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3 new technologies ecommerce brands can use to connect better with customers

Ecommerce was already a fast-growing industry at the beginning of 2020. Now it’s experiencing an unprecedented boom as billions of shoppers seek to replace their physical shopping carts with virtual ones.

What’s more, customer loyalty has been uprooted and is now up for grabs. A study by McKinsey & Company found that consumer behaviors have changed drastically across the globe with extremely high numbers of consumers having tried new shopping behaviors, including purchasing products from new brands, in the past few months. 

These changes are creating new opportunities but also increased competition. 

As a result, companies have been investing in new tech, from AR-generated apps being used to allow customers to ‘try on’ make-up and clothes virtually to gamified shopping promotions. 

But, in the rush to adopt the latest trends and attract new customers, many companies are feeling more out of touch with their audience than ever. 

We spoke with three ecommerce experts to find out what companies are getting wrong and how they can better connect with their audiences using technology. As part of Techleap.nl’s most recent batch of Rise Programme participants, these fast-growing scaleups represent the best of the best in Dutch innovation. Here’s what they had to say: 

Go where your customers are

ChannelEngine logo and CEO Jorrit Steinz

When choosing a spot for a brick-and-mortar store, everyone knows the most important consideration is location, location, location. You want to set up your store where your customers like to hang out and shop regularly. According to Jorrit Steinz, CEO of ChannelEngine, your ecommerce strategy should be no different. 

And just where is your audience shopping online? According to a study by Digital Commerce 360, sales on marketplace sites accounted for 62% of global web sales in 2020, with the top online marketplaces in the world selling $2.67 trillion in products. 

“While consumers were first searching on a search engine, now they’re searching on marketplaces. Even if they’re searching on Google, they will still find marketplaces so it’s essential for brands to be where consumers are searching,” Steinz said.

Even if consumers do start with a Google search, individual retailers still have to compete with marketplaces for top spots in search results. 

Most new webshops completely rely on Google driving traffic. Then you see the marketplaces competing for the same set of keywords. On top of that, Google itself is competing with Google Shopping. So it’s getting harder and harder to optimize for your own webshop. There’s a whole ecosystem of brands that are only selling on marketplaces, social media, and not even on their own webstore.

ChannelEngine is a software as a service platform that connects brands, retailers, and wholesalers to online marketplaces. Instead of having to manage an Amazon account, eBay listings, and a Zalando portal, companies can manage multiple marketplaces across the globe from this one platform. This means stock levels and orders can be synchronized, product updates can be made automatically, and price levels can be controlled in one place. 

For brands looking to break into new markets, rather than spending time on translating websites, researching keywords, and creating specialized campaigns, the transition can be as simple as selecting the marketplace with the best reach in that country. 

As Steinz pointed out, it’s not just about traditional marketplaces. Social media channels are also now transitioning towards becoming virtual shopping malls.

A lot of click channels, like Instagram, Google, and comparison sites, are all turning into transactional channels, which is basically a marketplace. So that means there’s going to be more and more entry points for potential customers.

Instead of navigating to an online shop, consumers will now have their credit cards linked to their Instagram accounts, allowing them to simply click on an ad and buy directly in the app.

“That’s going to be a massive shift for any ecommerce retailer and, if they’re not prepared, it’s going to cost them some potential revenue,” Steinz predicted.

You get the best customer insights by simply listening 

Wonderflow logo and CEO Riccardo Osti

“We’re always talking about digital data sources now online. The tendency is to think that ecommerce is something and then traditional retail is something else. This is absolutely not true,” said Riccardo Osti, CEO of Wonderflow. 

BazaarVoice found that 56% of online shoppers and 45% of brick and mortar buyers read reviews online before purchasing a product. This has created a multiplier effect for some product categories, meaning that each dollar a company makes online is equal to between four and six dollars they make offline. 

“Whatever happens online has an impact on the real world. When I buy something offline, I first read reviews online. Then I go to the shop already knowing which products I want to see and buy,” Osti said.

The more companies realize this and begin to combine online and offline data to inform their strategy as a whole, the better. 

I think a very big mistake is that most companies don’t try to connect with their audience. Historically many brands, especially ones that have a very technical product offering, focus a lot on their product and not on their customers. But times have changed.

Customers are more than willing to share their opinion and connect with brands in the form of online reviews, NPS scores, and customer center feedback. This means there’s already a plethora of customer data at companies’ fingertips. The problem is, many simply don’t know how to translate this data into usable information. 

Wonderflow is a Voice of the Customer (VoC) analytics solution that allows companies to glean insights from different customer feedback sources. Their platform leverages natural language processing to aggregate and analyze all of this feedback (both public and private) in one place.  

The next, and more difficult step, is to translate this information into actionable advice and that’s where Wonderflow’s strength lies. Their predictive technology is able to take current consumer insights, and use them to create actionable predictions for the future. Osti explained:

At Wonderflow we’re now trying to predict what your future appreciation score or new star rating of a specific product is going to be in one month or in one year. 

We start by analyzing what customers say about the product and we identify where there’s space for improvement. So, for example, if the star rating is 3.8 out of five, we can tell you ‘if you want to get a 4.5-star rating in the future, you need to improve features x and y.’ 

The second step we’re working on is the prescriptive part. This allows us to tell you which action you should take to make that improvement happen. For example, ‘run an engineering workshop to identify what the problem is with this specific component of the product.’

Perhaps one of the most exciting things about this new technology is that, by providing narrative text-based prescriptions, absolutely anybody in your company will be able to glean insights from them, not just data analysts. 

“This is the big change that we will see in the industry for the next few years, moving from the old fashioned, unreadable business intelligence platforms that we’ve seen for decades, to intuitive charts and narratives,” Osti told TNW. 

Embrace niche audiences

SocialDatabase logo and CEO Thomas Slabbers

Thomas Slabbers, CEO of SocialDatabase, believes that the biggest mistake companies make when it comes to connecting with their audiences is not spending enough time defining who those audiences are.

At SocialDatabase, we believe in the following formula: RESULT = CONTENT X DATA. Brands spend a lot of time creating the right content, but when it comes to creating the right audience, they often fall short. With just native targeting options available and limited access to data, brands struggle with reaching the right audience. We believe that enriched public data should be the starting point of every campaign.

SocialDatabase created a unique solution for this.

By amplifying publicly available Twitter data, we’ve created SUPERAUDIENCES. SUPERAUDIENCES allow brands to selectively target more relevant audiences through a deeper analysis of public data. These are custom audiences designed to match campaign goals, increasing receptivity and media effectiveness, without using third-party data.

But do we really want to narrow our audience? Isn’t casting a wider net better?

“First of all, the majority of social media users feel the communication coming from brands is irrelevant or unimportant to them. A more narrow audience would make ads more interesting and relevant. Secondly, reducing the waste in a target audience simply saves a lot of budget that would have been spent on the wrong audience. Finally, a more focused audience enables brands to make more impact in a shorter amount of time,” Slabbers explained.

SUPERAUDIENCES are particularly relevant for use cases where quality is more important than scale, whether you’re looking for a niche, B2B, or relevant consumer audience.

As a Formula 1 partner, Heineken used SUPERAUDIENCES to distinguish hardcore F1 fans from casual fans during the Grand Prix of Australia, China, and Spain. Meanwhile, Nutricia, a company that specializes in therapeutic food and clinical nutrition, is using SUPERAUDIENCES to specifically reach healthcare professionals.

There you have it, location, listening, and spending more time in defining your audience will help you build a stronger connection with them. Although brick and mortar stores are starting to open up again in some countries, the continued rise and preference for ecommerce is not something that’s going away. But, as Osti explained, combining your retail and ecommerce strategies is the best way to get ahead of the game.

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Covid 19

Facebook’s feckless ‘Fairness Flow’ won’t fix its broken AI

Facebook today posted a blog post detailing a three-year-old solution to its modern AI problems: an algorithm inspector that only works on some of the company’s systems.

Up front: Called Fairness Flow, the new diagnostic tool allows machine learning developers at Facebook to determine whether certain kinds of machine learning systems contain bias against or towards specific groups of people. It works by inspecting the data flow for a given model.

Per a company blog post:

To measure the performance of an algorithm’s predictions for certain groups, Fairness Flow works by dividing the data a model uses into relevant groups and calculating the model’s performance group by group. For example, one of the fairness metrics that the toolkit examines is the number of examples from each group. The goal is not for each group to be represented in exactly the same numbers but to determine whether the model has a sufficient representation within the data set from each group.

Other areas that Fairness Flow examines include whether a model can accurately classify or rank content for people from different groups, and whether a model systematically over- or underpredicts for one or more groups relative to others.

Background: The blog post doesn’t clarify exactly why Facebook’s touting Fairness Flow right now, but its timing gives a hint at what might be going on behind the scenes at the social network.

MIT Technology Review’s Karen Hao recently penned an article exposing Facebook’s anti bias efforts. Their piece makes the assertion that Facebook is motivated solely by “growth” and apparently has no intention of combating bias in AI where doing so would inhibit its ceaseless expansion.

Hao wrote:

It was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth.

In the wake of Hao’s article, Facebook’s top AI guru, Yann LeCun, immediately pushed back against the article and its reporting.

Facebook had allegedly timed the publishing of a research paper with Hao’s article. Based on LeCun’s reaction, the company appeared gobstruck by the piece. Now a scant few weeks later, we’ve been treated to a 2,500+ word blog post on Fairness Flow, a tool that addresses the exact problems Hao’s article discusses.

[Read: Facebook AI boss Yann LeCun goes off in Twitter rant, blames talk radio for hate content]

However, addresses might be too strong a word. Here’s a few snippets from Facebook’s blog post on the tool:

  • Fairness Flow is a technical toolkit that enables our teams to analyze how some types of AI models and labels perform across different groups. Fairness Flow is a diagnostic tool, so it can’t resolve fairness concerns on its own.
  • Use of Fairness Flow is currently optional, though it is encouraged in cases that the tool supports.
  • Fairness Flow is available to product teams across Facebook and can be applied to models even after they are deployed to production. However, Fairness Flow can’t analyze all types of models, and since each AI system has a different goal, its approach to fairness will be different.

Quick take: No matter how long and boring Facebook makes its blog posts, it can’t hide the fact that Fairness Flow can’t fix any of the problems with Facebook’s AI.

The reason bias is such a problem at Facebook is because so much of the AI at the social network is black box AI – meaning we have no clue why it makes the output decisions it does in a given iteration.

Imagine a game where you and all your friends throw your names in a hat and then your good pal Mark pulls one name out and gives that person a crisp five dollar bill. Mark does this 1,000 times and, as the game goes on, you notice that only your white, male friends are getting money. Mark never seems to pull out the name of a woman or non-white person.

Upon investigation, you’re convinced that Mark isn’t intentionally doing anything to cause the bias. Instead, you determine the problem must be occurring inside the hat.

At this point you have two decisions: number one, you can stop playing the game and go get a new hat. And this time, you try it out before you play again to make sure it doesn’t have the same biases.

Or you could go the route that Facebook’s gone: tell people that hats are inherently biased, and you’re working on new ways to identify and diagnose those problems. After that, just insist everyone keep playing the game while you figure out what to do next.

Bottom line: Fairness Flow is nothing more than an opt-in “observe and report” tool for developers. It doesn’t solve or fix anything.

Published March 31, 2021 — 17:38 UTC

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Covid 19

You can’t be ‘addicted’ to social media — but it still sucks

If you spend hours of the day on your phone checking social media, you’re not unusual. The average internet user spends two hours a day on various social media sites. But does your habit of checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok every few hours make you a social media “addict”?

The term “social media addiction” is being increasingly used to describe people who spend a lot of time on these websites and apps. Doing so can be harmful to people in a variety of ways – causing low self esteem, bad sleep and increasing stress.

The main focus when considering addiction to substances tends to be on three key elements: compulsion (or loss of control), tolerance (needing to increase amount to achieve the same effect) and withdrawal (unpleasant side effects when use stops). Other factors to consider relate to craving, preoccupation and continuing use despite it causing obvious problems. It’s easy to see how these factors apply to drugs, but what about shopping, gambling or, indeed, social media use?

Increasing interest in these and other behavioral “addictions” – like gaming, sex or the internet – has resulted in broadening definitions of what addiction is. Psychologists talk of excessive appetites and powerful motivational drives to engage in particular behaviors that have the power to do considerable unintended harm.

As researchers in social media and addiction, we have spent the last 25 years understanding different kinds of addiction. Our research tells us that social media addiction is not the same as an addiction to substances, like alcohol and other drugs.

Social media use

Too much social media can certainly be damaging. One major feature of social media is it allows users some control over how they present themselves to others. People can edit their online appearance and sometimes present themselves inaccurately while seeking validation from others.

This can cause all kinds of harm. In a study in 2019, we found when female users looked at the platforms for around one and a half hours per day, this was related to an increased desire to be thin, a heightened awareness of how they think other people judge them and motivation to exercise for the purposes of losing weight.


Read more: Why is celebrity abuse on Twitter so bad? It might be a problem with our empathy


And in 2016, we investigated the ways people seek validation on social media. We looked at how often people manipulate posts to increase the number of likes received, use social media to boost spirits or blindly post about issues with which they did not necessarily agree.

We found when this kind of online behavior increased, self-esteem decreased. But our findings didn’t necessarily show a compulsion to use social media – something key in making it an addiction. Other social factors, such as fear of missing out and narcissistic personality traits, may drive the need to use social media to an unhealthy degree.

Social media addiction

In 2020, we undertook a study into harmful gambling that might help answer the question of whether social media addiction is real.

We found that rapid technological developments in the ease and speed of access of phone and tablet apps are leading to increased levels of gambling harm. Similar psychological processes may be at work on social media platforms, where need for validation, craving and checking likes is amplified.

Behavioral explanations for how addictions develop emphasize the power of reinforcement. Gambling products often use the most powerful form of reinforcement: random pay outs. This, again, is potentially similar to the way users receive validation in the form of “likes” on social media.

Selfie time
Credit: StockSnap / Pixabay
Selfie time

There are some who might argue that chronic overuse of social media can be seen as an addiction, but it not is currently recognized as such by the American Psychiatric Association.

There are important differences between excessive social media use and substances in terms of addiction. For example, withdrawal from the latter is often physically unpleasant and sometimes dangerous without medical supervision. Users often suffer stigma, which can be a barrier to seeking help. In comparison, it hasn’t yet been established that there are physical withdrawal effects when people stop using social media.

Considering social media use more as a continuum of possible harm might allow more scope for appropriately targeted messages that could prevent problems developing in the first place.

There are clearly elements of social media use that resonate with certain characterizations of addiction, such as psychological notions of excessive appetites or powerful motivations, and the built-in platform mechanisms of reinforcement through random affirmations or “likes”. It’s also clear that this can be harmful in terms of negative impact on some users’ self-esteem and body image.

But despite these factors, the most useful question might be how to create a healthy balance of interaction in our virtual and real worlds.

It’s worth remembering that behavioral addictions, like those to substances, often occur alongside other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, suggesting that vulnerability may be multifaceted. This may also be true of excessive social media use.The Conversation

This article by Bev John, Professor of Addictions and Health Psychology, University of South Wales and Martin Graff, Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Relationships, University of South Wales, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read next: Pixar, YouTube, and Google TV made me an ‘intrapreneur’ — here’s what I learned

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Covid 19

Why Trump’s social media network will be an epic failure

I’ve seen a lot of dumb startup pitches in my day, but a Donald Trump-branded social media network takes the stupid cake.

All I can figure is, we’re exactly two months away from the FBI’s birthday and team Trump’s determined to get the old agency the perfect gift this year. Or maybe Trump just really likes losing money

For those out of the loop here’s a video of Trump’s spokesperson discussing the matter yesterday:

Here’s the meat of Miller’s rambling:

I do think that we’re going to see President Trump returning to social media in probably about two or three months here, with his own platform. And this is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media, it’s going to completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does.

I honestly don’t think Trump’s stupid enough to launch his own social media network (Miller prefaced things with “I do think”). I’m more inclined to believe we’ll see Gab or Parler or something similar relaunched with a Trump partnership.

But, I really hope Trump starts his own network. As a journalist, it’s always nice to say “I told you so.” And, as mentioned, the FBI would love it. I just don’t see how anyone with a basic understanding of the tech market could imagine, even for a second, that this is a viable concept.

Here’s why:

  • If the network was technically sound, innovative, and viable without Trump, you’d have to be an idiot to launch it with him. Trump automatically cuts your potential US user base in half, and it gets worse in markets outside the US.
  • A Trump social media network has to be uncensored (or else, what’s the point?). But you can’t be both anonymous and uncensored if you want to avoid being completely disrupted by trolls, bots, and bad actors.
  • If it doesn’t allow anonymous signups, the FBI will park on it. And it’s safe to say a Trump network won’t have the resources to fight off the US government like Apple does.
  • Without self-regulation, an online business is unsustainable due to the limited number of hosts available at the scale necessary to support enough users to generate a profit.
  • There aren’t enough hardcore conservative advertisers for a Trump-branded social media network to operate under the traditional ad-based social media paradigm.

The core problem with a Trump network is the same with any advertising-based endeavor: you get more flies with honey than you do by trying to convince people the US government has been overthrown by a conspiracy against you.

It might sound like I’m trying to make a joke here, but I’m not. That’s the problem. Trump’s brand is built on convincing people he’s the rightfully-elected president of the United States without any evidence to support that claim. The number of advertisers willing to pay money to support that idea is bound to be slim.

The only upside here is that Trump’s really popular and people love to see what he’ll do next. The downside is that, at any moment, he could be associated with another violent coup attempt. Even if only indirectly, until he recognizes the absolute legitimacy of the current US government, he’s going to be inseparable from acts of violence committed in his name by those who believe his baseless lies.

And as long as that’s the case, his social media network won’t be able to exist on traditional advertising revenue.

Sure, there are other ways to fund a social media company. Trump could tap big-time conservative investors or come up with a subscription-based model. But none of those are sustainable beyond a few months.

Social media companies need massive user bases in order to be profitable. And if you’re already limiting your audience to people who don’t find Trump distasteful, it’s kind of silly to then further limit it to people willing to pay for social media.

Trump may have conservative support at the upper echelons, but his core supporters are the blue collar people who donate to his political causes. Like tithing at church, these supporters may not give in large amounts but they give often. And, also like tithing at church, the relationship completely changes when there’s a cover charge to get in.

You can’t keep a social media network running on VC investment alone, so without advertising bucks or a massive subscriber base, the network’s already doomed. Plus, it’ll have bigger problems than just convincing donors or users to shell out for the privilege of supporting Trump:

But let’s put on our imagination hats and our clown noses and pretend like a Trump-backed social media network could generate a profit. The next problem: Trump’s brand is anti-censorship.

Unfortunately for team Trump, the reality of operating a social media network is that you have two choices: either ban people from screaming “fire” in a crowded theater or live with a paradigm where a large percentage of users are only there to yell “fire” in crowded theaters.

If you don’t have rules against harassment, you’ll have nothing but harassment. That’s just internet 101. You can’t stop people from arguing. And, unless you ban liberals or censor anti-conservative rhetoric, you’re going to have a platform that’s inundated with people who oppose Trump, his views, and his supporters.

The alternative is a censored network endorsed by Donald Trump – which would be hilarious, really. Especially since conservatives are notorious for not understanding what the right to Free Speech is. 

Credit: XKCD

So, uncensored? Team Trump will have to do what no other platform has managed: find a company willing to host an uncensored social media network. Which probably won’t happen, at least not in the US.

It’ll have to at least have some rules that, for example, prevent the solicitation of minors, the promotion of violence, and the sale of illegal weapons and drugs. And, as Parler found out the hard way, even if you have policies against illegal activities and the promotion of violence, you have to demonstrate you’re capable of handling it quickly when users breach your terms.

Trump’s going to need one hell of an AI team to create some powerful content moderation algorithms. It’s one thing to brand your network conservative, it’s another to associate it directly with the face of the right wing conspiracy-theorist movement. That’s quite a target for bad actors.

In order for the Trump-backed network to do the bare minimum to obtain long-term hosting, it’ll end up being just as “censored” as Twitter and Facebook.

And we haven’t even gotten to what happens when the US government gives the Trump network the same treatment it’s given Apple for years. When every court with a hate crime in its district in the entire country starts subpoenaing the network’s entire database of user records, team Trump better be ready for a never-ending fight against law enforcement.

But, hey, don’t let me talk anyone out of signing up. It might sound like a bad idea on paper, but when you look at it from the FBI’s point of view: what could possibly be better than a social media network that aims to gather millions of anti-government conspiracy theorists in a single website?

Read next: YouTube test detects products in videos to make recommendations

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Covid 19

Facebook to lift ban on political ads on Thursday

Facebook will lift its ban on political ads in the US on Thursday, the social media giant said on Wednesday.

The company imposed the temporary ban after the November 2020 presidential election to curb the spread of misinformation in the aftermath.

It will now resume advertising on “social issues, elections or politics,” Facebook announced in a blog post:

We’ve heard a lot of feedback about this and learned more about political and electoral ads during this election cycle. As a result, we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these ads work on our service to see where further changes may be merited.

The decision follows a similar move from online advertising rival Google.

The search giant had also briefly prohibited political ads following the election, and again after the US Capital insurrection. The latter ban was lifted in late February.

[Read: How do you build a pet-friendly gadget? We asked experts and animal owners]

Facebook had also temporarily allowed some political ads in Georgia, ahead of the state’s runoff election in January. It will now permit them across the US.

The announcement was made on the same day that the Democratic Party’s House and Senate campaign arms called for Facebook to lift the ban.

The Hill reports that party executives said the policy had failed to curb disinformation, while making it harder to communicate with voters.

Grass-roots political groups who rely on Facebook to reach their communities will also welcome the resumption of political ads.

However, not everyone will be pleased by the move. Critics argue that the practice spreads lies that endanger democracy and benefit demagogues.

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Covid 19

Hey millennials, stop ruining emoji for Gen Z

When I saw the news that Apple would be releasing 217 new emojis into the world, I did what I always do: I asked my undergraduates what it meant to them. “We barely use them anymore,” they scoffed. To them, many emojis are like overenthusiastic dance moves at weddings: reserved for awkward millennials. “And they use them all wrong anyway,” my cohort from generation Z added earnestly.

My work focuses on how people use technology, and I’ve been following the rise of emoji for a decade. With 3,353 characters available and 5 billion sent each day, emojis are now a significant language system.

When the emoji database is updated, it usually reflects the needs of the time. This latest update, for instance, features a new vaccine syringe and more same-sex couples.

But if my undergraduates are anything to go by, emojis are also a generational battleground. Like skinny jeans and side partings, the “laughing crying emoji,” better known as 😂, fell into disrepute among the young in 2020 – just five years after being picked as the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 Word of the Year. For gen Z TikTok users, clueless millennials are responsible for rendering many emojis utterly unusable – to the point that some in gen Z barely use emojis at all.

[Read: How do you build a pet-friendly gadget? We asked experts and animal owners]

Research can help explain these spats over emojis. Because their meaning is interpreted by users, not dictated from above, emojis have a rich history of creative use and coded messaging. Apple’s 217 new emojis will be subjected to the same process of creative interpretation: accepted, rejected, or repurposed by different generations based on pop culture currents and digital trends.

Two emojis of a syringe - one dripping with blood, one with clear liquid
Previously, the syringe emoji suggested blood extraction. The new, updated emoji looks more like a vaccine. Apple/Emojipedia

Face the facts

When emojis were first designed by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999, they were intended specifically for the Japanese market. But just over a decade later, the Unicode Consortium, sometimes described as “the UN for tech,” unveiled these icons to the whole world.

In 2011, Instagram tracked the uptake of emojis through user messages, watching how 🙂 eclipsed 🙂 in just a few years. Old-style smileys, using punctuation marks, now look as outdated as Shakespearean English on our LED screens: a sign of fogeyness in baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) or an ironic throwback for the hipsters of gen Z.

The Unicode Consortium now meets each year to consider new types of emoji, including emojis that support inclusivity. In 2015, a new range of skin colors was added to existing emojis. In 2021, the Apple operating system update will include mixed-race and same-sex couples, as well as men and women with beards.

Bitter boomers?

Not everyone has been thrilled by the rise of emoji. In 2018, a Daily Mail headline lamented that “Emojis are ruining the English language,” citing research by Google in which 94% of those surveyed felt that English was deteriorating, in part because of emoji use.

But such criticisms, which are sometimes leveled by boomers, tend to misinterpret emojis, which are after all informal and conversational, not formal and oratory. Studies have found no evidence that emojis have reduced overall literacy.

On the contrary, it appears that emojis actually enhance our communicative capabilities, including language acquisition. Studies have shown how emojis are an effective substitute for gestures in non-verbal communication, bringing a new dimension to text.

A 2013 study, meanwhile, suggested that emojis connect to the area of the brain associated with recognizing facial expressions, making a 😀 as nourishing as a human smile. Given these findings, it’s likely that those who reject emojis actually impoverish their language capabilities.

Creative criticism

The conflict between gen Z and millennials, meanwhile, emerges from confused meanings. Although the Unicode Consortium has a definition for each icon, including the 217 Apple are due to release, out in the wild they often take on new meanings. Many emojis have more than one meaning: a literal meaning, and a suggested one, for instance. Subversive, rebellious meanings are often created by the young: today’s gen Z.

The aubergine 🍆 is a classic example of how an innocent vegetable has had its meaning creatively repurposed by young people. The brain 🧠 is an emerging example of the innocent-turned-dirty emoji canon, which already boasts a large corpus.

Three emojis, one blowing out air, one with spiral eyes, one in clouds
These three emojis will also hit iPhones with Apple’s latest update. Their meaning is yet to be decided. Emojipedia/Apple

And it doesn’t stop there. With gen Z now at the helm of digital culture, the emoji encyclopedia is developing new ironic and sarcastic double meanings. It’s no wonder that millennials can’t keep up, and keep provoking outrage from younger people who consider themselves to be highly emoji-literate.

Emojis remain powerful means of emotional and creative expression, even if some in gen Z claim they’ve been made redundant by misuse. This new batch of 217 emojis will be adopted across generations and communities, with each staking their claim to different meanings and combinations. The stage is set for a new round of intergenerational mockery.The Conversation

This article by Mark Brill, Senior Lecturer, School of Games, Film and Animation, Birmingham City University is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Covid 19

Facebook pulled the trigger on Australian news — and shot itself in the foot

Facebook today made good on its threat to block Australians from accessing or posting news content. The ban includes blocking links to Australian and overseas news publishers.

Facebook said the ban was a direct response to the federal government’s news media code legislation, which is expected to become law soon and would require digital platforms such as Facebook and Google to pay news media companies whose content they host.

Why has Facebook done this?

The move is either a last-ditch attempt to gain concessions in the legislation or a simple cut-and-run by Facebook.

The social media giant claims news publishers derive more value from news sharing than Facebook does. This is plausible, as news content makes up only 4% of sharing on the platform, whereas many news sites gain a large fraction of their traffic from Facebook referrals.

But this is probably more about flexing some muscle. Facebook may be demonstrating to the Federal government that if it doesn’t like the rules, it can damage national interests.

[Read: How do you build a pet-friendly gadget? We asked experts and animal owners]

Collateral damage

Australians will feel some short-term negative impacts of Facebook’s flex.

Certain government Facebook pages, such as those belonging to the Bureau of Meterology and some health department sites, have been caught up in the ban. Facebook says this is due to the wording of the legislation, stating:

As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.

While Facebook says it will restore non-news pages, the action will put pressure on the government to define more clearly what it means by news content.

In the meantime, the move will affect Australians’ access to vital information related to emergencies and the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a concerted effort to ensure online behavior change from users, this could be dangerous.

Misinformation risk

We can also expect to see a short-term proliferation of misinformation as Facebook’s news feed will have a vacuum of professionally sourced and fact-checked news.

A significant number of Australians discuss news on Facebook, both via their newsfeed and in groups. Being able to source factual information from news sites is part of the everyday political and social participation that social media platforms facilitate.

The democratic impact of Facebook’s ban will be felt – and is counter to Facebook’s stated principle of connecting people and its recent pledge to tackle misinformation.

Will it hurt Facebook?

The impact of this action against the legislation on Facebook itself is yet to be seen.

The reputational damage from blocking important sites that serve Australia’s public interest overnight – and yet taking years to get on top of user privacy breaches and misinformation – undermines the legitimacy of the platform and its claimed civic intentions.

Facebook’s actions may send a message to the government, but they will also send one to their Australian users.

Readers are likely to find other ways to get their news. If we learn from the experience of Google’s news ban in Spain, we can see that after an initial dip in traffic, most major news organizations in Spain regained much of their web traffic after about a year.

Surfing social waves

Tools such as Facebook are only useful if people want to use them. And for some existing users, the lack of news might be a dealbreaker.

Facebook already faces a long-term problem of an aging user demographic, as under-25s turn to Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok for news and information.

Young people may have Facebook profiles, but they are less likely to be active users.

News organizations are already following their lead. For example, The Conversation Australia has 325,735 Facebook followers and will probably feel the impact of the loss of engagement there.

But it also has more than 21,000 Instagram followers and counting. It is increasingly making visual news “tiles” to cater to the younger demographic of users who source news from other platforms. It has also been working to reach readers directly via regular email newsletters, which one in five US readers now say is their primary way of accessing news.

News organizations have already learned how to pivot fast. When Facebook changed its algorithms in 2018 to deprioritize news publishers, many took action to reduce their reliance on Facebook’s traffic, analytics, or digital advertising dollars.

What now?

Larger news organizations will be OK in the long run. But Australia’s smaller outlets, including local publishers and non-profits that produce public-interest journalism, will need protection.

The long-term task for news organizations and journalists is to convince the public – especially young people – that it’s worthwhile to actively seek out professional news and journalism as part of their daily online lives, rather than simply reading whatever comes across their feed.

As for Facebook, going back to its original purpose of facilitating personal connection and social networking, rather than posing as a forum for public information, may not be a bad thing. But the reputational damage and publisher exodus will eventually damage its core business: digital advertising revenue.The Conversation

This article by Diana Bossio, Lecturer, Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Covid 19

Twitter confirms Trump’s ban is permanent, even if he runs again

Twitter confirms Trump’s ban is permanent, even if he runs again

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When Twitter said it had banned Trump, some wondered how permanent the move really was. After all, Twitter long used the justification of “public interest” when explaining why the president was allowed to remain on the platform after saying things that would get other users banned. Following the Capitol riot, and as Trump would no longer be president just a few days following the ban, the public interest excuse didn’t mean much.

But what if he were to run for the position — or another government seat — again?

The company today clarified that the ban is indeed meant to be permanent. In an interview with CNBC, Twitter CFO Ned Segal said “when you’re removed from the platform, you’re removed from the platform.” He further elaborated “our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence. He was removed when he was president and there’d be no difference for anybody who’s a public official once they’ve been removed from the service.”

So that’s that. While it seems unlikely Trump will stay silent forever — the Trump organization apparently tried to buy a major stake in Parler — at least we won’t have to see another tweetstorm from the former president again.

Facebook, for its part, has not yet clarified how long Trump’s ban will remain in effect. Although Zuckerberg said the president had been banned “indefinitely,” that doesn’t necessarily mean the same as “permanently.” For that, we’ll likely have to wait for a ruling from the company’s oversight board — the social media’s network’s equivalent of a supreme court on topics of moderation — which is currently reviewing the ban.

Read next: Facebook begins test to show less political content

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Covid 19

Beverly Hills cops try to weaponize Instagram’s algorithms in failed attempt to thwart live streamers

We don’t know if Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) Sergeant Billy Fair practices Santeria (or owns a crystal ball), but we know he listens to the Sublime song of the same name. We know this because he’s become a viral sensation on Instagram after blasting the 1990’s hit at a citizen in a misguided attempt to get Instagram’s algorithm to take down a live stream due to copyright infringement.

Ironically, the officer of the law isn’t very clear on the social media site’s rules. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Background: This story comes to us from Vice’s Dexter Thomas via the Instagram account of one Sennett Devermont, the citizen on the receiving end of the cop’s silly attempt to game the system.

Credit: Instagram

In the post linked above, we can see video of Sergeant Fair employing the old crank up the music so you can’t hear your parents yelling at you to clean your room tactic as soon as Devermont starts asking too many questions.

Thomas’ reporting makes it clear that this isn’t an isolated incident within the Beverly Hills community, but instead both Fair and other officers have deployed this tactic. One officer is even quoted as not only having knowledge of Devermont’s IG account, but going so far as to mockingly bring up negative comments on posts involving the citizen’s interactions with BHPD.

Laws and rules: The law says that, for the most part, it’s cool for people in California to film law enforcement officers. And, despite what you might believe, Instagram’s rules say that, for the most part, it’s cool for you to post a video that has short moments of copyrighted music playing through it.

Quick take: What we have here is a case of officers of the law trying to weaponize the legal protections a private company is forced to take in order to adhere to the law, against a citizen expressing their Constitutionally-protected right to record the cops under the First Amendment.

And I’ll leave it to you to decide whether protecting police officers from the consequences of their own actions or upholding the will detailed in the US’ founding documents is more important.

Published February 9, 2021 — 20:43 UTC

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Covid 19

Twitch’s PogChamp ban highlights the platform’s growing role in politics

Twitch has banned the popular PogChamp emote after the person it portrays posted incendiary tweets about the deadly riots at the US Capitol.

In the wake of the police shooting of a female protestor, Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, a professional Street Fighter player who’s depicted in the emote, expressed support for the rioters. He also shared a graphic video of the fatal shooting.

“Will there be civil unrest tonight for the woman who was executed inside the Capitol today, or will the #MAGAMartyr die in vain?” he tweeted.

Twitch responded by banning the emote, but pledged to work with the community to design a replacement.

“We want the sentiment and use of Pog to live on – its meaning is much bigger than the person depicted or image itself– and it has a big place in Twitch culture,” the company announced on Twitter. “However, we can’t in good conscience continue to enable use of the image.”

Credit: Cross Counter TV
The emote was typically used to express surprise or excitement, both sincerely and sarcastically.

The ban spotlights Twitch’s growing role in politics.

The platform has recently attracted a wide range of pundits and professional politicians, from Chapo Trap House to Donald Trump.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has used it to encourage viewers to vote and raise donations for charity. She’s also protested the military’s attempts to attracts recruits through Twitch.

Activists have also used the platform to engage their communities. The New York Times reported that Twitch had “transformed into an unexpected hub of social activism” after Black Lives Matter protestors used the service to stream their demonstrations.

The company itself has also waded into politics. Twitch recently banned the Confederate flag because of its “historic and symbolic association with slavery and white supremacist groups,” but was rebuked for posting a video supporting BLM as it featured an overwhelming number of white creators. The video was pulled after a public outcry.

Banning PogChamp has also attracted some criticism. But keeping it could have been seen as endorsing the views of Gutierrez. And there are plenty of more likable faces that can replace his.

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