Obama: ‘Go keep changing the world in 2018’

Barack Obama continues to have hope.

The former President took to Twitter on Friday to share some stories he said “remind us what’s best about America.”


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“As we count down to the new year, we get to reflect and prepare for what’s ahead,” he tweeted. “For all the bad news that seemed to dominate our collective consciousness, there are countless stories from this year that remind us what’s best about America.”

In his tweet thread, Obama shared a news article about Kat Creech, a wedding planner in Houston who turned a postponed wedding into a volunteer opportunity for Hurricane Harvey victims.

He also tweeted about Eagles defensive end Chris Long giving his paychecks from the first six games of the NFL season to fund scholarships in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Jahkil Jackson, a 10-year-old who created kits full of socks, toiletries and food for homeless people in Chicago.

He concluded at the end of his thread: “All across America people chose to get involved, get engaged and stand up. Each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try. So go keep changing the world in 2018.”


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Facebook modifies the way it alerts users to fake news

Facebook is changing the way it identifies false and misleading news on the social network.

It is ditching the red icon indicating fake news known as the “disputed flag” and will instead show Related Articles next to hoax posts in the News Feed, the company announced on Thursday.

Facebook says Related Articles will give people more context about a story, including what information in the story is false. If someone tries to share a fake news story, they will get a popup notifying them of additional reporting from fact checkers. Those articles will also appear next to fake news before someone clicks on the link on Facebook.

The social network has long struggled with fake news on its platform. Facebook joined Twitter and Google in front of Congress last month to answer tough questions on how its platform was used to spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It continues to try and combat the spread of false content.

Facebook launched disputed flags in December 2016. It began introducing fact-checked stories to Related Articles in August. It recently added new “trust indicators” for publications on Facebook, too.

But disputed flags didn’t work out how Facebook anticipated.

In a post on Medium, Facebook product designer Jeff Smith said disputed flags buried important information relevant to debunking the hoax and required at least two fact checkers to dispute the article. That method was time consuming. Related Articles require just one fact checker’s review.

Further, Facebook says research shows that displaying a red icon to indicate fake news could actually further entrench someone’s beliefs — the opposite of what the flag was designed to do.

While testing Related Articles on fake news, Facebook found people clicked through to the story the same amount whether they saw a disputed flag or Related Articles. But showing Related Articles led to fewer shares of the false story.

Though the design is changing, much of the experience is staying the same. Facebook will still alert people if they’ve shared a fake news story that was disputed by fact-checkers.

“Using language that is unbiased and non-judgmental helps us to build products that speak to people with diverse perspectives,” Smith wrote.

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Facebook to put ads before (some) videos

The next time you open Facebook to watch a video of cute kids trying British food, or an educational explanation about what happens when you hold your pee, you may have to sit through an ad first.

Starting next year, Facebook will test advertisements at the beginning of some videos. The ads will last six seconds and only show up before videos you seek out in Facebook’s Watch section.

That means you won’t see these ads in your news feed. You’ll only run across a “pre-roll” advertisement when you view something in the dedicated “Watch” section, which Facebook launched earlier this year. (Facebook says the news feed location doesn’t “work well” for these kinds of ads.)

Watch is Facebook’s separate area just for video. It has a dedicated button on the bottom of the mobile app, and a link on the side of the website.

There are some original shows on Watch, like video versions of the popular Humans of New York account. But it’s more of a burgeoning YouTube than the next Netflix. The content is mostly short and low budget.

The social network is also tweaking its ads that show up in the middle of a video.

Starting in January, they won’t be included in any videos shorter than 3 minutes, and the first ad won’t pop up until at least a minute into whatever riveting content you’re consuming.

“Viewers tell us they prefer it when the video they are watching ‘merits’ an Ad Break — for example, content they are invested in, content they have sought out, or videos from publishers or creators they care about and are coming back to,” Facebook said in a blog post.

One other new change: Facebook is tweaking its news feed formula, again.

Videos that are part of a series or from creators churning out regular content will now get preferential placement in the news feed.

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Instagram tests standalone messaging app

Soon you may have yet another way to privately message friends.

Instagram is testing a standalone messaging app called Direct exclusively for sharing private messages, photos and videos with your friends.

The app is similar to what private messaging is like on Instagram already, but it opens directly to the camera instead of your list of messages, similar to Snapchat.

It also has unique camera filters not available on Instagram.

The company confirmed to CNN Tech it is testing Direct in Turkey, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal, Italy and Israel. It’s expected to roll out broadly next year, but there is no definitive timeline yet.

Instagram added private messaging to its app in 2013.

It’s unclear whether Direct will fully replace the Instagram inbox. Users who download Direct will see their Instagram inbox disappear, but it comes back when the messaging-only app is deleted.

Instagram’s latest move follows parent company Facebook’s decision to remove private chats from its main app. In 2014, Facebook forced users to download Messenger in order to privately message Facebook friends on mobile — an effort that was widely criticized. But the app now has over one billion monthly active users.

It’s likely Instagram will receive some of the same backlash — users may not want to have to download yet another app.

Facebook continues to expand its mobile footprint with messaging apps. The company recently launched a private chat app for children ages 6 to 12.

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Google is hiring 10,000 reviewers to clean up YouTube

Google is going on a hiring spree to try to stamp out offensive videos and comments on YouTube.

The company is recruiting thousands of reviewers to reduce the amount of “problematic content” on its video platform. It’s also introducing tougher restrictions on advertising and making greater use of smart technology.

By 2018, Google aims to have more than 10,000 people “working to address content that might violate our policies,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in a blog post. She did not say how many people currently monitor YouTube for offensive videos.

“Some bad actors are exploiting our openness to mislead, manipulate, harass or even harm,” Wojcicki said, adding that YouTube’s trust and safety teams have reviewed nearly 2 million videos for violent extremist content over the past six months.

“We are also taking aggressive action on comments, launching new comment moderation tools and in some cases shutting down comments altogether,” she said.

YouTube has grappled with a series of controversies this year concerning videos available on its platform. It was forced to adopt additional screening measures last month on its kid-friendly platform, YouTube Kids, after reports showed many of the videos there contained profanity and violence.

Companies such as Etihad Airways, Marriott and Deliveroo pulled their advertisements in June — as did the U.K.’s Labour Party — after finding they were appearing alongside videos made by a hate preacher.

Wojcicki said YouTube was taking a “new approach to advertising,” with more manual curation, stricter criteria for videos eligible to show ads, and a greater number of ad reviewers.

“We want advertisers to have peace of mind that their ads are running alongside content that reflects their brand’s values,” she said. “Equally, we want to give creators confidence that their revenue won’t be hurt by the actions of bad actors.”

The company isn’t just banking on more human intervention, however. Its machine learning algorithms have helped remove more than 150,000 videos from YouTube since June that depict violent extremism.

Wojcicki said 180,000 people would have had to work 40 weeks to assess the same amount of content.

“Because we have seen these positive results, we have begun training machine-learning technology across other challenging content areas, including child safety and hate speech,” she added.

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Facebook loves London. It’s creating 800 new jobs

Facebook is not afraid of Brexit.

The company is adding 800 tech jobs in London over the next year as it establishes its biggest engineering hub outside the U.S. The announcement coincided with Facebook opening a new office in the center of the city.

Once the new jobs are filled, Facebook will employ 2,300 people in London.

“Facebook is more committed than ever to the U.K.,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s senior executive in Europe.

That commitment will give an important boost to the U.K. tech sector, coming as it does at a time of significant nervousness among British companies about what Brexit will mean for their business.

“The UK’s flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem and international reputation for engineering excellence makes it one of the best places in the world to build a tech company,” Mendelsohn added.

Britain is due to leave the European Union in March 2019 and businesses still have little clarity over the country’s future relationship with the EU.

At the moment, companies based in the U.K. are free to do business across the bloc without having to jump regulatory hurdles. They can also hire workers from any of the 27 EU member states.

That could all change. The U.K. government has said Britain will leave the EU’s internal market and restrict immigration after Brexit. That could exacerbate a skills shortage — according to research by techUK, an industry body, 31% of workers in the digital sector in London are foreigners.

Facebook didn’t comment on those risks on Monday.

Its new office will also host an in-house tech incubator called LDN_LAB. Facebook said it will invite U.K. startups to take part in programs designed to help kick start and accelerate their businesses.

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