generalities, especially about where a prospective love interest works and what he or she does for a living.

"Instead of just saying, 'I write a blog,' name the blog and encourage people to check it out," High says. "If you work for a company, name the company. ... If you can name something or provide people with a link to get there, then do it.

"The idea is the viewer will think this is a real person," he adds.

High and Wotipka presented their preliminary findings in November 2014 at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association. They plan to submit a paper to a peer-reviewed journal in the spring of 2015.

By now everyone knows it's a good idea to avoid deals that sound too good to be true. And most everyone has also figured out that the warning applies not j...

Craigslist tied to increase in HIV cases

Study documents unintended consequences of social media

You may not think of Craigslist as social media, but it was one of the pioneers of turning user-generated content into a marketable product. Unfortunately, a new study finds it also helped spread AIDS.  

University of Minnesota researchers say that Craigslist's entry into a market results in a 15.9% increase in reported HIV cases. When mapped at the national level, more than 6,000 HIV cases annually and treatment costs estimated between $62 million and $65.3 million can be linked to the popular website.

"I actually think that the creators of Craigslist had no intent of harming society. They came in with good intentions," says Jason Chan, Assistant Professor of Information and Decision Sciences at the Carlson School of Management. "At the same time, they did not anticipate that users could use the features in an unexpected way with unintended consequences."

Chan and Professor Anindya Ghose of NYU's Stern School of Business based their claims after analyzing data in 33 states from 1999 to 2008.

After conducting a series of tests to eliminate other possible causes that might be driving the HIV trends such as increased testing in a community, the researchers discovered that the upward shift was influenced by ads in Craigslist's personals sections, not the site's escort service ads.

The finding correlates with other studies that show professional sex workers who troll for clients on the Internet are more likely to practice safe sex than amateurs who hook up through the Web. 

"Our study results suggest that there is a new social route of HIV transmission that is taking place in this digital era," says Chan. "Health care practitioners and policymakers have to look more closely at online platforms to assess how its usage may facilitate the spread of HIV and STDs across the country."

According to Chan, the paper provides practitioners with insights on how they can effectively target their efforts to reduce disease transmission facilitated through classified ad sites.

The study -- "Internet's Dirty Secret: Assessing the Impact of Online Intermediaries on HIV Transmission" -- was published in MIS Quarterly (December 2014).

You may not think of Craigslist as social media, but it was one of the pioneers of turning user-generated content into a marketable product. Unfortunately,...

Tennessee town tries banning social media criticism

Clueless commissioners in South Pittsburg now criticized worldwide

Pre-emptive warning to any readers who might want to post comments about this story: if you live in or near South Pittsburg, Tennessee, there's a good chance that it's illegal for you to do so.

Granted, the law making it illegal is itself almost sure to be overturned on constitutional grounds, so if you actually were arrested or prosecuted under this law you could sue, and eventually win, and maybe even have an inspirational cable-TV movie made about your experiences … but this will all take several years, and you'd have a miserable time of it in the meanwhile.

Last week, city commissioners in the Chattanooga suburb of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, voted 4-1 to ban any negative comments about the city or its government on any forms of social media.

The town was, until now, best known as the home of the National Cornbread Festival.

This ban does not apply to everybody in the world, however, only to any of South Pittsburg's elected representatives, appointed board members, employees, volunteers, vendors, contractors and anybody else associated with the town in any official capacity, all of whom are now forbidden to post anything critical on any blogs, Facebook discussions, Twitter or any other forms of social media.

"Just an industry standard"

The Chattanooga Times Free-Press quoted South Pittsburg City Commissioner Jeff Powers as saying that this ban was necessary because sometimes the commissioners had to spend time discussing negative comments people had made.

“It seems like every few meetings we're having to address something that's been on Facebook and created negative publicity,” he said. “This is just an industry standard nowadays.”

Every few meetings! Yikes. When the writers of America's Constitution included First Amendment guarantee of free speech (including speech critical of the government), they surely never intended that elected representatives might actually have to address those criticisms or face negative publicity every few meetings or so, right?

However, Powers rejected any accusations that city employees were being banned from social media:

“The first thing everyone wants to say is 'I can't post anything on Facebook.' Well, you can. Just not [anything] that sheds a negative light on any person, entity, board or things of that nature. You can go ahead and post all you want.”

City attorney Billy Gouger agreed with this interpretation, saying that the new policy is not intended to infringe on free-speech rights. “What this policy tries to do is reconcile that right with other rights,” he said. “It does, to some extent, limit your ability to criticize or comment in an official capacity.”

He didn't mention what those “other rights” are – presumably the “right” for city commissioners to not have to address criticism? Nor does he explain the apparent contradiction of how something specifically designed to “limit your ability to comment or criticize,” as he said, can be construed as anything other than an infringement on free speech.

"Out-and-out lies..."

The city's mayor, Jane Dawkins, also supports the ban, saying it's necessary because “Criticism is one thing … Out-and-out lies and untruths, that's another thing. Those kinds of things are the things that will be directed.” Of course, current free-speech protections already exclude slander and libel, again making South Pittsburg's new law unnecessary.

The one South Pittsburg commissioner who voted against the ban was Paul Don King, who said he could see both sides of the argument but voted against the ban because it infringed on city employees' freedom of speech.

While city employees, vendors, contractors and others might be forbidden to criticize the city or its leaders, the rest of the Internet is not, and naturally responded to the ban on social-media criticism by criticizing the hell out of the city on social media.

Parody Twitter feeds sprang up thanks to anonymous people portraying Mayor Dawkins or Commissioner Powers (who, among other things, decreed that “Any temperature below 0 is henceforth banned. #DownWithNegatives”).

A Facebook page dedicated to the town got lots of new visitors and comments, almost entirely critical of the news story. Some people offered well-meaning and helpful criticism:

Is this the kind of press coverage the city officials want?? We grow from our mistakes and being able to hear the good, not-so-good and the ugly should help us dig deeper to work a workable solution. People can complain but have another idea for a solution.

Meanwhile, other Facebook commenters were more interested in criticizing the city solely for the sake of criticizing it:

“I don't live in Tenn. I live in Arizona. Are they going to ban me from talking about HOW DUMB YOUR LEADERS ARE! Can I say that and what will they do if I say it? Stupid asses.”

Another commenter with possibly shaky math skills posted

“Two words. Streisand Effect. Google it.”

Formerly clueless

It does seem safe to say – not as criticism, merely as a neutral observation – that perhaps the city government of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, never heard of the “Streisand Effect,” named after famed singer and formerly clueless privacy buff Barbra Streisand.

Know Your Meme  defines it as “the unintended consequence of further publicizing information by trying to have it censored. Instead of successfully removing the information from the public, it becomes even more widely available than before as a backlash against the censorship attempt.”

The label first arose in 2003, after a photographer trying to document the rate of coastal beach erosion in California took a series of airborne photos of the coast. Of course, many photos of the California coast also show various structures built on the coast, including a mansion belonging to Streisand.

Streisand, through her lawyers, tried to have those photos containing her mansion removed from the erosion survey, citing her privacy. (For what it's worth, the photo shows a large white mansion atop a sandy bluff leading down to the beach. Nice, and obviously expensive, but there is absolutely nothing about it to indicate who owns it or lives there.)

Streisand's lawsuit gained a lot of media attention, and millions of people who had absolutely no interest in looking at photos documenting California beach erosion were nonetheless very interested in looking at a specific photo which Barbra Streisand deliberately tried to quash.

And until last week, it was safe to say that few people outside of southwestern Tennessee had even heard of the city of South Pittsburg, let alone cared enough to criticize it.

Pre-emptive warning to any readers who might want to post comments about this story: if you live in or near South Pittsburg, Tennessee, there's a good chan...

FTC reaches settlement with online dating network

Must stop luring customers with fake profiles, among other things

A dating site based in England has agreed to stop using computer-generated fake profiles to fool members into paying for membership upgrades. In a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, JDI Dating also agreed to stop billing people's credit cards for subscription fees without their consent.

Of course, any dating site is bound to have some fraudulent profiles on it somewhere, thanks to dishonest people who sign on hoping to ensnare a victim into a dating scam.

That's why, even if you're registered with a reputable dating site, you must always be wary of potential scammers (and never agree to send money to anyone you meet online, no matter how compelling a sob story they have to tell).

But that's not what happened with JDI (which operates a variety of dating or hookup sites under different names, including CupidsWand, FlirtCrowd and FindMeLove). Apparently, registering with and building a profile at a JDI-owned site is free — but seeing or responding to any messages you get from other members requires a paid membership. According to the FTC:

As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership. … The messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles – “Virtual Cupids” – created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people. A small “v” encircled by a “C” on the profile page was the only indication that the profiles were fake. Users were not likely to see – much less understand – this icon. The fake profiles and messages caused many users to upgrade to paid subscriptions.

JustHookUp

An Oct. 29 online search for JDI Dating and “Virtual cupids” brought up the terms-and-conditions page of a JDI-owned site called JustHookUp.com, which promises to help members “Hook up with local sex partners” (sex partners is italicized, underlined and set off by quotation marks in the original).

The total “terms and conditions” document is 9,343 words long, and after you, the potential new member, read through the first 1,308 words you'll find the first mention of Virtual Cupids: “We reserve the right to create Accounts for quality control, administrative purposes and the use of our Virtual Cupid program as described below. Such accounts may be publicly viewable.”

Then, if you stay conscious long enough to read through the next 1,419 words' worth of eye-glazing prose, you'll finally find this:

VIRTUAL CUPIDS: THIS SITE UTILIZES VIRTUAL PROFILES THAT DO NOT CORRESPOND TO OTHER MEMBERS: JDI Dating Ltd encourages Account development and promotes user, Member and/or Subscriber communications through our Virtual Cupid (VC) services. By accepting these Terms, all users, Members and/or Subscribers fully understand, accept and agree to the deployment of this service, and acknowledge that some of the profiles and Members displayed to them, and related communications sent to Members from VC's, are not associated with any other user of the site, but included in an effort to promote broader user, Member and/or Subscriber activity and fuller participation in all the Services. The VC services may include the posting of information, pictures and communication directed to the user, Member and/or Subscriber's Account. Such messages may take the form of any communication currently permitted on the Website ….

In other words, JDI did/does bury deep within its “Terms and Conditions” the admission that, in order to encourage [paid] Member and/or Subscriber activity, it will set up fake profiles that do everything a real profile can do – except lead to a romantic (or even a purely sexual) connection with another human being, which presumably is what potential members signed up for in the first place.

But this fine-print loophole wasn't enough for JDI to wriggle out of its settlement with the FTC. The company has to pay $616,165 in redress; its various websites are still in operation but henceforth, according to the FTC press release: “The settlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting material facts about any product or service and, from failing to disclose clearly to potential members that they will receive communications from virtual profiles who are not real people.”

JDI also has to stop billing members without their consent, make subscriptons as easy to cancel as they are to start, and actually honor any subscription cancellations they get.

A dating site based in England has agreed to stop using computer-generated fake profiles to fool members into paying for membership upgrades. In a settleme...

"Anti-Facebook" promises to be virtuous forever. Really.

Ello says it will always be "simple, beautiful & ad-free"

You remember Facebook. It used to be really popular but now it has 1.23 billion monthly users and nobody likes it anymore. It has too many ads and doesn't respect people's privacy. That's why nobody goes there anymore. Well, except those 1.23 billion people.

Obviously, the situation cries out for a new social network -- one that won't have so many ads, will respect everyone's privacy and so forth and so on. This is where something called Ello fits in, at least as its founders see it.

It's not just vaporware. Ello says it already has 1 million members and a few million more just waiting to join. Oh, and it's also raised a little over $5.5 million from investors who say they are willing to take a long-term view and be very patient about seeing a return on their money.

And so?

What's so great about Ello? Well, it says it will never have advertising and will never sell information about its users to any of those greedy marketers who are always stalking everyone around the Web. It has organized itself as a Public Benefit Corp., which is sort of like a charity that's allowed to make money -- to do well while doing good, as they like to say. 

Of course, if you don't charge advertisers, you have to charge somebody else. In this case, that somebody else will be the users of the site. Ello says it will use "micro-payments," which is a cute little way of saying the charge won't be too high.

The micro-payments will be for extra services that Ello will offer. It doesn't know what those services will be yet, apparently, but says it's confident it will dream something up as time goes by. Sort of the way smartphone apps just sprout up the moment they're needed.

And besides, Ello says it won't need to make as much money as the big greedy sites because it won't be doing as much. It won't be tracking members, selling data to marketers or doing any of those other things that eat up so much staff time. And generate the revenue that keeps the lights on.

A small universe

Of course, a social network is only as good as its members, who generally join up to interact with their friends and acquaintances, not with strangers. If one social network has 1.23 billion members and another one has a million or two, it's kind of likely the bigger one will have more of your friends and acquaintances. Which could make it a little hard for Ello to gain traction.

Once you join up, of course, you can try to get your friends to join too. You can send them those annoying little notices everybody is always getting about LinkedIn, Google+ and all the other social networks that are clogging up the interpipes.

It may be a little harder, though, to convince your friends to join a network that they have to pay for, although perhaps Ello will let you pick up the tab for your friends. Hmmm ... life online gets more like an evening at the pub all the time. 

 

You remember Facebook. It used to be really popular but now it has 1.23 billion monthly users and nobody likes it anymore. It has too many ads and doesn't ...

Congress urged to ban "virtual brothels"

Attorneys general say children being bought and sold on Backpage.com, other sites

Attorneys General from around the country are urging Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet.

The letter, co-sponsored by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and signed by 53 state and territorial attorneys general, asks the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act.

The SAVE Act, Senate Bill 2536, would provide more oversight of websites that offer “adult services,” such as Backpage.com.

“The facts about online child sex trafficking are as shocking as they are heartbreaking,” Ferguson said. “It’s within Congress’ power to take a huge step toward ending that. I join with my fellow attorneys general in urging them to do the right thing.”

In just one week this June, police arrested 281 alleged sex traffickers and rescued 168 children from prostitution in a nationwide FBI crackdown against people who offered child victims for sale on “escort” and other “adult services” websites.

Backpage suit

Tomorrow, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether a lawsuit against Backpage.com by three victims of child sex trafficking can go forward. The children argue the site effectively helps promote the victimization of children. Ferguson filed an amicus brief in support of the children last month.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating about $150 billion each year. There are numerous cases nationally of children being used in prostitution as young as 12. The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

The use of the “adult services sections” on websites such as Backpage.com has created virtual brothels where children are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as “escorts,” Ferguson said. The SAVE Act would require these websites that are enabling trafficking through their very business model to take steps to verify the identity of individuals posting advertisements and the age of those who appear in them.

Attorneys General from around the country are urging Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet....

Yelp, TinyCo improperly collected info on children: FTC

The companies agree to pay a penalty and revise their policies

Online review site Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., have agreed to settle separate Federal Trade Commission charges that they improperly collected children’s information in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, Rule.

Yelp will pay a $450,000 civil penalty, while TinyCo will pay $300,000.

“As people – especially children – move more of their lives onto mobile devices, it’s important that they have the same consumer protections when they’re using an app that they have when they’re on a website,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should take steps as they build and test their apps to make sure that children’s information won’t be collected without a parent’s consent.”

COPPA requires that companies collecting information about children under 13 online follow a number of steps to ensure that children’s information is protected, including clearly disclosing how the information is used directly to parents and seeking verifiable parental consent before collecting any information from a child.

TinyCo said the problems occurred in its older games and said titles released since 2012 are "strictly complaint witih COPPA protections."

"We apologize to anyone affected by this issue, and want to be unequivocal in stating that TinyCo is fully committed to protecting user privacy, particularly when children are involved," the company said in a statement on its website.

Yelp

The FTC’s complaint against Yelp alleges that, from 2009 to 2013, the company collected personal information from children through the Yelp app without first notifying parents and obtaining their consent. When consumers registered for Yelp through the app on their mobile device, according to the complaint, they were asked to provide their date of birth during the registration process.

According to the complaint, several thousand registrants provided a date of birth showing they were under 13 years old, and Yelp collected information from them including, for example, their name, e-mail address, and location, as well as any information that they posted on Yelp.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that Yelp failed to follow the COPPA Rule’s requirements, even though it knew – based on registrants’ birth dates – that children were registering for Yelp through the mobile app. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Yelp must delete information it collected from consumers who stated they were 13 years of age or younger at the time they registered for the service, except in cases where the company can prove to the FTC that the consumers were actually older than 13.

The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its COPPA compliance program.

TinyCo

The FTC’s complaint against TinyCo alleges that many of the company’s popular apps, which were downloaded more than 34 million times across the major mobile app stores, targeted children.

Among the apps named in the complaint are Tiny Pets, Tiny Zoo, Tiny Monsters, Tiny Village and Mermaid Resort. The complaint alleges that the apps, through their use of themes appealing to children, brightly colored animated characters and simple language, were directed at children under 13 and thus, TinyCo was subject to the COPPA Rule.

Many of TinyCo’s apps included an optional feature that collected e-mail addresses from users, including children younger than age 13. In some of the company’s apps, by providing an e-mail address, users obtained extra in-game currency that could be used to buy items within the game or speed up gameplay. 

Under the terms of its settlement, TinyCo is required to delete the information it collected from children under 13. The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its compliance with the order.

Online review site Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., have agreed to settle separate Federal Trade Commission charges that they improperly ...

DiGiorno blunder leads to Twitter backlash

A domestic-violence-awareness campaign is not the place to promote frozen pizza

If you've ever watched a sitcom, any sitcom, you probably remember the episode where Character 1 overheard Character 2 say something completely innocuous, which led to a hilarious misunderstanding because, out of context, C1 became convinced that C2 was up to no good.

Or maybe you remember the episode where the exact opposite happened: Character 1 said something serious and important, which Character 2 misunderstood and treated as a joke, which led to a hilarious misunderstanding possibly followed by some important life lessons.

The moral of that sitcom episode is: if you only hear a tiny snippet of a conversation, don't make any assumptions based on that snippet alone.

Unfortunately, it appears that whoever handles Twitter marketing for DiGiorno frozen pizza never learned that lesson, which led to a not-hilarious misunderstanding this week.

You had pizza

The Baltimore Ravens fired their former running back, Ray Rice, after security video emerged of Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. The story has inspired several national discussions about the problem of domestic violence. One of those discussions, on Twitter, involved former victims of domestic violence sharing their stories under the respective hashtags #WhyILeft or #WhyIStayed.

On Monday evening, someone at DiGiorno's corporate Twitter account presumably noticed that #WhyIStayed was trending, and decided to join in the conversation before determining exactly what is was about, by tweeting a full-color marketing photograph of a pizza alongside the words “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”

The tweet inspired instant outrage, and only stayed up for a few minutes before DiGiorno took it down. To the company's credit, it immediately took responsibility for the blunder and tweeted: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.” The next day, DiGiorno tweeted: “We heard from many of you, and we know we disappointed you. We understand, and we apologize to everyone for this mistake.”

As of presstime, those two apologetic tweets remain the most recent ones on the DiGiorno feed @DiGiornoPizza.

And, in all fairness, the company handled its mistake as well as anyone possibly could have: it offered a prompt, straightforward apology rather than a typical corporate PR responsibility-avoiding non-apology of the “Mistakes were made, sorry if we offended anyone” variety.

If you've ever watched a sitcom, any sitcom, you probably remember the episode where Character 1 overheard Character 2 say something completely innocuous, ...

Facebook app users beware: autoplay can exceed your data limits

Disable the video-autoplay default on your tablet or phone, now

If you use the Facebook app on your tablet, phone or mobile device (especially 3G or 4G Internet connections), watch out – MoneySavingExpert.com has confirmed that Facebook's default habit of auto-playing videos has been causing some phone or tablet users to exceed their monthly data limits without even realizing it — until they're hit with overage bills.

Luckily, the problem is fairly easy to fix. If you have an iPhone, go into “Settings” and choose “Facebook.” Then click “Settings,” then “Auto-play,” and choose either “Wi-Fi only” or “Off.”

With an Android, go into the account settings of your Facebook app. Click “App settings” and then choose between “Auto-play only on Wi-Fi” or “Off.” (Personal preference: go with “off” in either case, so you can choose which videos you play even over wi-fi.)

Simple as this problem is to fix, critics could point out this problem wouldn't be a problem in the first place if Facebook didn't default to automatically playing any and all videos appearing on a user's Facebook feed; the mere fact that your Facebook friend posted a video does not mean you want to watch it at all, let alone watch it on your limited-data-plan mobile device.

If you use the Facebook app on your tablet, phone or mobile device (especially 3G or 4G Internet connections), watch out – MoneySavingExpert.com has confir...

Facebook finally cracks down on clickbait

Too much clickbait crowds out posts you actually want to see

You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!

Luckily you don't have to guess, because we'll come right out and tell you: Facebook's cracking down on obnoxious “click-bait” headlines of the “You'll never guess what so-and-so is doing!” or “You'll be amazed to hear what happened!” variety.

Facebook defines “click-baiting” as being when “a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.”

The lack of information is what makes it clickbait. After all: anyone who posts a link hopes people will click on it (otherwise, what's the point?), but legitimate headlines are supposed to give at least some indication of what the story's actually about — hence, the difference between posting a link titled “Facebook finally cracks down on clickbait” versus “You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!” The former is a legitimate headline; the latter is clickbait.

Bottom feeders

CNN Money referred to “a whole ecosystem of bottom-feeder Web sites that specialize in these kinds of stories.” Facebook's main motivation for the crackdown against that ecosystem is that clickbait can lead to a vicious cycle for the typical Facebook user: the more you're tricked into clicking on links which (it turns out) you don't actually care about, the more likely it is that your Facebook “feed” will include lots more links you don't care about, crowding out the ones you do and increasing the likelihood you'll spend less time on Facebook.

But a clickbait crackdown might have other advantages as well. Some clickbait is relatively innocuous, in that whoever put it up is only trying to get more clicks. But clickbait is also very popular with hackers and scam artists, who will use it to trick people into downloading malware.

Do you remember last March, when a Malaysia Airlines flight mysteriously vanished? On April Fools' Day the Better Business Bureau had to put out a serious, no-joke scam warning to let Facebook users know that malware writers were using the missing airline as clickbait: Facebook posts promised (for example) exclusive, never-before-seen video of the missing flight, or even said that the flight had been found, but anyone who clicked the link soon found their computers infected with malware.

With luck, Facebook's crackdown on “legitimate” clickbait (legitimate in the sense that it's only trying to inflate its click-numbers, rather than try to install malware or worse) will make life more difficult for clickbait scammers too.

You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!...

Date me, date my dog

The latest wrinkle in dating sites

Date me, date my dog. I think the phrase originally started out as "date me, date my kids" but with so many single people getting pets as a companion it's no wonder the phrase has changed.

Dating sites are catching on to that as well.

Petsdating.com is a site where, on the home page, you see pet profiles instead of humans. Its a purrfect idea -- only problem when we went to check it out, when you click on the animals profile it said page not found. Perhaps just a bad day for computer problems. Just when you think you found the pet that your pet will get along with! (It appeared to be working later).

"By becoming a member you will be able to show off your pet to the rest of the pet owners, while having access to a variety of resources," the site promises. 

Youmustlovedogsdating.com is set up more like a Match.com or a traditional dating site. What sets them apart? According to their website, "We know that you have other choices when it comes to dating sites, but ours offers one thing that others do not take into consideration. We respect and understand that you already have one love in your life, and encourage you to find someone equally as special to fill the other half of your heart. Everything about Must Love Dogs is meant to accommodate both you and your dog."

Most dating sites cater to religious beliefs and cultural preferences and even political beliefs, so having a site where you care and share the same canine passion is a good start. I am sure many single people can tell you horror stories of things that went wrong where one person was an animal lover and the other not so much.

Not everyone likes dogs that are inside or sleep on the bed. That could end a potential relationship right there.

Bringing a pet on a first date can be an ice breaker and make everyone more comfortable as long as it isn't a python, although I'm sure that if you look hard enough there is a site for snake lovers too.

Date me, date my dog. I think the phrase originally started out as "date me, date my kids" but with so many single people getting pets as a companion it's ...

Delaware law lets heirs inherit your email and social media accounts

But privacy advocates worry about the implications

Delaware made history last week by becoming the first U.S. state to give a person's digital assets the same status as tangible assets where inheritance laws are concerned.

House Bill 345, the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act, gives executors and heirs the same legal rights over digital assets (such as email or social-media accounts) as they have over physical assets.

However, this law only applies to Delaware residents, not to social media companies (including Facebook, Google and Twitter) which happen to be incorporated there.

Ars Technica noted that “people creating family trusts could conceivably use this Delaware law to their advantage, even without residing in Delaware.”

Presumably, various companies will have to change their policies or terms of service (at least for Delaware residents) to comply with this new law. For example, Facebook's current “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” says this:

You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.
You will not transfer your account (including any Page or application you administer) to anyone without first getting our written permission.

So even if you wanted to, for example, leave your Facebook login and password information to someone in your will (or just write it down and keep it in your safe deposit box where your executor will find it), this officially violates Facebook policy: your heir or executor couldn't even log in to your Facebook page to let your “Friends” know that you are gone.

Privacy concerns

Some privacy advocates have expressed concern over the Delaware law. Ars Technica printed a statement from Jim Halpert, director of the State Privacy and Security Coalition, who said he opposed the law because it “takes no account of minimizing intrusions into the privacy of third parties who communicated with the deceased … This would include highly confidential communications to decedents from third parties who are still alive — patients of deceased doctors, psychiatrists, and clergy, for example — who would be very surprised that an executor is reviewing the communications.”

An initial layman's glance at the text of the Delaware law suggests that it does not make any distinctions between personal and professional digital assets: for example, the personal email accounts physicians use for off-duty chats with friends, versus the professional email accounts they might use to discuss patient treatments with staff and colleagues.

Then again, Halpert went on to say that Delaware's new law “may well create a lot of confusion and false expectations because, as the law itself acknowledges, federal law may prohibit disclosing contents of communications.”

That's in reference to this bit from the text of the bill:

§ 5004. Control of digital accounts and digital assets by a fiduciary.

Except as otherwise provided by a governing instrument or court order, a fiduciary may exercise control over any and all rights in digital assets and digital accounts of an account holder, to the extent permitted under applicable state or federal law or regulations or any end user license agreement.

In that case, it appears that such digital assets as a physician's professonal email or password-protected access to a patient-records database are already exempt from Delaware's law, since federal confidentiality laws override it. Still, over the days and weeks to come it'll be worth watching to see how the tech and legal communities respond to the new law in Delaware.

Delaware made history last week by becoming the first U.S. state to give a person's digital assets the same status as tangible assets where inheritance law...

Man removed from Southwest flight for tweet about rude gate agent

Forced to delete Twitter comment before he was allowed to fly home

A Minnesota man says he was removed from Southwest Airlines flight and forced to delete a critical tweet he'd made about a rude gate agent before being allowed to fly home. Southwest, for its part, released a statement confirming that the man was indeed removed from the flight, with no mention of why.

Duff Watson initially told a CBS affiliate in Minneapolis that the dispute started over boarding procedures: Watson is an A-list flyer with Southwest and says he is used to boarding with his children, but this time, a gate agent in Denver wouldn't let his 6- and 9-year-old kids have priority boarding status with him.

“In leaving I said, you know, ‘Real nice way to treat an A-list. I’ll be sure to tweet about it.'” So he did. “Something to the effect of, ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA.'”

Watson and his children eventually boarded the plane, but before it took off, they were asked to leave the flight, allegedly because the gate agent said she felt threatened by Watson's tweet. Watson also said that the agent threatened to call police unless he deleted the tweet, so he did. (Watson's entire Twitter account has since changed to “protected” status, with access limited to confirmed followers.)

Watson's daughter Lucy said she was afraid her father would be arrested. “[The gate agent] said ‘I’m going to call the cops .… I like thought something bad was going to happen, like my dad being in jail.”

Once he deleted the tweet, he and his children were allowed back on board the plane.

Southwest has since reached out to Watson and offered him a $50 voucher for future flights, which Watson says he plans to donate to charity because “I’m not going to fly them again …. I wish I didn’t back down, I wish I didn’t delete the tweet. But under that quid pro quo situation, I did it.”

A Minnesota man says he was removed from Southwest Airlines flight and forced to delete a critical tweet he'd made about a rude gate agent before being all...

Online news draws increasingly uncivil comments

Researchers seek reasons for nastiness

That news story you're reading might not be all that exciting but when you scroll to the comments section at the bottom of the page, chances are you'll encounter some fireworks.

While we're happy to say that commenters at ConsumerAffairs are, for the most part, thoughtful and informed, all too often – especially on news stories about controversial topics – the commenting can get nasty.

Just how nasty? Researchers at the University of Arizona and University of Utah set out to find out.

Their study, written up in the Journal of Communication, analyzed more than 6,400 reader comments posted to news stories on the website of the Arizona Daily Star, the major daily newspaper in Tucson.

20% uncivil

In their tally, more than 1 in 5 comments – 20% – included some form of incivility, with name-calling as the most prevalent type.

“We tracked six different kinds of uncivil language, but name-calling was far and away the most common,” said Kevin Coe, assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah and one of the study’s authors. “Many people just can’t seem to avoid the impulse to go after someone else.”

Are people today just meaner and more arrogant? Or are they just more polarized along ideological lines? And is that polarization fanned by partisan media on both the left and the right?

The researchers found that while people may not be meaner, the anonymity of the Internet may be encouraging heated, over-the-top rhetoric. And the commenters do not fit the neat stereotype of a few angry people who spend hours at their computers blasting others and making baseless claims.

Infrequent commenters guilty too

In other words, the guys who seem to have an opinion on everything and insist on sharing it aren't the worst offenders. The researchers found incivility was more common among infrequent commenters.

And as for baseless arguments – that appears to be another myth. The commenters who expressed their opinions in uncivil ways were just as likely to cite evidence in support of their point of view than people using respectful language to express their opinions.

Lighting rods

Certain subjects serve as lightening rods for uncivil commenters. On the right, President Obama and Hillary Clinton tend to draw heated responses. On the left, it's conservative Supreme Court justices and Republican politicians.

For example, the researchers found that news stories quoting Obama generated comments that were nearly 33% uncivil, well above the sample's average.

The weightier the political issue or ideological point, the more likely commenters were to be uncivil in their comments. But amid all the nastiness, the researchers made an interesting observation.

When an uncivil commenter was challenged by someone with an opposing view, the resulting back-and-forth dialog between the two tended to be more civil than the original post. When some of the Internet's anonymity is stripped away, people tend to be more respectful.

“We tend to be more respectful in our public discourse when we recognize other citizens’ perspectives, even when we do not agree with them,” said Kate Kenski, associate professor of communication at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. “When we quote others participating in an online discussion, we tend to focus on their arguments, not on personal attributions, which makes the conversation more civil.”

Fighting anonymity

One step that many news sites have taken to fight back against over-the-top comments is to use social media -- primarily Facebook -- as their submission portal.

Facebook users know their "friends" are watching them and tend to be at least a bit more circumspect in their comments. Facebook also has highly accurate algorithms that filter out most of the spam that plagues all online services.

Would-be commenters tend to object to being required to use Facebook but publishers respond that the cost of using human editors to police comment sections vastly outweighs any benefit the comments may have.

Software solution 

Other than Facebook, there's no generally accepted software solution for the problem of comments run amok. But the Washington Post, the New York Times and software developer Mozilla are working to change that.

The three recently announced that they were working on a project to create digital tools that would make it easier for readers to post comments and photos on news sites and to interact with journalists and each other.

The project is being funded by a $3.89 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Media influence?

Still, it's hard not to believe that an increasingly partisan media doesn't play some role in a coarsening of public discourse, especially as it appears in cyberspace. Maybe we all fantasize a bit too much about hosting a show on MSNBC or Fox News.

For too many, the comments section of an online news story is a place to try out new material.

That news story you're reading might not be all that exciting but when you scroll to the comments section at the bottom of the page, chances are you'll enc...

BuzzFeed is watching you — even more than you thought

The standard tracking is bad enough, but the quiz data's even worse

If you spend any time socializing on the Internet, especially via Facebook, you're surely familiar with BuzzFeed, the website best-known for its “list” articles and various quizzes: Which spice are you? Which [character from popular book, movie or TV series] would you be?

Indeed, “BuzzFeed Quiz” has its own Facebook page with over 192,000 “likes.” Its most recent quizzes as of June 25 include which museum you should visit, what your favorite band in high school says about you (prediction: something flattering), and how likely you are to survive the “zombie apocalypse.”

In light of this, perhaps nobody should be surprised to hear what British e-commerce blogger Dan Barker announced on June 24: “BuzzFeed is watching you.”

How do they do that?

Barker identified two different ways BuzzFeed is doing that, which he labeled “The Mundane Bits” and “The Scary Bit.”

The “mundane” news is that, yeah — BuzzFeed is tracking you. Not that they're unique in this regard; the “Do Not Track” movement so far has proven spectacularly unpopular with advertising executives and the majority of websites and browsers.

Barker provided a screenshot of some code (which you probably won't know how to read unless you're very “good with computers”), explaining: “Here’s a snapshot of what BuzzFeed records when you land on a page. They actually record much more than this, but this is just the info they pass to Google (stored within Google Analytics).”

He then translated some of the code into English. Among other things, BuzzFeed is recording whether and how often you've visited their site before; whether you've connected Facebook and BuzzFeed; whether and how often you've shared BuzzFeed links via email, Twitter or other social media; which country you're in “and about 25 other pieces of information.”

Intrusive quizzes

Though all of this is, as Barker said, thoroughly “mundane” by Internet standards. The “scary bit” involves those ever-present quizzes:

Most quizzes are extremely benign – the stereotypical “Which [currently popular fictional TV show] Character Are You?” for example. But some of their quizzes are very specific, and very personal.

Here, for example, is a set of questions from a “How Privileged are You?” quiz, which has had 2,057,419 views at the time I write this. I’ve picked some of the questions that may cause you to think “actually, I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone recording my answers here”.

Among other things, those questions ask if you, the quiz-taker, have ever been treated or taken medication for mental health problems, suffered from learning disabilities, contemplated or attempted suicide, been raped or sexually assaulted, experienced racial discrimination, or felt dissatisfied with your gender or sexual identity.

As Barker wrote, “When you click any of those quiz answers, BuzzFeed record all of the mundane information we looked at earlier, plus they also record this:” followed by more code, an explanation of what it means and its implications:

In other words, if I had access to the BuzzFeed Google Analytics data, I could query data for people who got to the end of the quiz & indicated – by not checking that particular answer – that they have had an eating disorder. Or that they have tried to change their gender. Or I could run a query along the following lines if I wished:

Show me all the data for anyone who answered the “Check Your Privelege” quiz but did not check “I have never taken medication for my mental health”.

.... I suspect this particular quiz would have had less than 2 million views if everyone completing it realised every click was being recorded & could potentially be reported on later – whether that data is fully identifiable back to individual users, or pseudonymous, or even totally anonymous.

What do you think?

The response

Barker's blog post got enough attention that within a few hours of it going up, a BuzzFeed executive named Dao Nguyen posted this in the comments:

…. we do not in fact record that it is “you” browsing the site. The string sent to GA is not your username but an anonymized string that is not linked in any way to your account, email address or other personally identifiable information. Also, about 99% our readers are not even logged in.

We are only interested in data in the aggregate form. Who a specific user is and what he or she is doing on the site is actually a useless piece of information for us. We know how many people got Paris or prefer espresso in the Which city would you live in? quiz, but we don’t know who they are or any of their PII.

Yet other commenters on Barker's blog did not seem reassured by Nguyen's remarks. One man posted this in response: “Theoretically, how hard would it be for someone at Buzzfeed to connect someone to their Buzzfeed quiz answers?”

Another person asked Nguyen “If the 'username' string is NOT associated with the individual’s account, then why is the same username string used for two different sessions?” and “Can we interpret your final paragraph as meaning that none of your data analysis requires the username string in order to give you meaningful results? If “who a specific user is” is “useless” to you, then why bother including the username string in the GA data at all? If it’s useless, why not remove it? Contrariwise, if it is unremovable, for what use is it necessary?”

Update -- BuzzFeed responds

Shortly after this story was published, BuzzFeed forwarded this response to ConsumerAffairs:
We anonymize all usage data and have strict internal policies around only accessing data in the aggregate form.
Background: 
-About 99% our readers are not logged in, so we do not have a "username" or any PII (personally identifiable information) associated with those quiz takers. For the small number of people who are logged in, we anonymize the data like I mention above. All in all, all usage data is anonymized through this process.
-It's actually against Google Analytics' terms of service to store any personally identifiable information (PII). 
-We are only interested in data in the aggregate form. Who a specific user is and what he or she is doing on the site is actually a useless piece of information for us. We know how many people got Paris or prefer espresso in the Which City would you live in? quiz, but we don't know who they are or any of their PII.
After corresponding with Dan Barker, he recently shared some additional thoughts with the Independent here and amended his point of view:
Speaking to The Independent, Barker noted that despite the fact that data had been 'pseudonymised' (ie, assigned random user IDs) "from a technical point of view it would be really easy to link pseudonyms to real users, and is a fairly common practice."
Barker continues: "But BuzzFeed say specifically they do not and, as a fairly transparent company, I would be inclined to take their word for it. It's also worth mentioning that this is a total minefield and lots of website owners don't fully understand what data they're recording.
"For example, looking at an article elsewhere on The Independent, I can see the site loads 42 different third party tracking technologies, a few of which have assigned me a unique user ID in a similar way to BuzzFeed. I'd be amazed if most staff know that's happening, let alone readers."
If you spend any time socializing on the Internet, especially via Facebook, you're surely familiar with BuzzFeed and its quizzes...

Do social media sites move the merchandise? Consumers say no

Gallup finds even Millennials aren't much influenced by Facebook, et al

Companies large and small are spending billions to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so forth, producing lots of ads that break up the stream of cute kitten photos and news from the folks back home, or wherever.

Are they getting their money's worth?

A new study suggests they may not be, although Facebook disputed the findings. "The only thing this poll shows is that self-reported behavioral data is unreliable," Facebook said.

Gallup found that a clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions -- with 62% saying the sites do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products.

Only 5% say social media have "a great deal of influence" on their purchasing decisions, while another 30% say these channels have "some influence."

These data, from Gallup's new State of the American Consumer report, are based on Americans' self-reported estimates of how much social media campaigns affect their purchasing decisions. While social media may have more influence than some Americans realize or will admit, these data show that relatively few consumers consciously take into account what they learn from social media when making purchases, Gallup said.

Even among American consumers who "like" or follow a company on Facebook or Twitter, 34% say that social media have no influence at all on their buying decisions, while 53% say they have some influence.

What works

So what does influence buying decisions?

Gallup says consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, in-store displays, television commercials, and even mail catalogs and magazines than to consult a company-sponsored Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Also, Gallup said that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers -- by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience -- will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.

Even Millennials -- a generation that many companies regard as a key social media audience -- tend to say that social media marketing is not much of a factor in their decision-making, with about half saying social media have at least some influence on their buying decisions (50%), the other half saying social media have no influence at all.

Facebook responds

A Facebook spokesman said the results were flawed because they relied on self-reported behavioral.

"For decades, studies that look at people’s actual, real-world behavior have shown that ads on all mediums, including social media, affect the things people buy."

In a prepared statement, Facebook said advertisers demand proof before shelling out huge sums for advertising.

"The most successful marketers in the world don’t just take our word for it when it comes to ad effectiveness, they’ve asked us to prove that our ads work. And we have. Those marketers hold us to a very high standard; we look at actual changes in attitudes and behaviors using experimental design — the same approach used in medical trials," the company said.

Study details

These results are based on a Gallup Panel Web and mail study of 18,525 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12, 2012, to Jan. 22, 2013. All surveys were completed in English.

The Gallup Panel is a probability-based longitudinal panel of U.S. adults who are selected using random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone interviews that cover landline and cellphone telephone numbers. Address-based sampling methods are also used to recruit panel members. The Gallup Panel is not an opt-in panel, and members are not given incentives for participating. The sample for this study was weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. adult population, using 2012 Current Population Survey figures.

For results based on this sample, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher for subsamples.

Ads, ads, ads (Source: Facebook)Companies large and small are spending billions to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so forth, producing lots...

Facebook's Slingshot makes responding to messages mandatory

You know it's there but can't see it unless you send one yourself

Facebook's new Slingshot mobile app, just released today, is supposed to rival Snapchat, which is why Slingshot imitates Snapchat's impermanence: whatever messages you send via Snapchat will disappear a few seconds after they're seen, making it more like an ordinary, low-tech, non-recorded conversation.

Presumably, anything you send via Slingshot will soon vanish too. But Slingshot offers an odd new wrinkle: forced reciprocity. In Slingshot, if someone sends you a video or photo, you know it's there but are not allowed to see it until you send one of your own.

Slingshot's developers explained their rationale in their blog post announcing the release:

With Slingshot, we wanted to build something where everybody is a creator and nobody is just a spectator. When everyone participates, there’s less pressure, more creativity and even the little things in life can turn into awesome shared experiences. …

To get started on Slingshot, shoot a photo or video. It can be what you’re up to, who you’re with or a quick selfie. Add some text and color, then sling it to a bunch of friends. Here’s the deal: friends won’t be able to see your shot until they sling something back to you. They can then reply with a reaction—or simply swipe your shot away. 

If any Slingshot developers are reading this, here's a free profit-building tip: you'd get millions of eager customers signing on to your service in nanoseconds, if you tweak your software enough that the whole forced-reciprocity thing applies not to video messages from friends, but email messages from spammers — you can't see any spam unless you send the spammers a message first.

Facebook's new Slingshot mobile app, just released today, is supposed to rival Snapchat, which is why Slingshot imitates Snapchat's impermanence: whatever ...

Not much creative thinking in political tweets, study finds

Researchers say they're disappointed at the slavish blitz of retweeting and lack of original thought

There's an old news business phrase that's used to denigrate articles that are little more than collections of excerpts from previous stories. They're called "gluepot" stories -- meaning they are basically a cut-and-paste product.

Although they didn't use that term that's what a group of scientists at Cornell University and elsewhere found when they studied more than 290 million "tweets" emitted during the 2012 presidential nominating conventions and debates.

Instead of original observations and illuminating insights based on personal experience, they found little creative thinking, and a slavish blitz of retweeting "elites" like @billmaher and @seanhannity.

Eyes on the stars

"Frankly, we're rather disappointed," said Cornell University's Drew Margolin. "Social media has so much potential to improve the diversity of voices and quality of exchanges in political discussion by giving individuals the technological capability to compete with the mass media in disseminating information, setting agendas and framing conversation."

Instead, says the Cornell assistant professor of communication, "during live media events when the largest number of people are paying attention, people move away from this deliberative potential by replacing existing interpersonal social dynamics with increased collective attention to existing 'stars.'"

Those stars would be Twitter users like the liberal comedian Bill Maher, the most retweeted in three of the four candidate debates, and Sean Hannity, the conservative media personality who popularly opined, "Middle class crushed last 4 years" during the third debate.

Most study subjects were so mesmerized by erudite elites they forgot to think for themselves, the researchers lamented. The social media tide of public discourse did not rise far in the 2012 campaign, the social scientists agreed, but a few stars' fortunes did.

In defense of the retweeting masses, the authors wrote: "The uncertainty of live events may predispose users to seek information from authorities and their expert sensemaking processes rather than from their peers."

Not that there's anything wrong with that … or is there?

"Combined with our findings about concentrated attention to elite voices and diminished use of interpersonal communication," the researchers wrote, "these factors could combine to create ideal conditions for rumor persistence, belief polarization and the dissemination of misinformation that can – intentionally or unintentionally – undermine deliberation."

The complete report is published in PLoS ONE, an online academic journal. 

Twitter iconThere's an old news business phrase that's used to denigrate articles that are little more than collections of excerpts from previous stori...

Buying positive pregnancy tests: don't. Just don't.

Some things are better left unsold

If you hear someone describe a gathering place as “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” it can indicate one of two things: a Star Wars fan quoting what Obi-Wan Kenobi said about Mos Eisley, or anybody else responding to the latest “seedy side of Craigslist” story.

Like this piece by CBS New York, offering an unusually cynical take to the usual pre-Mother's Day media pieces: if you're not a mother-to-be yet want people to think you are, you can buy positive pregnancy tests online!

Granted, the CBS piece relied entirely on anonymous quotes and secondhand information (no surprise that anybody who does buy or sell such things would prefer to remain anonymous): an unnamed mother in Dallas who sold positive tests to a woman hoping to trick her boyfriend into marrying her, another unnamed woman in New Jersey last year, who posted a Cragslist ad offering tests for sale and adding “Wanna get your boyfriend to finally pop the question? Play a trick on mom, dad or one of your friends? I really don’t care what you use it for.”

Prices vary by location 

Interestingly enough, despite Washington, D.C.'s overall reputation for dishonesty, a May 8 search for “pregnancy test” (not even with the added word “positive”) on the Washington, DC-area Craigslist yielded only three possibly outdated offers to sell a positive test, specifically for “a prank” or “April Fools,” rather than hopes of tricking a man into a fraudulent marriage likely to fail once the expected kid never actually arrives. All three asked for $20, though one offered to arrange a discount for multiple purchases.

By contrast, on the New York City Craigslist boards, positive pregnancy tests were much more commonplace, at a going rate of $35. On the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, prices ranged from $60 to $70.

If you, for whatever reason, are actually tempted to buy somebody else's urine-soaked medical waste, there is no point in shopping around to hunt for bargain prices; your best bet is to completely abandon any plan requiring a false-positive pregnancy test to succeed.

If you hear someone describe a gathering place as “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” it can indicate one of two things: a Star Wars fan quo...

Facebook blames algorithms for promoting blatantly false stories

But critics say lack of standards is actually to blame

There is no polite way to say this: while a person must doubtlessly be very intelligent to get a job as a professional Facebook algorithm writer, the algorithms themselves are completely stupid, thanks primarily to their complete inability to read things in context.

And, therefore, those who put those algorithms in charge of evaluating news stories are both stupid and irresponsible. 

If you have a Facebook account, you've seen it yourself: post a withering insult about your least-favorite politician, and Facebook's algorithms will recommend that you “Like” his page and donate to his re-election campaign.

A friend of mine, who is a fan of the British science-fiction series Doctor Who, spent one summer getting constant Facebook recommendations that he read news articles about a then-current drug scandal in the world of European competitive bicycling; eventually he figured out it's because the articles all mentioned a doctor who allegedly helped athletes cheat.

Lack of standards

So in some ways, it's no surprise to see this Boston Globe article complaining that “Facebook draws fire on 'related articles' push,” nor any surprise to see that in the article's third paragraph, an unnamed Facebook spokeswoman blamed the problem on “algorithms.”

But read more closely and you'll notice that algorithms aren't the problem; lack of standards is. Or you could call it reckless disregard for facts.

New criticism of Facebook focuses not merely on articles unlikely to interest specific individuals (there's nothing inherently wrong with news stories about European bike-racers; there's just no reason to think Doctor Who fans are especially interested in them), but on pushing articles proven to be demonstrably false. As the Globe said:

A surprise awaited Facebook users who recently clicked on a link to read a story about Michelle Obama’s encounter with a 10-year-old girl whose father was jobless.

Facebook responded to the click by offering what it called “related articles.” These included one that alleged a Secret Service officer had found the president and his wife having “S*X in Oval Office,” and another that said “Barack has lost all control of Michelle” and was considering divorce.

Facebook's algorithms are proprietary information, so nobody knows exactly how they calculate what will and will not appear on Facebook “feeds,” but Facebook has indicated two factors: it has something to do with word association (obviously), and also has something to do with how “popular” an article is. But that's all; Facebook doesn't engage in fact-checking or anything else to verify the content of whatever its algorithms promote.

Were Facebook positioning itself exclusively as a social media site, focusing exclusively on popularity would be a perfectly legitimate tactic. The problem is that Facebook is also trying to position itself as a source of actual news, where mere popularity is supposed to matter far less than whether something is actually true.

There is no polite way to say this: while a person must doubtlessly be very intelligent to get a job as a professional Facebook algorithm writer, the algor...

Facebook, Instagram try to curb illegal online gun sales

New York's attorney general says sites are acting responsibly

Under pressure from gun safety advocates and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Facebook and Instagram are announcing new policies intended to curb illegal online sales of firearms.

Facebook and Instagram have agreed to remove user posts that seek to circumvent gun laws, take action to prevent minors from viewing posts that aim to sell firearms, and provide education to better inform law-abiding private sellers of guns.

“I applaud Facebook and Instagram for taking the lead in helping avoid illegal gun sales on these increasingly ubiquitous platforms,” said Schneiderman. “Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one’s interest for their sites to become a 21st century black market in dangerous and illegal goods that place our families and communities at risk.”

While neither Facebook nor Instagram is an e-commerce site, users can use these sites to promote the sale of firearms and often negotiate terms of sale in the comments section.

“By taking these unprecedented educational and enforcement steps, we’ve been able to strike an important balance in helping people express themselves, while promoting a safe and responsible community," said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management. "We are grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman and all the groups who worked with us on this approach.”

No background checks

During its review of the platforms, the Attorney General’s Office collected evidence that some users were advertising that they would not perform background checks or would be willing to sell to users in states with strict gun laws — like New York — that prohibit certain weapons and accessories. In addition, it appeared likely that minors would be able to acquire firearms through Facebook.

Under the policies announced today, Facebook and Instagram will not permit users to post offers to sell or buy firearms that indicate intent to evade or help others evade the law. This includes, for example, posts that advertise “no background check required.”

Facebook will block users under 18 years of age from viewing reported Page and Timeline posts involving private gun sales, and it will implement in-product education “checkpoints” that inform users that private gun sales might be regulated or prohibited in their location, and that background checks may be required.

The checkpoints will occur for all users reported for posting a gun for sale, for all Facebook pages reported for promoting private gun sales, and for all Instagram-based searches for hashtags identified as promoting gun sales.

Facebook said it will work with advocacy groups to create a targeted ad campaign on the site that will educate users about their responsibilities under the law and to ensure safe firearms transactions, including conducting background checks.

Under pressure from gun safety advocates and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Facebook and Instagram are announcing new policies intend...

Facebook mercifully killing off Facebook email

Facebook email was "not popular" in the same sense that the Hindenburg was "not fireproof"

Good news for Facebook users: Facebook has finally succumbed to reality and will soon be phasing out its wildly unpopular Facebook email system.

For those of you unfamiliar with Facebook, here's how things worked before the advent of Facebook email (and hopefully/presumably how things will work again): when you register for Facebook, you use an already-existing email address to do so — say, JaneDoe@email.com.

Then, people who see you on Facebook and wish to contact you privately (as opposed to posting a publicly visible note on your “Wall”) have two options: they can send you a message over Facebook's private messaging system, or through your regular email.

Then Facebook decided to introduce its email system: instead of emails landing in your JaneDoe@email.com inbox, they were shunted into the brand-new email account JaneDoe@Facebook.com, and any emails landed in your Facebook private-messaging system.

Really annoying

From Jane Doe's perspective, this was annoying on two levels: one, if she wants to read all of her emails, she has to log in to Facebook in addition to checking her email.com account.

Even worse, Facebook's messaging system has two layers, and most Facebook users only know about one: your official “Messages” box contains private messages (or Facebook.com emails) sent by your official “Facebook friends.” But messages from anyone else were shunted into a different folder, called “Other.”

(Relevant personal anecdote: my own Facebook account was a couple years old before I knew about the “Other” folder, and I might still be unaware of it had I not read this circa-2011 article in Slate, from a writer furious to discover that some extremely important personal messages had languished unread in her “Other” folder. A worse horror story unfolded in Georgia last year, when a mother in Clayton County went a whole month without knowing her missing son had been murdered – police used Facebook to let her know, and the message sat unread in her “Other” folder.)

Such little kinks still exist in Facebook's private messaging system, but this week, finally, the company announced that it was ending its ill-fated @Facebook.com email experiment: by March, Jane Doe's default email address will once again be JaneDoe@email.com, not JaneDoe@Facebook.com

The blog InsideFacebook.com reported on Feb. 24 that Facebook was doing away with its “unpopular” email service due to “lack of participation.”

Oddly enough, the mainstream media news reports about the closing were often more tongue-in-cheek than the commentary from the blogosphere. For example, when North Carolina TV station and website MyFox8.com shared the news with its readers, the story started by asking “Check your Facebook mail lately? Didn’t think so. Apparently not many others did, either.”

If your tastes run more toward understatement, you'll prefer this quote from the Venture Capital Post: “There probably won't be any lost tears over this change for many users.”

Facebook has finally succumbed to reality and is doing away with its wildly unpopular Facebook email system...

Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion

WhatsApp users don't sound too happy

Facebook's own reputation might be damaging it, if reactions to the company's planned $19 billion ($4 billion in cash, plus $15 billion in Facebook shares and stock units) acquisition of the WhatsApp cross-platform messaging service is any indication.

While industry analysts initially agreed the move was a smart one from Facebook's perspective — the Reuters headline “Wall Street sees sense in Facebook's $19 billion WhatsApp purchase” is a typical example — the Wall Street Journalnoted that actual Facebook stockholders are slightly less enthused, as the collective value of Facebook shares fell by $1.5 billion by midday Thursday, the day after the announcement broke.

And current WhatsApp users appear even less enthused. Facebook's announcement of the planned acquisition almost immediately inspired the development of a new Facebook page called “Please Don't Ruin WhatsApp” (which collected over 200 “likes” in only the first 20 hours of its existence), and, as Los Angeles Times reporter Jessica Guynn noted, many WhatsApp users reponded to the news by either canceling their accounts, or threatening to.

The main concern cited by most WhatsApp users was the fear that Facebook would clutter WhatsApp with ads. (WhatsApp is –or at least, was – ad-free; its income stream derives from its annual 99-cent subscrption fees.)

However, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg said that “WhatsApp will continue to operate independently within Facebook. The product roadmap will remain unchanged.”

Facebook's own reputation might be damaging it, if reactions to the company's planned $19 billion ($4 billion in cash, plus $15 billion in Facebook shares ...

Flappy Bird creator pulls the plug on his "addictive" game

Dong Nguyen walks away from $50K per day in ad revenue

There exists an unflattering stereotype to the effect of “Businessmen are greedy people who care only about personal profit no matter who it harms,” and there also exist plenty of genuine real-world examples of businessmen who do, unfortunately, live down to that image.

But there are also those who run exactly counter to that stereotype, and it sounds like Dong Nguyen, the Vietnamese programmer who created the popular (but now-defunct) Flappy Bird game might be one of them.

Fans of Flappy Bird were dismayed last weekend to discover that the popular app game is gone. Why did Nguyen pull the plug on it?

According to Forbes writer Lan Anh Nguyen, to whom he gave an exclusive interview, it's because the game was too addictive. “Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed,” he told Forbes. “But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”

Dong Nguyen was reportedly making up to $50,000 a day from the game.

Granted, there are some odd aspects to Flappy Bird's demise. Lan Anh Nguyen mentioned the particular requirements Dong Nguyen laid down for the interview:

The circumstances surrounding the interview, conducted in Vietnamese, were as much of a soap opera as his public ruminations about whether to take down the app. The interview with Forbes took place in a hotel in Hanoi, with a strict condition that Forbes not reveal Nguyen’s face. It was delayed several hours, in part because Nguyen had a sudden meeting with Vietnam’s deputy prime minister Vu Duc Dam – a remarkable turn of events for someone unknown a week ago. Nguyen says his parents didn’t even know that Flappy Bird existed, much less his role in it, until media coverage spun out of control in the past few days.

Flappy Bird addicts unhappy with Nguyen's act of tough love can find solace in many non-Nguyen Flappy Bird knockoffs, including Flappy Whale, Flappy Penguin, Flappy Angry Bird and Flappy Plane. Dong Nguyen has said he won't sue any of the copycat creators.

There exists an unflattering stereotype to the effect of “Businessmen are greedy people who care only about personal profit no matter who it harms,&r...

Does social media make you smarter or stupider?

Answer: both.

An old proverb notes that a pessimist will say a glass is half-empty, whereas an optimist will say the glass is half-full. Another proverb observes that “every cloud has a silver lining,” which inspires wags to retort “Yup, and every silver lining has its cloud” or “all silver's destined to tarnish” or something similarly cynical.

Which are all ways of saying that modern life is full of trade-offs, with good and bad aspects to most things. Meanwhile, this whole “Internet/social media/instant worldwide communication for all” business is still brand-new by world historical standards – as of 2014, the majority of people alive can personally remember life before the Internet – and there's still huge disagreement regarding whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, overall.

The latest entry in the “maybe bad thing” category is discussed in this MediaPost blog entry titled “Social Media Makes Us Dumb, But Think We're Smart.” It summarizes a study which researchers at the University of Oregon published in the journal of the Royal Society. Super-short version: the more you rely on social connections for problem-solving, the more your own personal cognitive abilities suffer.

Or so the study results might indicate. Researchers divided 100 test subjects into five groups of 20-member “social networks” with various levels of connectivity. The subjects were then asked to solve some rather difficult “cognitive reflection tests.”

Turns out subjects scored much higher on the tests when they were allowed to ask their social-network connections for the answers – the more connected you are to your network, the more likely you are to get the right answer – but then, after using social connections to help them take the tests, the subjects tended to score more poorly once they had to take the tests by themselves.

Brain not engaged

Here's how the researchers summarized their results:

“When people make false intuitive conclusions and are exposed to the analytic output of their peers, they recognize and adopt this correct output. But they fail to engage analytical reasoning in similar subsequent tasks. Thus, humans exhibit an ‘unreflective copying bias,’ which limits their social learning to the output, rather than the process, of their peers’ reasoning.”

Interesting. But set that aside for a moment, and check out this September 2013 article from Slate, which asked, “Are search engines and the Internet hurting human memory?” and answered “Nope. It's much, much weirder than that.” (The “article” in question is actually an excerpt from Clive Thompson's book "Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better.")

Here's a stripped-down and somewhat oversimplified summary: the critics and worrywarts who fret, “Oh dear, people are starting to rely on looking up facts online rather than committing them to memory” are absolutely correct — so far as that goes.

Does it matter?

Yet it doesn't really matter, because supplementing our memories with whatever facts we find online is just an expanded technological version of what people have done for as long as there have been people: rather than try storing the sum total of all human knowledge and ability in our own personal individual brain, we rely on our social networks (family, friends, neighbors, even civilization writ large) to share that burden with us.

If you are half of an “old married couple”—or know people who are—you've seen or participated in this yourself. Read this bit from Thompson's book and see if it doesn't sound familiar:

Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner—and his colleagues Ralph Erber and Paula Raymond—first began to systematically explore “transactive memory” back in the ’80s. Wegner noticed that spouses often divide up memory tasks. The husband knows the in-laws' birthdays and where the spare light bulbs are kept; the wife knows the bank account numbers and how to program the TiVo. If you ask the husband for his bank account number, he'll shrug. If you ask the wife for her sister-in-law's birthday, she can never remember it. Together, they know a lot. Separately, less so. ...

The same thing occurs on a bigger scale with colleagues at work.

[Y]ou each begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering that stuff to the other, treating one’s partners like a notepad or encyclopedia, and they do the reverse. In many respects, Wegner noted, people are superior to notepads and encyclopedias, because we’re much quicker to query: Just yell a fuzzily phrased question across to the next cubicle (where do we keep the thing that we use for that thing?) and you’ll get an answer in seconds. We share the work of remembering, Wegner argued, because it makes us collectively smarter.

Of course, remembering and retrieving facts — whether by yourself or with others — isn't quite the same thing as using applied knowledge, skill or intelligence to solve challenging cognitive puzzles. Yet they do seem to share one trait in common: “You do much better with others than you do by yourself.” That's the glass-half-full interpretation, anyway; you could also say “I do much worse by myself than when I get help from others.”

An old joking proverb notes that a pessimist will say a glass is half-empty, whereas an optimist will say the glass is half-full. ...

Singles sound off on dating, sex and marriage

Dating landscape has changed in some ways, not so much in others

Have attitudes about romance and dating changed in recent years? Has the new generation of singles – people in their 20s and 30s – reshaped the whole idea of love?

Pertinent questions as Valentines Day approaches and issues explored in a new survey of singles from online dating site Match.com. The annual survey, now in its fourth year, suggests singles of all ages are leading the way toward more intimate partnerships and dramatically altering traditional beliefs about sex, love and attachment.

New to this year's survey were questions designed to explore the impact of singles on the economy and how much they spend on their dating lives.

“It's thrilling for me, as an anthropologist, to dig deep into singles' collective psyche with this annual survey, and watch singles of all ages lead the way toward a less prejudiced society,” said Dr. Helen Fisher, Match.com's science advisor.

What's new?

What did Fisher learn from the responses to this year's survey? That men are far more loving -- and committed -- than most believe. That women are eagerly embracing self-expression and independence. That older people are still ‘hip’ and that new sexual and social taboos are emerging. And something else that might surprise you.

“Both sexes are entering new relationships slowly -- with the aim to make them last,” Fisher said.

Whether the two parties want the relationship to end in marriage or not, they seem to want it to be long-term, providing some of the perceived benefits of relationships from earlier generations.

Valuable information

Here are some things that singles should know:

That first date may be more important than you think. You might be going into it as a one-time thing but your partner may have other ideas. The survey shows that 51% of singles on a first date have “imagined a future together.” It might surprise you to learn that slightly more men than women admit to this.

You may expect to be judged by your date, but how will you be judged? If you're a man, you are more likely to judge a woman by her tattoos. You are not likely to even look at her shoes.

Women, on the other hand, don't put much stock in the kind of car you're driving. On the other hand, she will pay close attention to your clothes.

Change the subject

Are there topics of conversation you should avoid on a first date? You betcha. The survey found both men and women would prefer not to hear about your past relationships, your political views, or your belief – or lack of belief – in a deity.

What about sex on a first date? The survey shows only eight percent of women are okay with it but – no surprise here – 37% of men think it's a fine idea. Both sexes generally agree that kissing is okay.

Tried and true

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seventy-nine percent of singles in their twenties and 62% of singles in their thirties say they want to get married. Overall, 50% of men and 55% of women are eager to walk down the aisle.

Another thing that hasn't changed much is tolerance for tardiness. Thirty-five percent of men and 39% of women believe you only can be up to 15 minutes late for a date, while 11% of singles think being late is always unacceptable.

In the end, dating does more than stimulate your social life. It also stimulates the economy. They survey found that singles spend nearly $61.53 per month on dating-related activities, totaling approximately $738.36 each year per individual. With 111 million singles in the U.S., adds up to some $82 billion a year.

Have attitudes about romance and dating changed in recent years? Has the new generation of singles – people in their 20s and 30s – reshaped the...

Facebook and SecondSync team up to analyze your TV discussion data

Unrelated to recent class action suits charging Facebook with data manipulation

On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to “help clients understand how people are using Facebook to talk about topics such as TV,” according to the blog post.

We don't know who these clients are or what specific understanding they lack, and we especially don't know why SecondSync thinks this partnership with Facebook is a good idea.

After all: Facebook is already facing multiple class action lawsuits charging that it has not only been reading the contents of allegedly “private” messages sent on its site, but also using links to massage “like” counts.

In other words, if you and your friend both think Congressman Dungheap is an idiot, and occasionally private-message each other with a link to his Facebook page alongside commentary like “Wow, the congressman is being extra-stupid today, even for him” – that bit of political analysis there actually increases the congressman's “like” count on Facebook, if the lawsuit allegations are correct.

(And they very well might be; as early as October 2012, The Next Web tech blog reported “Facebook confirms it is scanning your private messages for links to increase Like counters.”)

Inflated feelgood data

Granted, if Congressman Dungheap is 14 years old and really, really wants his Facebook page to have more Likes than the Facebook pages of his classmates down at the middle school, then having Facebook portray him as more popular than he is probably counts as a good thing, from Dungheap's perspective.

But if Dungheap is, hypothetically, a grownup politician trying to figure out what the voters actually think about him, so as to determine what campaign strategies might best increase his chance of re-election – in that case, we can't help wondering if maybe falsely inflated feelgood data is worse than no data at all.

Does Facebook do the same with TV shows? If you and five of your Facebook friends all agree “I hate this stupid TV show, which insults both my intelligence and my basic baseline humanity,” will Facebook conclude “Whoa, there's six people who really hate that stupid TV show,” or will the stupid TV show's Facebook page get six more Likes added to its counter?

Since SecondSync is supposed to help Facebook analyze whatever TV data it gleans from its users, we'll guess/hope the answer to both questions is “No.”

On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to ...

Is political peace possible on Facebook?

Researcher suggests listening to, not tuning out, opposing views

The 2012 election seems like ancient history now but some of the friendships damaged by political posturing on Facebook linger on.

Bob, a retired military officer in Washington, D.C., who voted for Obama, said it remains hard to read some of the posts by Facebook friends who supported Romney. He says the Facebook experience has begun to color his real-life relationships.

“It got nasty,” he said. “Instead of enabling relationships Facebook is destroying them.”

Carla Naumburg, a Massachusetts blogger, posted a plea last Election Day for peace on both sides of the Facebook political divide.

“I started getting concerned when I noticed friends announcing that they will unfriend people on Facebook who are voting for the other guy,” she wrote. “I saw the same trend on Twitter, and on the news. And I realized that relationships are falling apart all over the country, not just in my community.”

Disturbing trend

It's not just consumers and bloggers who have noted this disturbing trend. A new study from Georgia Tech examines how politics divides people on social media. People who think their friends have opposing opinions engage less on Facebook, they discovered.

For those who stay logged in and express their political views, the researchers found they tend to stick to their own circles, ignore those on the other side and become more polarized.

In an effort to be helpful, the researchers came up with a few suggestions for Facebook. They say that by displaying shared interests between friends during their politically heated encounters, Facebook could help defuse possible arguments and alleviate tension. In other words, people need to be reminded of what they have in common, despite political differences. They say increasing exposure and engagement to weak ties could make people more resilient in the face of political argument.

Echo chamber

“People are mainly friends with those who share similar values and interests. They tend to interact with them the most, a phenomenon called homophily,” said Catherine Grevet, the Georgia Tech Ph.D. student who led the study. “But that means they rarely interact with the few friends with differing opinions. As a result, they aren’t exposed to opposing viewpoints.”

The researchers fault Facebook’s algorithms. Newsfeeds are filled with the friends a person most often interacts with, typically those with strong ties. Grevet would like to see Facebook sprinkle in a few status updates on both sides of political issues. That, she says, would expose people to different opinions, which are typically held by weak ties.

“Designing social media toward nudging users to strengthen relationships with weak ties with different viewpoints could have beneficial consequences for the platform, users and society,” said Grevet.

The study

Consumers rate Facebook

Grevet's study examined more than 100 politically active Facebook users in the spring of 2013 amid debates about budget cuts, gay marriage and gun control regulations. The majority of participants were liberal, female and under the age of 40, reflecting the traditional Facebook user.

More than 70% of participants said they don’t talk about politics with their friends with different opinions. When they were presented with a post they didn’t agree with, 60% said they ignored it and didn’t comment. When they did, sometimes it made the person question the relationship and drop the friend.

“Even though people could simply unfriend someone with different opinions, and there were certainly those who did that, there were many relationships that were able to be maintained,” said Grevet. “Through a combination of behaviors on Facebook like hiding, tuning out, logging off or avoiding certain conversations, people negotiated around those differences to stay connected.”

But Grevet thinks Facebook users should embrace their differences and that the social media site could make that happen if it would remind friends of their shared interests.

The 2012 election seems like ancient history now but some of the friendships damaged by political posturing on Facebook linger on.Bob, a retired military...

Love and marriage: both leave you vulnerable to online scams

Con artists use online dating sites to ensnare new victims

Of all types of scammers and con artists out there, probably the worst are those who prey not on people's sense of greed (“Hey, gimme your bank info and I'll share the zillions of dollars I'm smuggling out of a foreign country”), but on people's nobler emotions and instincts.

There are the notorious “Grandma scams,” when scammers contact people and pretend to be a friend or relative who is in deep trouble and needs money to get out of it.

And particularly heartbreaking are the love scams, where con artists pretend a romantic interest in their victims before clearing out their bank accounts.

Last week, a 66-year-old divorcee in San Jose, Calif., who was looking for love on Christian Mingle wound up bilked out of half a million dollars—although, luckily for her, authorities in Turkey were able to recover $200,000 of it. Even that was a longshot, though — authorities put the chances of recovering the remaining $300,000 at less than 1 percent.

The following week, a 50-something widow in Winder, Georgia was taken in by a similar scam (though for many orders of magnitude less money): she met a man on an unnamed “Christian dating site” and he eventually asked her to lend him $8,000 for a new generator. She was luckily too skeptical (or broke) to send him the full amount — but she did wire him $500.

She is unlikely to get any of her money back — and until her next disability check comes in, she'll have difficulty paying her bills in the meantime.

Winder is a small town – a quick online search says its population in 2012 was less than 14,300 people – and yet, when its local news reported the story of a local woman cheated out of $500 through a dating site, the last line of that news story said this: “Winder police said they frequently get reports like this and there often is not much that can be done when money is transferred to a foreign bank account.”

Nothing to be done

Unfortunately, the police are right; there usually isn't anything they can do to recover money in such situations. But if police even in a tiny town like Winder “frequently” get such scam reports, think what that implies about the appalling frequency of such scam attempts overall!

Of course, such scams aren't limited to Christian dating sites, nor even to American ones; on the other side of the Atlantic, the Mirfield Reporter (UK) noted on Jan. 10 that “Honeytrap bride” Sidra Fatima, who used an Asian dating site to bilk British would-be suitors out of £35,000 (roughly $52,500), managed to avoid jailtime for her role in the scam.

Fatima's scam was more elaborate than the other two mentioned here: she actually met her would-be victims in person, pretending to be interested in marriage (even though she was already married, to her scam partner).

We can't offer any advice on how to find true love, let alone how long it takes before you should relax enough to say “I know, love and can trust this person.” Furthermore, other than “Don't mix business with pleasure” we have no idea how romantic couples ought to handle the tricky subject of one making a personal or business loan to the other. However, we will say this: if you've never so much as been in the same room with someone, you do not know them well enough to lend them money.

Following this rule wouldn't necessarily have been enough to save Fatima's victims from being cheated, but it would've helped the widow and the divorcee whose hearts and bank accounts were both stolen by some thieving date-site scammers last week.

The worst con artists prey not on people's sense of greed but their nobler emotions and instincts...

Is Facebook like a disease?

Research paper compares it to an infectious disease outbreak

Facebook is like a disease. So says a research paper that exploded onto the scene yesterday. Written by two Princeton PhD students, the paper basically says that social media sites follow the same outbreak, growth and decline patterns as epidemics.

Most of them have a life cycle that extends for only about three years after they reach their peak, which would mean that Facebook is on its way out and will be mostly a memory in a year or two.

Sound outrageous? Perhaps, but Joshua Spechler and John Cannarella point to MySpace as a prime example, It peaked in 2008 and then rapidly dwindled to nearly nothing by 2011.

Rapid decline

Using Google search data as their basis, the reserchers say that Facebook reached its peak in 2012 and has already started to decline.

"Extrapolating the best fit model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017," they said, adding that the site has "already reached the peak of its popularity and has entered a decline phase."

A Facebook spokesman said the paper was "nonsense" but others have noted that younger teens have been abandoning Facebook in droves recently, with older users replacing them. While not necessarily a bad thing, it's nevertheless a trend that raises questions about Facebook's future.

Overall, Facebook's numbers are up, the company notes, with nearly 1.2 billion users in a given month. Advertising revenue is also up.

The students aren't saying anything publicly while they wait for their paper to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Facebook is like a disease. So says a research paper that exploded onto the scene yesterday. Written by two Princeton PhD students, the paper basically say...

Class-action lawsuit alleges email harvesting at LinkedIn

The latest social-media site to face similar claims

Although we have no personal experience in the matter, we'd always figured “product endorsement spokesperson” must be a pretty sweet gig if you can land it. After all, saying “Hi there! I'm me, and I think this-here product is great” (or variants thereof) is surely easier than the more traditional “Make money via finding a job and working at it five days a week” route.

But that assumes you actually get paid for your product endorsements. But if you have an Internet connection (and you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't) there is, apparently, an ever-growing chance you might be in the product-endorsement biz after all — without your knowledge or consent, and certainly without any resulting increase in your personal net worth.

Facebook has recently been subjected to various lawsuits from users who allege that Facebook falsely claimed they “like” various products or pages, for advertising purposes. Meanwhile, LinkedIn has faced a similar class-action suit since at least last September.

Siphons email contacts

Courthouse News Service reported an update to that story on Jan. 14, first with background explaining the allegations that LinkedIn has been harvesting users' email addresses without permission:

LinkedIn faces a federal class action in San Francisco claiming it siphons email contacts from users' external email accounts and then spams them with "endorsement emails." Users want LinkedIn to pay them for using their identities to sell premium memberships, grow its member base and save money on acquiring new members.... in [the plaintiffs'] brief opposing LinkedIn's motion to dismiss, they say "a few cryptic disclosures on a website" do not give LinkedIn the right "to harvest users' email addresses and broadcast users' persona to hundreds of people."

The brief also gives the following example: “LinkedIn attempts to access a user's Gmail account if the user has Gmail open in another browser window or has not logged out of Gmail. If an email account is open, LinkedIn accesses the account by using the open email session. LinkedIn does not prompt members for a password. Instead, LinkedIn sweeps the external email account for every email address a user has been emailed by, CCed, or emailed. For many users this is thousands of addresses."

The actual class-action suit dates back to last September; the Jan. 14 update focuses on the plaintiff's rebuttals to LinkedIn's earlier defense claims; for example, LinkedIn representatives tried arguing its actions regarding email addresses lack standing because the emails do not “injure or enrich anyone,” when in fact, LinkedIn charges members $10 to send messages to members they're not linked to — thus implying LinkedIn values each of those promotional emails at $10.

Although we have no personal experience in the matter, we'd always figured “product endorsement spokesperson” must be a pretty sweet gig if you can land it...

False "like" allegations lead to Facebook lawsuits

Is Facebook monetizing opinions you don't actually hold?

Like all social media companies, Facebook uses proprietary algorithms to determine everything from what advertisements you see on your “feed” to which of your friends' posts get priority over others. Because they're proprietary, nobody (save for a few high-ranking Facebook executives) can say exactly what they are, and such confusion might be the foundation for some odd lawsuits Facebook's been facing recently.

Colorado resident Anthony DiTorro is suing Facebook for misrepresentation, claiming that he (DiTorro) has never visited the USA Today website, let alone “liked” it, yet a perusal of DiTorro's online Facebook activity allegedly shows that DiTorro “liked” USA Today, and Facebook even went so far as to mention this in sponsored posts pushing USA Today in the personal feeds of his friends.

Know who your friends are

A brief pause to explain Facebook terminology: if you have a Facebook account, you can choose exactly which people can see it or post on it; these people are your Facebook “friends.” The place where you actually do things – your virtual online hangout, if you will – is your Facebook “Wall.” You can post comments, pictures and links on your own Wall, or your friends' Walls. Your “Feed” is where you see various posts and comments your Friends made on their Walls or others'. Your Feed will also include “sponsored posts,” which are basically advertisements. And, finally: if you want, you can click a little button indicating that you “like” any given post or comment.

So it's hard to discuss a Facebook lawsuit without sounding rather middle-schoolish, debating such questions as, “Do you or do you not 'like' this?” or “Are you or are you not his 'friend'?” But DiTorro's lawsuit ultimately is based on the allegation that DiTorro never made any Facebook posts or clicked any “Like” buttons in favor of USA Today, yet Facebook falsely let DiTorro's Friends think he did.

It's tempting to chuckle over DiTorro's umbrage here (“USA Today? How dare you accuse me of reading a Gannett publication! Them's fightin' words”), but in all seriousness: imagine how you'd feel if your friends and family thought you supported something you actually found downright abhorrent: a politician whose policies you firmly oppose, say.

DiTorro's is hardly the only lawsuit making such allegations against Facebook. Last month, just before the New Year turned, two Facebook users in California alleged that Facebook has been scanning the contents of private messages in order to boost various “like” counts.

Awful politician

Going back to the earlier example of the politician you despise: imagine you and a Facebook friend are having a discussion over the Facebook private message system, specifically discussing how much you dislike that politico. You send a link to his page, along with the comment “Look at this incredibly stupid new policy he's promoting now!” and your friend responds, “Terrible! He really is an awful politician, isn't he?”

According to the lawsuit, your little discussion there ends up increasing said politician's “like” count, thus making him appear more popular than he actually is.

But that lawsuit makes far more serious allegations: that such scans of private messages violate anti-wiretapping laws. The lawsuit alleges “Facebook misleads users into believing that they have a secure, private mechanism for communication -- Facebook’s private messaging function -- when, in fact, Facebook intercepts and scans the content and treats portions of that content no differently than a public 'Like' or post, broadcast openly across the Internet.”

If you're worried that Facebook is using your own name to push products or causes you don't actually like, you might try posting a request on your own Facebook Wall, asking your friends to give you a heads-up if they see any announcements that you “liked” something. (But make sure you word your request very carefully, lest you find yourself inundated with messages saying “Hey, Facebook says you 'like' the fact that your friend just had a healthy baby!” Trust us on this.)

Like all social media companies, Facebook uses proprietary algorithms to determine everything from what advertisements you see on your "feed" t...

Your social media connections might determine your borrowing ability

Data mining agencies don't ignore your online activity

If you watch TV crime dramas, you know that when people get arrested the police are supposed to read them their rights, so at some point the cops will recite the following phrase: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”

And we're only half-joking when we suggest maybe a similar rule applies to your personal finances in the electronic era: anything you do can and will be used against you.

For example, your Facebook and Twitter accounts might be used to determine your perceived creditworthiness. The Wall Street Journal discussed this practice on Jan. 8, in its article “Borrowers hit social media hurdles: regulators have concerns about lenders' use of Facebook, other sites.” Journal writer Stephanie Armour noted:

More lending companies are mining Facebook, Twitter and other social-media data to help determine a borrower's creditworthiness or identity, a trend that is raising concerns among consumer groups and Google Ventures, the venture-capital arm of Google Inc., and Accel Partners, an early Facebook Inc. investor—are looking at potential problems such as whether applicants put the same job information on their loan application as they posted on LinkedIn, or if they shared on Facebook that they had been let go by an employer. A small business that draws negative reviews on eBay also could undermine its chances of getting more credit, lending companies say.

So far, this practice appears mostly limited to small start-up loan companies dealing with small amounts of money — the Journal piece mentioned a typical example of a woman who'd borrowed a mere $200 from a company called LendUp.

Secret algorithms

But the practice of small lenders using social media to gauge creditworthiness is not new, though its presence in America arguably is. In 2011, a Hong Kong-based microlender called Lenddo opened for business in the Philippines; it made loans based on secret proprietary algorithms that had something to do with your Twitter followers and Facebook friends. (A writer for New York'sBetabeat blog tried applying for such a loan and was rejected — her own personal score was high enough to qualify for a Lenddo loan, but she had too many Facebook and Twitter connections who did not.)

Microlenders perusing social media sites aren't the only financial institutions willing to judge your creditworthiness according tot he company you keep—or even the places where you shop. As early as 2008, American Express started lowering the credit limits of cardholders in good standing—presumably because the cardholders patronized low-end businesses like Walmart.

An American Express spokeman defended the practice by saying “We’re just doing this to manage risk … customers who make transactions with certain merchants tend to have a higher proportion of credit issues or a higher probability of default.”

Uh-oh. In the past, we have (in good faith) advised people to save money by, for example, shopping in thrift stores and secondhand markets for certain items. We've even engaged in reverse-bragging on our own Facebook and other social media accounts: “Check out this unbelievably gorgeous coat I found for only five bucks!”

We thought we were demonstrating financial prudence — reducing our expenditures, increasing our savings, all the things professional financial advisers urge you to do — but maybe the lending agencies see things differently?

If you watch TV crime dramas, you know that when people get arrested the police are supposed to read them their rights, so at some point the cops will reci...

Facebook users sue over scanning of "private" messages

The suit claims the messages are treated as though they had been posted publicly

Two Facebook users are suing, claiming that "private" messages are being scanned and used to profile the sender's activities.

“Contrary to its representations, 'private' Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the company in an effort to learn the contents of the users’ communications,” Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley allege in their complaint, Courthouse News Service reported.

Campbell and Hurley say Facebook wrongfully profits from the information by selling it to advertisers, marketers and data aggregators.

The suit further charges that Facebook fails to adequately inform users that their supposedly private messages are subject to scanning just as though they had been publicly posted on the social network's pages.

It alleges that Facebook violates the federal wiretap law as well as California privacy laws and seeks class action status.

Two Facebook users have sued the social network for allegedly scanning the “private” messages that users send to each other on the platform.&...

No, you won't hook up with a supermodel through Citysex.com

Reader reports that women profiled there may not even know it

One of the nastiest facts of Internet life is this: once you put your name, image or writings out there, you can’t really control what happens to them next. There’s countless horror stories of people who (for example) set up a perfectly innocuous profile someplace, then found their photo, name and other details appearing in advertisements or profiles with companies they never even knew existed.

We heard just such a story this week, from Anna S. in Minnesota.

I have a plentyoffish.com profile, which is a nonsexual dating website. I was bored one day and decided to Google the screen name I use on my profile for plentyoffish.com. I had noticed that a website appeared as citysex.com had my same user name, location, picture, age and etc listed there. I've made every attempt to contact them and have gotten nowhere. I feel embarrassment and guilt knowing someone my friends, family, or anyone that googles my user name is shown citysex.com. I'm extremely depressed knowing that millions of people I don't know are seeing my picture and information, thinking I want to meet for sex.

Uh-oh. We visited Citysex.com, which promises to help us “Find your perfect match & GET LAID TONIGHT!” It also claims that the small, obscure and downright boring suburban town where we live is populated by an implausibly high number of young-adult supermodel clones, all looking to have either a “discreet affair,” a “kinky relationship” or “group sex.” With us. Tonight. Because, despite looking like supermodels, these people supposedly can’t find a date without the assistance of a skeevy-looking sex site.

Our plan was to find the Citysex.com “Contact us” feature, then write to ask them how somebody like Anna could take down a fake profile. What we discovered is that Citysex.com is based in Cyprus. Its “privacy policy” basically boils down to “Once you register with us, we can do pretty much whatever we want with your profile.” But what about people who never registered with them in the first place?

The closest we could find was this:

"OPT-OUT" - REVOCATION OF CONSENT PROCEDURE

The Site also offers all Members and Users a procedure for 'Opting-Out' if the Member or User subsequently chooses to revoke or withdraw any consent to receive Offers by sending an e-mail from the email address you wish to opt out to "cs@citysex.com" clearly stating the email address in the body of the email and that the Member or User has revoked or withdrawn consent to receive any future Offers from Site to such email address.

This doesn’t bode well for Anna. Suppose, for example, we decided to use our email address to set up a fake Citysex profile for you, and then you learn of this and try taking your fake profile down — if we’re reading this Citysex agreement correctly, there’s nothing you can do because your fake profile will only go away if the takedown request is sent from our email address.

Not too encouraging

Hoping to be proven wrong, we did send a message to that Citysex email address, giving them Anna’s details and asking how she can get “her” profile taken down; we also gave this information to Anna herself. But, frankly, we’ll be very surprised if anything comes of it — especially in light of what we found when we did an online search for “Citysex.com” and “scam.”

Scambook.com has been collecting Citysex complaints since February 2012. Most of the complaints involved unapproved credit card charges – “I signed up for one month membership, they charged me for three” or “they advertised ‘free to join’ … then came an unauthorized charge on my credit card.” But men also complained that the women in the profiles were fake: “none of the girls are real, they are paid models. As soon as I ask one I was chatting with I found out real quick she doesn’t know anything about the town I live in, population 200. I ask her to meet me at the diner and she said which one. We don't have one just a single red light..she finally slipped and said she lived in LA.”

Citysex also came up on a Yahoo answers board; a man posted a question about a scammy come-on he received, allegedly from a beautiful woman sending “friend” requests to random men on Facebook. Two weeks before our search, someone else reported getting similarly scammy Facebook requests: “I actually have this [girl] trying to do this. Same site and is wanting me to go to a redirecting site just to get to CitySex. I kept asking what the name of the site was and she was playing dumb.”

Citysex.com also came up on the Dating Judge website (which is not safe to click on at work or around children, due to some sexually explicit images); Datingjudge.com apparently judges sex-and-dating sites for their trustworthiness, and tagged Citysex.com in many of its scam-alert postings. Citysex.com also got a “Trust Score” of zero percent on Scamadviser.com (which lists it as a US-based site, rather than Cypriot),  and multiple people at PissedConsumer.com warn that “City sex is a scam.”

So if you are a man looking to meet a sexy woman, we can definitely tell you you’ll meet no such women through Citysex.com. But if you’re a woman horrified to learn that Citysex is using your name and image to reel in gullible men — unfortunately, we have no idea what you can do, other than perhaps showing your friends and family this article, should any of them be foolish enough to think you actually posted a come-hither profile on Citysex.com.

One of the nastiest facts of Internet life is this: once you put your name, image or writings out there, you can’t really control what happens to the...

True.com sale is off; failed buyer trashes Texas attorney general

PlentyofFish will have to go fishing for new members elsewhere

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott objected to the proposed sale of True.com, saying the sale would violate a privacy pledge the site made to its 43 million members when they signed up for the dating service.

Now the would-be buyer -- PlentyofFish -- says the deal is off and its CEO and founder, Markus Frind, says he finds Abbott's objections ridiculous.

“The fact that the Texas AG stopped one dating site from buying another dating site without user consent is like asking all Twitter users to approve its IPO,” Mr. Frind said, the Wall Street Journal reported.

True, based in Plano, Texas, has been in bankruptcy for more than a year and has been trying to sell its assets and go out of business. But what's its biggest asset? That's right -- its database of 43 million members.

Frind had offered to pay $700,000 for the troubled site but, writing on his personal blog, he said the deal wasn't important enough to justify a huge legal bill to fight the Texas complaint. And he said the site's not worth much without the database.

“Who in their right mind is going to buy a dating site with 43 million members if you are not allowed access to those members?” Frind asked on his personal blog.

Plenty of friends

PlentyofFish, by the way, has a pretty good privacy record, from all appearances. It lets users restrict what kind of people can contact them and gives users plenty of space to post photos and write about themselves. 

Perhaps most significantly, PlentyofFish is free. It makes its money from advertising instead of from fees charged to its members. It is mentioned in passing in numerous negative reviews of other services on ConsumerAffairs, like one from Nancy of Garfield, Ohio.

While complaining about the fees charged by eHarmony, Nancy said: "Take what you like from this, but if you ever want to meet an actual person and have an actual DATE, try OKCupid or plentyofFish. Just bring your asbestos shorts, ladies, they all think we are all desperate. REALLY."

While complaining about Match.com, Matt of Falls Church, Va., commended PlentyofFish and OKCupid, another free site, for blocking profile spam: "[They] block ip addresses from scammer havens and have much lower volumes of fake profiles compared to Match.com. But Match, a subscription service, is replete with scam artists."

So, whether it's for the best or not, it's true that True.com members won't be getting plenty of new friends from PlentyofFish. 

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott objected to the proposed sale of True.com, saying the sale would violate a privacy pledge the site m...

Texas objects to sale of True.com's 43-million-member database

When they signed up, customers were told their information was safe with True

Although you would never know it to look at its site, dating site True.com has been in bankruptcy proceedings for more than a year and is in the process of selling off its assets.

One of those assets is its database of 43 million consumers. The site's parent company, True Beginnings, based in Plano, Texas, has been seeking permission from the bankruptcy court to sell its database to a Canadian dating service.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott thinks that's a bad idea.

"The proper course is for True.com and its bankruptcy trustee to seek the c