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Facebook Expands Its Feature Showing Local Information

Facebook uses software filters to weed out objectionable content, just as it does on people's regular news feed.

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Facebook, data, photos, vietnam
A smartphone user displays a Facebook newsfeed .VOA

Facebook is cautiously expanding a feature that shows people local news and information, including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements.

Called “Today In,” the service shows people information from their towns and cities from such sources as news outlets, government entities and community groups. Facebook launched the service in January with six cities and expanded that to 25, then more. On Wednesday, “Today In” is expanding to 400 cities in the U.S. — and a few others in Australia.

The move comes as Facebook tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling and rather a place for communities and people to come together and stay informed.

Here are some things to know about this effort, and why it matters:

Facebook
A Facebook logo is displayed at a start-up companies’ gathering in Paris, France. VOA

The big picture

It’s something users have asked for, the company says. Think of it as an evolution of a “trending” feature the company dropped earlier this year. That feature, which showed news articles that were popular among users, but was rife with such problems as fake news and accusations of bias.

Anthea Watson Strong, product manager for local news and community information, said her team learned from the problems with that feature.

“We feel deeply the mistakes of our foremothers and forefathers,” she said.

This time around, Facebook employees went to some of the cities they were launching in and met with users. They tried to predict problems by doing “pre-mortem” assessments, she said. That is, instead of a “post-mortem” where engineers dissect what went wrong after the fact, they tried to anticipate how people might misuse a feature — for financial gain, for example

 

Facebook, India, Fake News, Hate Speech, Russia, Sheryl Sandberg, digital
This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

.Facebook isn’t saying how long it has been taking this “pre-mortem” approach, though the practice isn’t unique to the company. Nonetheless, it’s a significant step given that many of Facebook’s current problems stem from its failure to foresee how bad actors might co-opt the service.

 

Facebook also hopes the feature’s slow rollout will prevent problems.

How it works

To find out if “Today In” is available in your city or town, tap the “menu” icon with the three horizontal lines. Then scroll down until you see it. If you want, you can choose to see the local updates directly in your news feed.

For now, the company is offering this only in small and mid-sized cities such as Conroe, Texas, Morgantown, West Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Large cities such as New York or Los Angeles have added challenges, such as an abundance of news and information, and may need to be broken up into smaller neighborhoods.

 

Facebook, India, Fake News, Hate Speech, Russia, digital
A Facebook panel is seen during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in Cannes, France. VOA

 

The posts in “Today In” are curated by artificial intelligence; there is no human involvement. The service aggregates posts from the Facebook pages for news organizations, government agencies and community groups like dog shelters. For this reason, a kid couldn’t declare a snow day, because “Today In” relies on the school’s official page. Discussion posts from local Facebook groups may also be included.

For now, the information is tailored only by geography, but this might change. A person with no kids, for example, might not want to see updates from schools.

Also Read: Social Media laws Should Be Tightened: Germany

Safeguards?

Facebook uses software filters to weed out objectionable content, just as it does on people’s regular news feed. But the filters are turned up for “Today In.” If a good friend posts something a bit objectionable, you are still likely to see it because Facebook takes your friendship into account. But “Today In” posts aren’t coming from your friends, so Facebook is more likely to keep it out. (VOA)

Next Story

According to Defence Experts, Better Social Media Usage can Prevent Hacking

Experts also believe that China poses the most imminent threat to India in hacking sensitive data in possession of defence forces through the use of malware and spyware installed on cheap smartphones

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Social Media
Social Media has become so embedded into our lives that it is difficult to restrain anyone from its use. Pixabay

The Indian Army’s recent directive to its personnel in critical posts to deactivate their Social Media accounts and not share official information on WhatsApp might only partly address the challenges posed by tech-based espionage activities, experts said here on Friday.

On the contrary, better education and training in Social Media usage, greater stress on switching over to homemade software and hardware, and adoption of best practices in cyber-hygiene, in line with advanced militaries across the globe, can go a long way in thwarting attempts at hacking to steal sensitive information, experts told IANS.

In addition, defence forces also face challenges of security vulnerabilities from spyware like Pegasus, which can track calls and read messages, if physically installed on smartphones, apart from phishing and attempts of ‘honeytrapping’.

Earlier this month, two soldiers of the Indian Army were held in a case of ‘honeytrapping’ by the intelligence wing of Rajasthan Police allegedly for sharing sensitive information with Facebook user ‘Sheerat’.

“Social media has become so embedded into our lives that it is difficult to restrain anyone from its use. The answer does not lie in banning the use of Facebook and WhatsApp alone. The soldiers can easily shift to other social media platforms like Telegram. Moreover, there are thousands of other apps available for everyday use. These apps have the threat potential to be used for hacking into a smartphone. The answer lies in better training in cybe- hygiene and data privacy that would enable a user to take a call on what not to post, what to post and even avoid phishing,” former Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen D.S. Hooda (retd) told IANS.

Experts also believe that China poses the most imminent threat to India in hacking sensitive data in possession of defence forces through the use of malware and spyware installed on cheap smartphones. “There should be more emphasis on usage of indigenously developed software and hardware,” added Hooda.

China itself had taken a lead in avoiding social media misuse by its armed forces personnel when it directed for the installation of special software on People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers to prevent hacking.

“All devices used by PLA soldiers should be installed with special software created by the army’s IT experts and domestic mobile operators, so their activities can be closely monitored by the army’s newly established internet administration centres,” the Hong Kong-based English daily South China Morning Post reported in April 2016, quoting the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

Social Media
The Indian Army’s recent directive to its personnel in critical posts to deactivate their Social Media accounts and not share official information on WhatsApp might only partly address the challenges posed by tech-based espionage activities. Pixabay

“The software aims to filter all ‘unhealthy and negative messages’ that could harm the army’s political spirit and morale, curb access to sensitive information that might lead to leaking of military intelligence,” the People’s Daily report said. It also tracks off-duty officers in case they visit ‘unwanted places’,” the South China Morning Post further reported.

However, the decision to ban the use of social media to share “official information” has been seen as a step in the right direction by defence experts.

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“It is possible for inimical elements to open fictitious accounts to communicate with those privy to sensitive official information. It is possible for data to be extracted from Chinese smartphones. Though communicating with the use of social media platforms cannot be stopped, sharing of official information through these channels should be put to an end,” said former Director-General of Information Systems, Army, Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd). (IANS)