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Google, the Big brother or The Saviour of 21st century?

Two days ago, the internet giant Google announced, they are going to improve the quality of its search, which made quite a buzz. The army of 10 000 Google’s quality raters are now trying to teach the search engines, how to flag content someone might find offensive or untrustworthy, and refine the search results. “With the change, content with racial slurs could now get flagged under a new category called “upsetting-offensive.” So could content that promotes hate or violence against a specific group of people based on gender, race or other criteria,” AP informed.

The result of the adjustment should be that the better quality content is ranked higher. Also, untrustworthy information will not appear in the top search results. “We’re explicitly avoiding the term ‘fake news,’ because we think it is too vague,” said Paul Haahr, one of Google’s senior engineers who is involved with search quality for Searchengineland. “Demonstrably inaccurate information, however, we want to target,” he explains. I had a look into quality rater’s guideline to find out, how they are going to evaluate the information quality. I found this:

3.1Page Quality Rating: Most Important Factors

Here are the most important factors to consider when selecting an overall Page Quality rating:

  • Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the additional factors below to inform your rating.
  • Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
  • Website Information/information about who is responsible for the website: Links to help with website information research will be provided.
  • Website Reputation : Links to help with reputation research will be provided

Google also describes, what expertise in a certain field means, and provides quality raters with examples of high-quality pages. About news and other high-quality information pages, Google states this:

  • High quality news articles should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. Established editorial policies and review processes are typically held by high quality news sources.
  • High quality information pages on scientific topics should represent well­ established scientific consensus on issues where such consensus exists.

The idea to try to evict misleading information and stop its spreading is praiseworthy and I am strongly supporting it. But as a journalist, I had to ask myself, if this is not conflicting the freedom of speech. Isn’t that a censorship? The answer is very simple – not at all. Google is a private company and its primary goal is to generate money, not controversy. The company is providing very useful services to its users, but since they know basically everything from their digital traces, they can monetize it by selling an advertisement. They have been always showing us the search results they wanted us to see. Racist pages should be primarily subject to a police investigation, but Google also has a full right to remove it from the result. And it is pleasing, they are doing this.

What do you think? Please feel free to comment!

Social media HateFree revolution?

All of my previous posts were critical of social media and big multinational software companies. In some comments I got, I was criticized for being too negative and pessimistic and for not looking for a way out from this situation. That is why I have decided to devote my last post to the Czech campaign HateFree Culture. From my perspective, it is a good example of how social media could be used for a positive thing.  

The project was launched in 2014 as a reaction to increasing of hatred towards population groups with different ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or handicap. It is granted by The Agency for Social Integration of Czech Republic. The motto of the campaign is following:

“We are an initiative of people who strive for a life free of violence and hatred. Although we are aware of the complexity of coexistence, tolerance, and respect, we are convinced of the existence of a rational, creative and innovative ways to improve them. Living in fear and hatred does not bring anything positive. HateFree Culture offers the opportunity to look at things from different angles, to find solutions with others and above all create and share what matters.”

The project’s main communication tools are their Facebook page with over 55 thousands of fans. But it also has its website, where it is successfully fighting with hoax, hatred, and stereotypes. The campaign has also created HateFree Zones – places where hatred is not tolerated. Over 260 pubs, caffés and even offices became part of the project.

Although I think the group is doing very good job, HateFree became a target of wide criticism, especially because of its financing from governmental funds and support of immigration. Some of the HateFree Zones were also vandalized by neo-Nazis.

I think it is a prove, that even a simple campaign with a limited budget of about 750 000 euros for 3 years can do a good job. And especially their hoax fighting program was crucial for the Czech social media environment.

Socializing towards loneliness

Socializing towards loneliness

In my last week’s post I focused on the world of Facebook and the way data provided by its users can be misused for marketing activities. But it is not the only reason, why social networks are in the center of a controversy. The study which was published last week shows they might be causing a social isolation to their users.

There are dozens of social media channels being used today and the number of users is constantly growing. It is estimated there would be nearly 3 billions of people in this digital spider web by 2020.[1] “While still relatively young and certainly imperfect, our social media networks are beginning to form a new nervous system for our planet, capturing the pulse of our societies, and yes, crises, in real time.” describes Patrick Meier in the book Digital Humanitarians.

If his comparison is true, we should be prepared for a serious nervous breakdown of the virtual body. As American Journal of Preventive Medicine study shows, people who spent the most time on social media had twice the odds of having greater perceived social isolation.

The study of 1787 U.S. adults aged 19-32 assessed relation between social media use (SMU) and perceived social isolation (PSI). The researchers focused on users of 11 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit. “…social isolation, [is] a state in which an individual lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others, and fulfilling relationships, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.” the study states[2].  Social isolation could be also associated with obesity, unnatural increases in cortisol patterns, which can disrupt sleep, immune function, and cognition, vascular and mental health – researchers found out.

Researchers agree the social media are a great tool for connecting people and certain groups of the population can truly benefit from the usage. But for other groups (see the table below) there are more cons than pros, which can make people feel excluded from the society: “Instead of accurately representing reality, social media feeds are in fact highly curated by their owners. Exposure to such highly idealized representations of peers’ lives may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives, which may increase PSI,” the study explains. Researchers suggest the people who feel isolated by the social media should be identified and should be connected to in-person networks.

I am personally not a big supporter of any kind of such a big interventions, but I can imagine a situation when timely action can save life — or even lives. The way, how social media feed is constructed means, it is showing the user what the algorithm thinks they might like. And when users focus too much on this virtual construct, they can start feeling lonely and unsuccessful. What is the way out? I am afraid the problem is not on social networks, but in our society. And there is no simple solution. Maybe the social networks should be subject for the next communication for development activities.

References:

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/

[2] http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(17)30016-8/fulltext

Spotify gets banned in Sweden

Unusual events are more interesting, hence they manage to be in the headlines… The fact that the usage of a music streaming service would be banned in its actual birthplace is in itself paradoxical, yet probably more attention would be paid in today’s world of “info dump”.

Of course the title is fake news, no such plans am I aware of to the service now reportedly used by 100 million subscribers[1] including me.

This story began while I was on my way home from work listening to music randomly suggested by Spotify when a mellow, female voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar transported me somewhere peaceful in the middle of a cold winter night in Sweden. I could not understand the lyrics, as she sang in a language foreign to me, but somehow the voice was so captivating, I wanted to know more.

Google… Type… Search…

0,80 seconds later I learnt that she was born in Ivory Coast to Malian parents. As she refused to attend school her parents sent her at the age of 12 to live and be disciplined by an aunt in Bamako, Mali[2]. The aunt was an actress and she’s suddenly became surrounded by a creative world landing her a lead role at the age of 18 in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The movie tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. Pressured by family to settle and get married, she fled to Paris to pursue a career in acting. During breaks while rehearsing she sang for her own amusement backstage and later on picked up the guitar: “To me it was a wonderful and daring thing: a Malian girl with an acoustic guitar. Why should the guitar be only for men?”. Her debut full length album was released in 2011, where she sings in her native language of Bambare. Her name is Fatoumata Diawara.

Her voice is delicate, yet the lyrics[3] are powerful covering a range of topics from war, abandonment of children, lives lost on sea while fleeing to Europe in Clandestin to female genital mutilation in song titled Boloko.

What do you know about Mali? Well, the landlocked West-African country experienced rapid economic growth after the 1990s, coupled with a flourishing democracy and relative social stability. In 2013, France intervened militarily upon the government’s request following the capture of the town of Konna and its troops overran Islamist strongholds.

The north remains tense, however, with both Tuareg separatists and Islamists sporadically active. Mali is renowned worldwide for having produced some of the stars of African music, most notably Salif Keita[4].

The country made headlines recently when Islamist radicals took hostage 170 people in the capital, Bamako at the Radisson Blu hotel. The terror attack has left 22 people dead.

Over the past two years, extremist groups have used Mali as a staging ground for attacks on hotels, beach resorts and restaurants in West Africa. “Women were whipped for wearing clothes deemed indecent, and thieves had their hands cut off. But the militants also banned music in a culture where griots, praise-singers and story-tellers are of great importance, and where music is considered the lifeblood of society[5]”. A well-known music festival, Festival au Désert was coming back to Timbuktu this year after years in exile, but officials blocked it last minute over security fears of an al-Queda attack.

The film Timbuktu captures the everyday life of this region with amongst others, music being banned and people punished for listening to it, while in another moment a couple gets stoned to death for adultery[6]. Fatoumata plays the singer who secretly plays a guitar and sings with friends at home, while we follow how they get captured, sentenced and later on punished. She also contributed with the soundtrack of the movie titled “Timbuktu Fasso”.

While it’s hard to imagine music being taken away and regarded as a sin, it is happening in some parts of the world. How do you translate Roskilde Festival taken away from the Danish audience? And what happens if you succeed? Does it transform from thought to something else?

Who cares?

 

[1]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/06/20/spotify-crosses-100m-users/

[2]http://www.fatoumatadiawara.com/bioeng

[3]Translated to English

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13881370

[5]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/30/malis-festival-au-desert-cancelled-amid-fears-of-extremist-violence

[6] Based on actual events in 2012 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-19053442