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Cyborgs, trolls and bots can fill the internet with lies and half-truths. Understanding them is key to learning how misinformation spreads online.
As the 2016 election showed, social media is increasingly used to amplify false claims and divide Americans over hot-button issues including race and immigration. Researchers who study misinformation predict it will get worse leading up to this year’s presidential vote. Here’s a guide to understanding the problem:
MISINFORMATION VS. DISINFORMATION
Political misinformation has been around since before the printing press, but the internet has allowed falsehoods, conspiracy theories and exaggerations to spread faster and farther than ever.
Misinformation is defined as any false information, regardless of intent, including honest mistakes or misunderstandings of the facts. Disinformation, on the other hand, typically refers to misinformation created and spread intentionally as a way to confuse or mislead.
Misinformation and disinformation can appear in political ads or social media posts. They can include fake news stories or doctored videos. One egregious example of disinformation from last year was a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was slowed down to make her sound as if she were slurring her words.
Research indicates that false claims spread more easily than accurate ones, possibly because they are crafted to grab attention.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed more than 126,000 stories, some true and some false, that were tweeted millions of times from 2006 through the end of 2016. Online misinformation has been blamed for deepening America’s political polarization and contributing to distrust in government. The risks were highlighted in 2016 when Russian trolls created fake accounts to spread and amplify social media posts about controversial issues.
WAR OF THE BOTS AND CYBORGS
The disposable foot soldiers in this digital conflict are bots. In the social media context, these autonomous programs can run accounts to spread content without human involvement.
Many are harmless, tweeting out random poems or pet photos. But others are up to no good and designed to resemble actual users.
One study by researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed election-related tweets sent in September and October 2016 and found that 1 in 5 were sent by a bot. The Pew Research Center concluded in a 2018 study that accounts suspected of being bots are responsible for as many as two-thirds of all tweets that link to popular websites.
While flesh-and-blood Twitter users will often post a few times a day, about a variety of subjects, the most obvious bots will tweet hundreds of times a day, day and night, and often only on a specific topic. They are more likely to repost content rather than create something original.
And then there’s the cyborg, a kind of hybrid account that combines a bot’s tirelessness with human subtlety. Cyborg accounts are those in which a human periodically takes over a bot account to respond to other users and to post original content. They are more expensive and time consuming to operate, but they don’t give themselves away as robots.
“You can get a lot from a bot, but maybe it’s not the best quality,” said Emilio Ferrara, a data science researcher at the University of Southern California who co-wrote the study on Twitter bots. “The problem with cyborgs is they are much harder to catch and detect.”
SPOT THE BOTS
Bots can be hard to spot, even for the best researchers.
“We have 12 ways that we spot a bot, and if we hit seven or eight of them we have pretty high confidence,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that studies connections between social media, cybersecurity and government.
Nonetheless, Brookie recalled the case of a Twitter account from Brazil that was posting almost constantly — sometimes once per minute — and displayed other bot-like characteristics. And yet, “It was a little grandma, who said, ‘This is me!’”
Their prevalence and the difficulty of identifying them has made bots into a kind of digital bogeyman and transformed the term into an insult, used to dismiss other social media users with different opinions.
Michael Watsey, a 43-year-old New Jersey man who often tweets his support for President Donald Trump, said he has been repeatedly called a Russian bot by people he argues with online. The accusations prompted Twitter to temporarily suspend his account more than once, forcing him to verify he is a human.
“All I’m trying to do is uses my First Amendment right to free speech,” he said. “It’s crazy that it’s come to this.”
TROLLS AND SOCK PUPPETS
The word troll once referred to beasts of Scandinavian mythology who hid under bridges and attacked travelers. Now it also refers to people who post online to provoke others, sometimes for their own amusement and sometimes as part of a coordinated campaign.
Sock puppets are another oddly named denizen of social media, in this case a type of imposter account. While some users may use anonymous accounts simply to avoid identifying themselves, sock-puppet accounts are used by the owner to attack their critics or praise themselves.
FAKED VIDEOS: DEEP, CHEAP AND SHALLOW
Deepfakes are videos that have been digitally created with artificial intelligence or machine learning to make it appear something happened that did not. They are seen as an emerging threat, as improvements in video editing software make it possible for tricksters to create increasingly realistic footage of, say, former President Barack Obama delivering a speech he never made, in a setting he never visited. They are expensive and difficult to create — especially in a convincing way.
Facebook announced last month that it would ban deepfake videos — with exceptions for satire. Beginning in March, Twitter will prohibit doctored videos, photography and audio recordings “likely to cause harm.”
By contrast, shallowfakes, cheapfakes or dumbfakes are videos that have been doctored using more basic techniques, such as slowing down or speeding up footage or cutting it.
Because they’re easy and inexpensive to make, cheapfakes can be every bit as dangerous as their fancier cousin, the deepfake.
“Deepfakes are getting more realistic and easier to do,” said John Pavlik, a journalism professor at Rutgers University who studies how technology and the internet are changing communication habits. “But you don’t have to have special software to make these simpler ones.”
Researchers who study Americans’ changing media habits recommend that people turn to a variety of sources and perspectives for their news, use critical thinking when evaluating information on social media, and think twice about reposting viral claims. Otherwise, they say, misinformation will continue to flow, and users will continue to spread it.
“The only solution,” Ferrara said, “is education.” (VOA)
A Travel Sustainable badge, provides highly coveted information to travellers all over the world looking to make more sustainable travel choices. Booking.com has launched the Travel Sustainable Badge, a first of its kind in the industryNinety-eight per cent of Indian travellers say they want to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the coming year, and with more than 28 million listings on Booking.com, the company sees a huge opportunity to highlight more of the impactful efforts its partners are making to create more sustainable experiences, making it easier for travellers to find a sustainable way to stay.
Booking.com has launched the Travel Sustainable Badge, a first of its kind in the industry | Photo by yousef alfuhigi on Unsplash
With 88 percent of Indian travellers indicating that they would be more likely to choose a specific accommodation that implements sustainable practices, it rewards and encourages providers to take the next steps on their individual sustainability journeys. "Building a truly sustainable travel industry will take time, coordination, and concerted effort," said Marianne Gybels, Director of Sustainability at Booking.com. "However, progress is possible through continued innovation, partner support, and industry collaboration."
"We are recognising the sustainability efforts of a broader range of properties globally in a credible and transparent manner for consumers." Displaying the practices they have in place allows everyone to make a more informed and hopefully more sustainable decision for their next trip, no matter where they want to go. As a result, we've inspired even more of our partners to take the next step toward more sustainable operations."
(Article originally published on IANSlife) (IANS/MBI)
Keywords: travel, sustainable travel, india, travellers, innovation.
South Korean game developer has introduced a new initiative for Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) which will enable a new level of parental control via time limitations and OTP confirmation. The 'Game Responsibly' initiative will also show warning messages along with break reminders, game limits and more. "Every player, below the age of 18, needs to register a parent or a guardian before they start playing for the first time. An OTP will be sent to the registered person's number, post which the minor is allowed to play the game," the company said in a statement.
Some games can get intense and make players lose track of time. However, with timely break-time reminders, the developer has made sure players get the required downtime. These reminders will help them look up from their game and get back to real life, maintaining a healthy game-life balance. In addition, with a strict gameplay limit in place players below 18 years must not indulge in gaming for more than 3 hours per day. This automatically helps them treat gaming as an activity performed in moderation.
The brand has also set an in-game daily spend limit of Rs 7,000 that automatically stops them from overspending and overgaming. Krafton recently announced that it has removed 25 lakh accounts in just over a month to eradicate cheating on Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI). Since the last announcement, between October 1 and November 10, Krafton banned 25,19,692 accounts permanently and 7,06,319 temporarily. "The company has cleaned out most of the cheaters in the game, making BGMI a much more fun experience, and will continue to take whatever step is necessary to keep BGMI fair and fun," it claimed. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: BGMI, parental control, Battlegrounds Mobile India, Krafton, South Korea
By Vinoda Kumary
The rise in air pollution, coupled with lousy lifestyle habits, is causing a spike in respiratory diseases. According to a Lancet report, the contribution of chronic respiratory diseases in India increased from 4.5 per cent in 1990 to 6.4 per cent in 2016. With respiratory issues on the rise, there is an increased demand for natural solutions to treat such issues. Instead of conventional medicine, people are turning to alternative medical therapies to find cures for ailments.
Common Lung Disorders
Bronchitis is a health condition that causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs. This leads to narrowing of the air pathways and excess mucus causes wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. It is a chronic condition that interferes seriously with daily life.
Bronchitis is a health condition that causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs. | Wikimedia Commons
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
It is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs the airflow to the lungs. Symptoms of COPD include breathing difficulty, mucus (sputum) production, coughing, and wheezing. It can result from long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. Those affected by COPD are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other conditions.
Symptoms of COPD include breathing difficulty, mucus (sputum) production, coughing, and wheezing. | Pixabay
This is another variation of COPD. Bronchitis causes a similar build-up of mucus that can cause inflammation and coughing. The lungs' airways are constantly inflamed as chronic bronchitis often lasts for months on end. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include incessant coughing, whistling sounds while breathing, wheezing and a tightening of the chest. It is said that the cure for all ailments is available the natural way. Here are some of the alternative medicine approaches to treat respiratory disorders.
This is another variation of COPD. Bronchitis causes a similar build-up of mucus that can cause inflammation and coughing. | Needpix
Alternative Medicinal Approaches to Treat Respiratory Disorders
Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases. One of the primary causes of asthma is allergies, which often result from the food consumed. It is crucial, therefore, to first prepare a diet that is suitable for an individual. Often, dairy products, meats, and certain nuts can increase the production of mucus. Foods like these must be avoided. Also, antioxidants can prevent damage resulting from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Diet is important in this regard, as fruits and vegetables high in Vitamins A, C, and E can improve the condition of COPD patients.
Diet is important in this regard, as fruits and vegetables high in Vitamins A, C, and E can improve the condition of COPD patients. | Photo by Bruna Branco on Unsplash
Yoga and Exercise
Treatment of lung disorders often involves the use of the lungs to promote healthy breathing habits. Exercises like cycling, swimming, yoga etc. that create a need for full capacity breathing are of great importance. Exercising the diaphragm is important and simple activities can go a long way in the treatment of the same. Pranayama, the practice of controlled breathing, is an integral part of alternative treatment for people suffering from respiratory issues. This extensive breathing practice helps to expand the lungs and improve the capacity of the lungs, which helps an individual breathe more freely.
Treatment of lung disorders often involves the use of the lungs to promote healthy breathing habits. | Photo by kike vega on Unsplash
Nasal irrigation systems like JalNeti using a Neti pot can help to rinse the sinuses, which may provide some relief from symptoms of respiratory allergies.
Nasal irrigation systems like JalNeti using a Neti pot can help to rinse the sinuses, which may provide some relief from symptoms of respiratory allergies. | Photo by CDC on Unsplash
The traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin to stimulate certain parts of the body. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, people with allergic rhinitis who were given acupuncture treatments twice a week for eight weeks had fewer symptoms than those administered placebo.
People with allergic rhinitis who were given acupuncture treatments twice a week for eight weeks had fewer symptoms than those administered placebo. | Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash
It is important to remember that no one complementary or alternative therapy works well for everyone with respiratory issues. Therefore, a proper assessment is done before deciding on the approach to the treatment plan. For those considering alternative medicine for their respiratory problems, it is recommended to speak to an expert first and discuss the approach that may work best.
(Article originally published on IANSlife) (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Yoga, exercise, Nasal Irrigation, Diet, Chronic Bronchitis, Respiratory Issues