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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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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.

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3 cool ways bug-sized robots are changing the world

(TECH NEWS) Robots are at the forefront of tech advancements. But why should we care? Here are some noticeable ways robots are changing the world.

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Bits of robots and microchips changing the world.

When we envision the robots that will (and already are) transforming our world, we’re most likely thinking of something human- or dog-sized. So why are scientists hyper-focusing on developing bug-sized (or even smaller!) robots?

Medical advances

Tiny robots could assist in better drug delivery, as well as conduct minor internal surgeries that wouldn’t otherwise require incisions.

Rescue operations

We’ve all heard about the robot dogs that can rescue people who’ve been buried beneath rubble or sheets of snow. However, in some circumstances these machines are too bulky to do the job safely. Bug-sized robots are a less invasive savior in high-intensity environments, such as mine fields, that larger robots would not be able to navigate without causing disruption.

Exploration

Much like the insects after which these robots were designed, they can be programmed to work together (think: ants building a bridge using their own bodies). This could be key in exploring surfaces like Mars, which are not safe for humans to explore freely. Additionally, tiny robots that can be set to construct and then deconstruct themselves could help astronauts in landings and other endeavors in space.

Why insects?

Well, perhaps the most important reason is that insects have “nature’s optimized design”. They can jump vast distances (fleas), hold items ten times the weight of their own bodies (ants) and perform tasks with the highest efficiency (bees) – all qualities that, if utilized correctly, would be extremely beneficial to humans. Furthermore, a bug-sized bot is economical. If one short-circuits or gets lost, it won’t totally break the bank.

What’s next?

Something scientists have yet to replicate in robotics is the material elements that make insects so unique and powerful, such as tiny claws or sticky pads. What if a robot could produce excrement that could build something, the way bees do in their hives, or spiders do with their webs? While replicating these materials is often difficult and costly, it is undoubtedly the next frontier in bug-inspired robotics – and it will likely open doors for humans that we never imaged possible.

This is all to say that in the pursuit of creating strong, powerful robots, they need not always be big in stature – sometimes, the tiniest robots are just the best for the task.

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4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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Tech News

Will AI take over copywriting roles? This tool hopes to make that a reality

(TECH NEWS) CopyAI hopes to give copywriters a run for their… well, WPM. But how much can AI fully replace copywriting skills?

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Hands typing on a laptop, working on copywriting piece.

Copywriting is an important trade. Writers are often able to breathe life into otherwise formulaic websites peddling products which, sans the copy from those writers, might very well suffer a fate of relative obscurity. However, copywriters are also expensive, and their duties—indispensable as they may be—can be replicated fairly easily by little more than basic machine learning.

The question is this: Can AI replace copywriters? That’s a question that CopyAI hopes to answer with a resounding “yes”.

CopyAI is an “AI powered [sic] assistant for writing and brainstorming marketing copy.” This makes it a powerful tool to complement human writing, at the very least; is it enough to put people like me out of a job?

From my experience with the tool, no—at least, not yet. CopyAI can’t create an engagement strategy, respond to customers, spin testimonials to evoke heart-felt reactions, or analyze its own trends.

But that doesn’t detract from how freaking cool it is in practice.

CopyAI asks for very little from its user. Upon selecting a style of copy—Facebook Market, website carousel, or even page header, for example–you are prompted to enter the title of your product and a couple of short sentences describing it in the context of your ad. CopyAI does the rest, and while the results can be hilariously out of touch, you’re able to pick the ones that sound the most like your desired copy and then generate more options that sound similar.

The service has a huge number of different options for advertisement types, and you can use multiple different copy projects in one specific campaign.

Naturally, CopyAI has a few flaws, most of which replicate the problems we’ve seen with machine learning-based writing in the past: It doesn’t sound quite human enough to be comfortable. However, that’s a problem for a skilled copywriter to solve—and quickly, thus making something like CopyAI a potentially preferable choice for mass copywriting.

So, again, we ask: Is there a way for CopyAI to replace copywriters entirely in the future? Probably not. The copy it produces is intriguing, and often close enough that underfunded campaigns might find some value in using it short-term, but it doesn’t have the punch that a real person can pack into an advertisement.

That said, combining CopyAI with a small team of copywriters to reduce burnout—and repetition—could make for some very efficient work on the back end.

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