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2020 Campaigns Have Few Responses for Misinformation

Less than a year before the 2020 election, and false political information is moving furiously online. Avaaz, a global human rights organization, has reported that the top 100 false political stories were shared by Facebook users over 2.3 million times in the United States in the first 10 months of 2019. Still, few politicians (or their staff) are prepared to quickly notice and combat incorrect stories about them, according to dozens of campaign staff members and researchers who study online misinformation. Several of the researchers said they were surprised by how little outreach they had received from politicians. Campaigns and political parties say their hands are tied, because social sites such as Facebook and YouTube have few restrictions on what users can say or share, as long as they do not lie about who they are.

As a voter and a parent, what can you do? Review the basics on how to detect misinformation and share with your children. Misinformation hurts everyone by normalizing prejudices, and even justifying and encouraging violence.



Email Antiquated When It Comes to College Acceptances

While parents are used to being the sole receiver of important information about their kids, the college application process marks one of the first times when the communication goes directly through the teenage applicant. According to some experts, this could be a flawed process, as colleges primarily use email for communicating with prospective students, yet teenagers statistically do not default to email to communicate. Critical information sent via email may be lost in a crush of other messages. Research shows high schoolers don't commonly use email, and it is possible for important information to fall through the cracks when they're inundated with messages, experts say.


Protecting Your Young Gamers

According to a recent New York Times investigation, sexual predators have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes. Many of the interactions lead to crimes of “sextortion,” in which children are coerced into sending explicit imagery of themselves.

What can parents do to prevent those kinds of contacts and exchanges? Experts say that first and foremost, parents need to spend time with kids on new apps and games so that they learn the features and can set realistic rules for when and how children can interact with others online. Showing an interest in what games your kids play also builds trust that they will be able to have honest conversations about issues they may run into down the line. As kids’ online lives begin to expand, parents should also educate their children on how to block other users who make them uncomfortable. Lastly, experts warn that parents must remember that they are ultimately responsible for being their child’s online protector.


Screen Time Studies Remain Inconclusive

Research remains inconclusive on whether all screen time - and in all quantities - is harmful to children. Nick Allen, director of the Center for Digital Mental Health at the University of Oregon, points out that digital technology actually has "significant benefits, " such as connecting people of like interests and outlooks.

For parents struggling with how much screen time is OK for their children, try asking your kids: ‘What are you doing on there? What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad?’ ” says Michaeline Jensen, of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She was an author of a study in August that showed on days when teenagers use more technology, they were no more likely to report problems like depressive symptoms or inattention than on days when they used less. The study concludes, “Findings from this EMA study do not support the narrative that young adolescents’ digital technology usage is associated with elevated mental-health symptoms.”


How Do Successful People Use Technology?

Forbes recently highlighted data put together by ResumeLab, a company known for their job application-building software, on how 1,000 self-identified “highly successful” professionals use technology. The results show some interesting factoids about the tech habits of those that consider themselves successful: preferring laptops over desktops, using health apps, and only spending a small amount of time on social media per day, with Facebook being the most-used social media platform.


Data Breaches Lead to Scam Phone Calls

Have you been getting a lot of spam calls on your mobile phone recently? One study shows that nearly half of all calls to mobile phones are fraudulent, and scams are getting more sophisticated. Call-protection company First Orion says that hacker breaches of major consumer-oriented businesses, such as retailers, give scammers data such as names, phone numbers and more that they can use to impersonate brands or charities in phone calls or emails to consumers.


Should Schools Use Facial Recognition Technology?

The use of facial recognition technology continues to grow in K-12 schools despite research suggesting the software may be inaccurate as much as 35% of the time when scanning female faces with darker skin. School leaders say the technology improves security by alerting officials to potential threats more quickly, but these findings raise definite concerns about inequality and social stigmatization.


Facebook and Instagram Ban Influencers From Promoting Guns and Vaping

Facebook and Instagram already ban ads for guns and e-cigarettes, but now they have announced that they will also be banning "branded content" (influencer posting) that promotes weapons, tobacco and vaping. Enforcement for the new rules should take effect in the "coming weeks," Facebook says. They are also working on tools to help creators honor the new policy, such as setting minimum age requirements on their content. This is the first time Instagram is limiting what influencers can pitch in their feeds, and it's considered overdue by some. Facebook and Instagram have both come under fire for letting social media stars advertise harmful products, including those who stars who are sometimes underage themselves.


Not Sure If Your Caption Might Be Considered Bullying? AI to Let You Know

In an effort to make the platform a more positive place, Instagram has rolled out a new feature that prompts users when something they are about to post might be offensive. Users can ignore the prompts and proceed to post the content, but Instagram is hoping the alerts might make people think twice before posting something they might regret.

Whether or not this proves effective is still up in the air. Instagram said that its efforts to reduce bullying in comments have been "promising," but that doesn't guarantee similar performance for the posts themselves. Someone caught up in the heat of the moment might hit "share anyway," and not worry about the consequences. And there will be moments where a vicious tone may not represent bullying at all -- calling the policy of a politician or public figure stupid may not be constructive, but it's not bullying. Still, this could be helpful if it leads even a handful of people to mend their ways.


Facebook Enlists Community Reviewers As Fact Checkers

Facebook is trying a new approach to fact checking by using “community reviewers”, a diverse group of contractors hired through partners like YouGov, to check potentially false reports. Facebook will use its machine learning process to identify misinformation in posts, as it does already. When content is tagged as potentially false, Facebook's system will then send the post on to the new team of community reviewers. The community reviewers will be prompted to check the post by conducting their own additional research, and if they find the post to be incorrect, they'll be able to send their findings and resources to Facebook's fact-checkers for their official assessment.

By enabling more people to provide input into the fact-checking process, Facebook's aim is to improve both the relative accuracy of its findings, and to lessen accusations that it is favoring one side of politics over another. Critics, however, say this new ‘diverse’ review system is just cover for their policy on not fact-checking political ads and should be brought up when discussing misinformation with your children.


Do We Create Our Own Misinformation?

In a world inundated with fake news, it's easy to cast blame on others for spreading misinformation. Now a study from Ohio State University gives credence to a notion that we create our own "alternative facts" to align with our biases. In this instance, the researchers showed that people misremembered accurate statistics when the facts were contrary to what they believed to be true.


Online Tutoring Firms Take Steps To Curb Abuse

According to a recent article from Edsurge, at least two online tutoring companies are taking steps to protect students following reports that educators have witnessed students being abused by parents or others during lessons. Qkids has launched a tool to help teachers report unsafe activity they witness during lessons, and VIPKid has added educational videos for parents and others on appropriate discipline.


Lateral Reading Helps Students Ferret Out Misinformation

Researchers at Stanford University are working with journalism groups to develop a news and Internet literacy curriculum designed to teach students how to sort fact from fiction. The free online curriculum, called Civic Online Reasoning, teaches skills including lateral reading, which professional fact-checkers use to evaluate the credibility of information sources. Lateral reading is a strategy for investigating who is behind an unfamiliar online source by opening a new browser tab to see what trusted websites say about the unknown source.


YouTube Steps Up Harassment Policy

YouTube has promised to ramp up its fight against hate and harassment. The video service recently announced changes to its harassment policy,  which include a ban on implicit threats of violence and insults that target someone for their race, gender expression or sexual orientation. Under its new harassment policy, the service aims to also take down videos that simulate violence against an individual, or that suggest that violence may happen. The post specifically added the policy will also be applied to videos posted by public officials – a distinction that could set YouTube apart from its competitors. Twitter, for instance, has long exempted public figures from its hate speech policies, to the dismay of critics who have argued that President Trump repeatedly violates those policies. Instead, Twitter said in June that it would flag tweets from public figures that were violating its policies labeling the violation as such.


Understanding the Implications of the New California Consumer Privacy Law

A new law in California taking effect on January 1, 2020 will give Californians the right to see, delete and stop the sale of the personal information that companies have compiled about them. The California Consumer Privacy Act applies to businesses operating in California that collect personal information for commercial purposes and meet certain condition – such as collecting the data of more than 50,000 people. This covers scores of tech companies, app developers, websites, mobile service providers, streaming TV services and even includes brick and mortar retailers like drug stores and other small businesses. The effort could have national implications as well – some companies including Microsoft have said they will honor the data rights in the California law for consumers nationwide.


Tik Tok Once Suppressed Videos It Deemed “Susceptible” to Cyberbullying

TikTok officials confirmed that, at one point, platform moderators were instructed to suppress videos it says were "susceptible to bullying or harassment," including those featuring people with body weight “issues,” facial disfigurement, autism, or Down syndrome, according to a report appeared in German magazine Netzpolitik. “While the intention was good, the approach was wrong and we have long since changed the earlier policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections," a TikTok spokesperson told Netzpolitik.


Watch Out for Virtual Drive-Bys

The FBI is warning that unsecured smart digital devices, such as refrigerators and baby monitors, can be used by hackers "to do a virtual drive-by of your digital life." Homeowners should consider running separate networks for smart TVs and smart home appliances ,while keeping devices that store sensitive personal information, such as a laptop, on another network.


Instagram Will Now Ask for Birthdates

Instagram, one of the most popular social media platforms for teenagers, has started requiring users to share their birth date when signing up -- rather than only affirming they are 13 or older. They are doing this in part to prevent passage of costly child safety and data privacy regulations, as lawmakers and family safety groups across the world criticize the app for exposing children to inappropriate material. Lisa Hinkelman of the nonprofit Ruling Our Girls and other experts say kids will find a way around such (non verified) safeguards and suggest that educators and parents focus on educating them about social media instead.


Girl Scout to Offer STEM Badge in Conjunction with Microsoft

Microsoft is welcoming Girl Scouts to its stores for the opportunity to earn badges in STEM subjects such as robotics, digital photography and movie making and coding. The program is intended to encourage more girls to consider careers in STEM fields.


Math Anxiety: Now There is an App for That

Cambridge University in the UK has done a study that shows that more than three-quarters (77%) of children with reported high math anxiety are between normal to high achievers on curriculum math tests. Math anxiety, which typically appears after the age of 6, is a factor in these students having little interest in careers in STEM fields, when in fact they would be perfectly able to perform well in STEM jobs. Two British moms have founded a start up called Funexpected to tackle this world-wide phenomenon. The app itself is a collection of 11 games located across the landscapes of Japan, Egypt and Greenland. Children tap, cut, slide, grab and move animated on-screen objects to propel the story forward, such as by feeding a monkey with the correct amount of juicy berries gathered from various branches or learning logic by catching the right type of fish with a net and filling a fish pond. Parents can use it with their kids as well. The app runs a subscription-based model of $5.25 a month or $42.00 a year.