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Facebook moderators should be brought in house to give them the support they need

Content moderators on Facebook sued the social media giant for $52 million due to traumatic working parameters and little support. What needs to change?

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facebook moderators

Moderating illicit content on Facebook is an extremely demanding job, and, sadly, it isn’t getting any easier despite increased visibility from lawmakers and mental health workers alike.

Facebook moderators are tasked with addressing anything from non-compliant images and videos–things that, while legal, violate Facebook’s terms of use–to real-time depictions of abuse, crime, and other forms of dark content that would make even the most experienced of Redditors shudder. It’s a thankless job that, according to former mods, has left many workers with PTSD.

Unfortunately, the dark con of any social media network is that any kind of content may be uploaded, and–in the “right” environment, such as a quasi-community of like-minded users–that same content can prosper until addressed by a moderator. No pressure, of course–these contractors only have to browse an unending tidal wave of content while making split-second decisions about whether or not each piece is “bad enough” to warrant moderation.

To make matters worse, attempts to use AI moderation have been lackluster at best, according to Slate. Even if AI were advanced enough to make the crucial distinctions Facebook trusts moderators to shoulder every day, Slate reminds us that “a move to fully automated moderation has long been the nightmare of many human rights and free expression organizations” due to the potential for actual censorship of free speech.

But between the volume of content moderators have to peruse and the aforementioned traumatic tone of the majority of that content, it’s no surprise that prominent figures such as NYU’s Paul Barrett are getting involved–and they want change sooner rather than later.

Chief among the many critical aspects of content moderation that require reform is the practice of outsourcing the work, a strategy that creates a “marginalized class of workers,” argues Barret. It’s true that moderators receive low pay, no benefits, and little support–amenities that are all present in spades for full-time employees of Facebook and similar social media companies.

In fact, many of Facebook’s content moderators were, until recently, employed as subcontractors through Cognizant, a consulting company which exited the content moderation business in October of 2019. This model of operation often afforded the employees less than $30,000 per year with few–if any–health benefits.

This lack of health benefits, coupled with the sheer trauma inherent in content moderation, may be what led content moderators to successfully sue Facebook for $52 million this year. Many of these moderators were previously diagnosed with PTSD from the stress of the job.

“Content moderation isn’t engineering, or marketing, or inventing cool new products. It’s nitty-gritty, arduous work, which the leaders of social media companies would prefer to hold at arm’s length,” Barret adds in an interview with Washington Post. Such distancing, he posits, affords “plausible deniability” for missed content to the companies in question–a practice from which Facebook is not exempt.

But Facebook shouldn’t be worried about maintaining distance from moderated content when the NYU report postulates doubling down on moderation attempts could provide the breadth needed to keep Facebook clean (well, relatively) while giving the operators in question a much-needed break.

The plan also addresses training teams in every country, having moderators work in shifts so as to mitigate the effects of exposure to traumatizing content, and making counseling services available to those who need it immediately rather than funneling requests through the bureaucratic equivalent of a thimble.

Unsurprisingly, moderators have expressed an inability to advocate for themselves regarding this issue, claiming in an open statement on Medium that “We know how important Facebook’s policies are because it’s our job to enforce them…We would walk out with you—if Facebook would allow it” in response to Facebook walk-outs in the past few weeks.

Facebook moderators protect all of us from people who seek to expose us to frightening, dehumanizing content–and often advocate for the victims of that content in the process. It’s our responsibility to protect them from unfair working conditions and life-long trauma.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Tech News

Google set to release new AI-operated meeting room kit… and it’s pretty baller

(TECH NEWS) Google’s newest toy is designed to “put people first” by alleviating video and audio issues for conference room meetings.

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Google Meet Series One is a new meeting kit that puts people first.

Remote meetings can be the worst sometimes. The awful video and audio quality are frustrating when you’re trying to hear important details for an upcoming project. Even with the fastest internet connection, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to clearly hear or see anyone who’s in the office. But Google is re-imagining conference rooms with their new video conferencing hardware.

Yesterday, the company introduced Google Meet Series One. In partnership with Lenovo, this meeting room kit is made exclusively for Google Meet and is poised to be the hardware that “puts people first.”

The Series One has several components that make it stand out. First is the “Smart Audio Bar,” powered by eight beam-forming microphones. Using Google Edge TPUs, the soundbar can deliver TrueVoice®, the company’s “proprietary, multi-channel noise cancellation technology.” It removes distracting sounds, like annoying finger and foot-tapping noises, so everyone’s voices are crystal clear from anywhere in the room.

The hardware also has 4K smart cameras that allow for high-resolution video and digital PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) effects. Processed with Google AI, the device knows to automatically zoom in and out so all of the meetings’ participants are framed in the camera. With an i7 processor and Google Edge TPUs, the system is built to “handle the taxing demands of video conferencing along with running the latest in Google AI as efficiently and reliably as possible.”

The meeting kit has Google grade security built-in, so the system automatically updates over-the-air. The system also works seamlessly with Google services and apps we already use. Its touch control display is powered by a single ethernet cable. From the admin controls, you can manage meeting lists and control room settings. Powered by assistant voice commands, their touch controller provides a “touchless touchability”; if you want to, you can join a meeting just by saying, “Hey Google, join the meeting.”

These new meeting kits are easy to install and are versatile. They can be configured to fit small, medium, and large-sized rooms. “Expanding kits for larger rooms can be done with just an ethernet cable and the tappable Mic Pod, which expands microphone reach and allows for mute/unmute control.”

According to the Google Meet Series One introductory video, the meeting room kits are “beautifully and thoughtfully designed to make video meetings approachable and immersive so everyone gets a seat at the table.”

Currently, there is no release date set for Google Meet Series One. However, pre-orders will soon be available in the US, Canada, Finland, France, Norway, Spain, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium.

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Tech News

One creepy way law enforcement might have your private data

(TECH NEWS) Wait, geofences do what? Law enforcement can pull your private data if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Man walking on crosswalk with phone, but his private data could be vulnerable.

By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that our smartphones are tracking us, but what you might not be aware of is just how much law enforcement is taking advantage of our private data. Now, the good news is that some places have gotten wise to this breach of privacy and are banning certain tactics. The bad news is: If you were ever in the vicinity of a recent crime scene, it’s quite possible your privacy has already been invaded.

How are law enforcement doing this? Well, it starts with a geofence.

At its core, a geofence is a virtual border around a real geographic location. This can serve many purposes, from creating marketing opportunities for targeted ads to tracking shipping packages. In the case of law enforcement, though, geofences are often used in something called a geofence warrant.

Traditionally, warrants identify a subject first, then retrieve their electronic records. A geofence warrant, on the other hand, identifies a time and place and pulls electronic data from that area. If you’re thinking “hey, that sounds sketchy,” you are–forgive the pun–completely warranted.

With a geofence, law enforcement can dig through your private data, not because they have proof you were involved in a crime, but because you happened to be nearby.

This practice, though relatively new, is on the rise: Google reported a 15-fold increase in geofence warrant requests between 2017 and 2018. As well as invading privacy, these warrants have led to false arrests and can be used against peaceful protesters. Not to mention, in many cases, geofence warrants can be extremely easy to acquire. One report in Minnesota found judges signed off on these cases in under 4 minutes.

Thankfully, there have been signs of people pushing back against the use of geofence warrants. In fact, there have been multiple federal court rulings that find the practice in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” including your electronic data.

If you’re still worried about your privacy, there are ways to keep your electronic data on lock. For example, turn off your location services when you’re traveling, and avoid connecting to open Wi-Fi networks. You can also work to limit location sharing with apps and websites.

These and other tips can be a great way to help you avoid not just geofence warrants, but others who want to use your electronic information for their own gain.

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Tech News

Incoming! Amazon drones will be dropping off packages soon (we hope)

(TECH NEWS) The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Amazon for drone delivery service, but when will the drones actually take flight?

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One of Prime Air's drones ready for test flights.

Amazon has finally received the stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deliver packages by drones. This pivotal step brings the online retailer closer to their promise of delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

In 2013, during CBS’s “60 Minutes” interview, Amazon CEO and Founder, Jeff Bezos, said drones would be delivering customers’ packages within five years. Although the estimate is a couple of years off, it seems like that day might be right around the corner.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when little floating presents are sailing through the sky (Animal Crossing balloons, anyone?). Despite our excitement to see our latest Amazon impulse purchase land on our doorstep, it isn’t going to happen overnight.

The Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate Amazon obtained for its fleet of Prime Air drones will allow the company to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) “to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.” Although the FAA certification is allowing Amazon to begin test trials, Bloomberg reports that the retail giant still has “regulatory and technical hurdles” to overcome.

In addition, the FAA has yet to set regulations that will “serve as a framework to expand drone flights over crowds, a building block necessary for deliveries.” Amazon hasn’t said when and where it will start testing the delivery service either.

David Carbon, Amazon Vice President who oversees Prime Air, made this statement: “This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world.”

This approval is definitely a step forward, but Amazon has been working on the drone delivery service for years. Early last year, the giant retailer revealed they would start offering one-day shipping. They have followed through on this, at least. And during a Las Vegas Conference in June 2019, they revealed their “fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.” But it still doesn’t answer when we can expect to see whizzing drones overhead.

I’m not sure when Amazon will fulfill their last promise. But it is getting closer. What I do know is that I look forward to the Amazon drones taking flight. I can’t wait to place my orders knowing that I will get that last-minute present I ordered just in time.

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