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New York governor signs executive order protecting net neutrality in the state

The home of the Statue of Liberty just made the internet more free.
The home of the Statue of Liberty just made the internet more free.

Image: BackyardProduction/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The battle is on for states striving to preserve fair internet usage.

A month after the Federal Communications Commission’s widely criticized decision to essentially kill net neutrality, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking action.

Cuomo signed an executive order to protect net neutrality in the state of New York on Wednesday,  making it the second state to enforce such measures.

The order states that the internet is “an essential service that should be available to all New Yorkers” and that the FCC’s decision aligned with corporations’ interests over those of city dwellers.

Cuomo went on to direct New York’s government not to enter into contracts with internet service providers unless those providers are committed to upholding net neutrality rules and keeping equal access to the internet.

“The FCC’s dangerous ruling goes against the core values of our democracy, and New York will do everything in our power to protect net neutrality and the free exchange of ideas,” Cuomo said in a statement on Twitter. 

On Monday, Montana Governor Steve Bullock became the first to enforce state regulations devoted to following net neutrality policies, tweeting, “Montana’s future depends on a free and open internet.”

The state backlash may just be beginning as attorneys general from 22 states — including California, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New York — recently filed a lawsuit over the net neutrality repeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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Facebook admits that, yea, maybe it’s not great for democracy

Facebook is many things, but good for democracy might not be one of them.

On Monday, Facebook executives and outside experts publicly released their thoughts on the effect social media — specifically Zuckerberg’s controversial platform — has on democracy.

The conclusion? Um, well, yeah — it might not be so great. And Facebook did not realize that in a timely manner.

“In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform. We’re working diligently to neutralize these risks now,” wrote Samidh Chakrabarti, who leads Facebook’s civic engagement team.

Outside experts agreed, noting that Facebook did do some things well, but that the U.S. election proved that its platform can be abused.

“From the Arab Spring to robust elections around the globe, social media seemed like a positive,” wrote Katie Harbath, a global politics and government outreach director at Facebook. “The last US presidential campaign changed that, with foreign interference that Facebook should have been quicker to identify to the rise of ‘fake news’ and echo chambers.”

Facebook did change with 2016 politics

After taking into account the role social media plays in politics and elections, Facebook and outside experts arrived at some harsh truths. Those thoughts were posted in a series of blog posts written for the platform’s “Hard Questions” series.

If it feels like Facebook wasn’t always a steaming pile of fake news and Russian collusion accusations, you’re right. The first to lend his voice to the positive aspects of Facebook’s role in democracy was Harvard professor and author Cass Sunstein, who began by noting social media is key to sharing information.

“On balance, the question of whether social media platforms are good for democracy is easy … they are not merely good; they are terrific,” he wrote. “For people to govern themselves, they need to have information. They also need to be able to convey it to others. Social media platforms make that tons easier.”

The good, however, isn’t without the bad, Sunstein said. He went on to condemn Facebook’s mission to give users “the most personalized experience.”

“While personalization initially sounds like a positive effort, Sunstein noted that feeding people a single perspective has the potential to be extremely dangerous, even leading to extremist viewpoints and group polarization,” he wrote.

“Citizens should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance,” Sunstein wrote. “Serendipity is a good thing. Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself.”

Change is coming, again…

To address the issue of the 80,000 Russia-created posts that reached around 126 million Facebook users in the United States, Chakrabarti said Facebook is “working to make politics on Facebook more transparent” by archiving electoral ads, requiring organizations running election-related ads to confirm their identities in the future, and more.

“This kind of activity goes against everything we stand for. It’s abhorrent to us that a nation-state used our platform to wage a cyberwar intended to divide society,” he said.

Chakrabarti went on to address on-platform problems with fake news, echo chambers, political harassment, and unequal participation that must also be addressed in the near future and the current plans to do so.

“If there’s one fundamental truth about social media’s impact on democracy it’s that it amplifies human intent — both good and bad. At its best, it allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy,” Chakrabarti said.

“I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can’t. That’s why we have a moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.”

So what’s next?

Harbath emphasized that Facebook has made several missteps over the past year especially, but they’re “determined as ever to fight the negative influences” on the platform and ensure it’s “a source for democratic good.” 

“Our role is to ensure that the good outweighs the forces that can compromise healthy discourse,” she said.

Facebook plans to feature additional “Hard Questions” blog posts on social media and democracy from Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia and social media scholar, and Ariadne Vromen, a professor of political participation at the University of Sydney, in the following days.

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The time has come for Mark Zuckerberg to reveal his 2018 personal challenge

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg reflects on his 2018 goals.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg reflects on his 2018 goals.

Image: David Ramos/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg is using 2018 as even further incentive to fix the hot mess that is Facebook.

On Thursday Zuck announced — via Facebook of course — his annual “personal challenge.” It’s a tradition he started in 2009 in which he kicks off each new year by committing to learning something new.

Over the years, he says, he’s visited every state in the U.S., run 365 miles, built an AI for his own house, read 25 books, and even learned Mandarin. But in 2018 the Facebook CEO will work toward fixing important issues on the social media platform. 

Good.

“The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”

Though the Facebook CEO said he won’t be able to stop all mistakes or abuse from happening, he acknowledged that “we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.”

“This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face, but I think I’ll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate,” Zuckerberg went on, explaining that issues rooted in social media have the potential to impact all areas of life, from history and technology to media and the government.

“A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people’s hands,” he wrote. “But today, many people have lost faith in that promise.”

In 2017 Zuckerberg and his platform came under fire for many issues, including Facebook’s role in the spread of fake news and promotion of thousands of Russia-linked ads amidst the election. Since then the company has taken several initiatives to improve the site, but Zuckerberg says he hopes to work with experts in 2018 to keep making things better: “This will be a serious year of self-improvement and I’m looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together.”

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Facebook’s new facial recognition efforts help blind users know exactly who’s in photos

Facebook is working to make its platform even more accessible for blind users and people with low vision.

In a series of updates announced Tuesday, the company revealed that it will begin using its already-existing face recognition technology to identify people in photographs for Facebook users with screen readers.

Facebook’s director of applied machine learning, Joaquin Candela, wrote in a blog post that the new feature will use face recognition alongside the platform’s automatic alt-text tool, which launched in 2016.

Using artificial intelligence and the same face recognition technology that makes suggestions during the tagging process, the alt-text tool describes scenery, objects, animals, and people in photographs to those with vision loss. Prior to 2016, users could only hover their cursor over an image and simply hear the term “photo.” However, the alt-text tool was limited to sharing the number of people present in the photo, rather than their identities.

Now, in addition to reading the photo’s sharing details, caption, and a visual description, Facebook is able to analyze the pixels in photos on the News Feeds to let blind users know which friends are in each image — regardless of whether people are tagged. 

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“It was one of the most popular requests we had from people when we first showed them automatic alt-text a year and a half ago,” said Matt King, accessibility specialist in UI engineering at Facebook and the man behind the technology.

When asked how this update accounts for any potential inaccuracies in face recognition, a Facebook spokesperson said the system performs a check to ensure it’s not tagging someone who simply resembles another person.

“We compare the face that is being used for authentication against your profile picture, and other photos and videos that you’re tagged in on Facebook,” the spokesperson said. “We apply a certainty threshold to check if it’s really you, not someone who looks like you.”

A life-changing impact 

For King, who is Facebook’s first blind engineer, these advancements have drastically improved the way he communicates with others online. 

“I signed up for Facebook back in 2009, before there was an accessibility team,” he said. “At that time it was an extremely challenging experience because the basic foundation of accessibility wasn’t present.”

King recalled how difficult it was for him to use the site, explaining he once spent an entire Saturday morning trying to locate his list of friends to figure out if he needed to send a particular individual a friend request.

“That was a multi-hour process,” he said. “Now? That task is like it is for everybody else — it’s a 30-second task.”

Janni Lehrer-Stein, a disability rights advocate who is legally blind, recently went down to Facebook’s offices to test the feature herself, and feels the efforts are a tremendous step toward inclusion.

“This is so exciting for people who are blind or low vision. It’s really hard to describe.”

“This is so exciting for people who are blind or low vision and it’s really hard to describe,” said Lehrer-Stein, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on Disability in 2011. “With this new innovation you know who the people in photographs are and you can put those people in context and then really be able to understand and participate.”

Like King, Lehrer-Stein said that prior to Facebook’s accessibility-focused technology, she felt isolated when using the platform and couldn’t properly participate in online conversations.

“For me, it was virtually impossible to understand conversations that went around these visual images, whether they were of my family or friends or colleagues,” she said. “It’s important for us to understand that inclusion goes along with tolerance and compassion, and that this technology is going to open the door to millions and millions of people to be able to make contributions. That will make the world a much better place.”

What’s on the horizon?

King said that in the future, Facebook will work toward forming actual sentences in photo descriptions, rather than simply listing objects and people detected. To achieve this, he plans to continue developing recognizable concepts like actions, activities, people, objects, and scenes. 

“The ultimate goal is to give people who are visually impaired or blind equal access to visual information.”

Another goal is to make the photographs interactive, so users can ask the system any lingering questions. 

“If a photo tells me my friend Jason is in the photo, what you might be able to ask is, ‘What’s Jason’s hair color?’ or, ‘What shirt is he wearing today?'”

Finally, King hopes the technology will one day be able to clearly communicate the message of memes, or photos that have text on top of them. 

“The ultimate goal is to give people who are visually impaired or blind equal access to visual information. That’s a long way off, but that’s the vision,” he said.

Facebook tackles privacy issues

In addition to the increased accessibility, Facebook is also introducing new optional features related to safety and security. With the updates, Facebook says users will be given additional control over maintaining their identities, and can even turn off facial recognition.

If users choose to enable the features using the on/off control, they can be notified when photos of themselves are uploaded by someone in their “audience.”

“You’re in control of your image on Facebook and can make choices such as whether to tag yourself, leave yourself untagged, or reach out to the person who posted the photo if you have concerns about it,” Candela wrote in Tuesday’s blog post. 

And in the future, facial recognition will be used to inform people when someone else uploads a profile photo of them, in an effort to avoid impersonations.

Image: facebook

Image: facebook

The features will roll out to most Facebook users, except those where Facebook doesn’t utilize face recognition technology, such as Canada and the EU.

UPDATE: Dec. 19, 2017, 1:14 p.m. EST This post has been updated to include information about Facebook’s process of confirming facial recognition.

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A totally doable, not so intimidating self-care survival guide to 2018

After an October week from hell — when allegations against Harvey Weinstein first began to unravel, Donald Trump threatened to take aid away from Puerto Rico, women boycotted Twitter, and historic wildfires destroyed California — I splurged on a large Blue Raspberry Icee and sat alone in a 12:15 p.m. Saturday showing of Marshall. I turned my phone all the way off, and over the course of the next two hours I ugly cried in the dark.

Afterwards, I drove to a bookstore and spent $82.47. I went home, applied a face mask and collapsed onto my bed, escaping into the pages of one of my new books for hours. I met my friend for dinner, cherished every single bite of a cheeseburger, rushed back to my pillow, and fell asleep before watching re-runs of The Mindy Project.

This was my own personal form of self-care.

For so many, self-care has been the unsung savior of 2017. You’ve probably heard the term thrown around daily, but learning exactly what it means and why it’s so essential will help to better practice it in the new year.

Am I doing this thing right?

Self-care methods — personalized rituals that allow people to take a step back from this messy world to prioritize their well-being and preserve their mental health — differ for each individual and in each scenario, so there’s really no right or wrong.

For Hillary Clinton self-care could mean anything from frantic closet cleaning, long walks in the woods, and playing with her dogs, to yoga or sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine. For Michael Phelps, who’s conquered the pressures of Olympic competition but has struggled with depression and anxiety over the years, it’s working out or heading to the golf course. The only constant is that methods of self-care must benefit and focus on you.

“A lot of times people will say ‘I spend time with my kids,’ which is great and meaningful but that’s still taking care of somebody else,” said Monnica Williams, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor at University of Connecticut’s Department of Psychological Sciences. “When you self-care it’s really about you recharging.”

Self-care isn’t selfish

Some people abstain from self-care for fear that their behavior would come across as selfish. They simply can’t resist the urge to put other people first.

According to a 2017 “Women’s Wellness Report” from Everyday Health, which studied 3,000 women from ages 25 to 65 in the U.S., 76 percent of women said they were were more likely to put their own personal needs after someone else’s. However, more than half of the participants said that taking time for themselves was the greatest factor in achieving wellness. (Disclosure: Mashable and Everyday Health are owned by the same company, Ziff Davis.) 

“You can’t be the best you in any other contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

“It’s essential for your mental health and your physical health,” Williams said, noting that self-care is anything but selfish. “You can’t be the best you in any other contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

“I heard someone say that it’s like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane emergency before putting one on a child,” added Crystal Park, another professor at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Psychological Sciences. 

“The healthier and more resilient we are, the more effective we can be in our lives.”

Heading into 2018 with some solid self-care guidelines will help you better manage your stress and survive whatever challenges are in store, so here are a few to keep in mind.

Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day

Your mental health is important, but it’s also extremely easy to ignore. When your job gets too overwhelming or events in your personal life prevent or distract you from doing your best work in the office it’s time to take a step back.

For inspiration, look no further than one of 2017’s viral personal tales: the story of Olark CEO Ben Congleton advocating for his employee after learning she’d taken time off for mental health reasons.

After Congleton’s understanding email sparked discussion about mental health in the workplace, he wrote a post on Medium further emphasizing the need to normalize it.

When you are at work, take additional steps to make your environment a place of comfort. Personalize your desk with a plant, a framed photo of something that makes you smile, or set the mood with a tiny lamp. 

And every so often, book a conference room for lunch with your coworkers to share pizza and a cake you buy for the sole reason of craving cake. Work will still be there when your lunch break ends, but taking time to clear your head is crucial.

Give social media and screens a rest

Social media usage often starts with the intention of getting caught up on current events and quickly spirals into a black hole of negativity.

“So many people are plugged in and instantly alerted to everything that is happening in the news in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago,” said Dr. Carolyn Mazure, director of Women’s Health Research at Yale.

While platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been proven to take a toll on self-esteem and mental health, social media isn’t all bad.

Here are a few ways to make online communities safer spaces for you:

  • Follow encouraging accounts like Janelle Silver‘s, who promotes her self-care-themed Etsy store.

  • Unfollow people on Facebook. (This helps you to remain friends with them but hides their posts from your timeline.)

  • Turn off push notifications.

  • Use Twitter’s mute feature to shield yourself from triggering words.

Transform your cell phone into a self-care hub 

While it’s healthy to disconnect from technology every so often, when you do have your phone by your side these tips can help make the experience more enjoyable.

  • Make use of your Do Not Disturb function.

  • Free up some storage space by parting with old text messages you have no intention of ever revisiting, deleting unused apps and contacts, and loading all photos and videos onto your laptop so you’re left with an empty album.

  • Download self-care apps related to deep breathing, meditation, list-making, and maybe even a relaxing game or two, like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

  • Create empowering or soothing playlists so you can easily listen to mood-lifting music on-the-go.

Treat Yo Self, but treat others, too

No matter how small, make a daily attempt to treat yourself to an experience or a purchase that’ll brighten your mood.

Get a pedicure or massage, take a hot bath, go for a walk around the block, go out with friends, or cancel plans to stay in on a Friday night to recharge and binge-watch mindless television, if that’s what you need.

And while being good to oneself is key, Park noted “balance is important” in self-care, and making an effort to give back to others often helps people feel better. Consider volunteering, or clean out your closets and drawers to donate unwanted items to charity.

Put positivity on display

One form of self-care can be as simple as not being so hard on yourself all the time. It sounds simple, but it can be a serious challenge at times. Visual reminders can help.

When in doubt, turn to this handy self-care printable, titled “Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay.” The checklist presents 16 questions for you to answer and serves as a helpful reminder to stay hydrated, shower, participate in physical activity, and be kind to yourself.

Keep a copy of the printout in your bag for comfort or hang it somewhere you know you’ll see it.  (Mashable HQ has one on the wall of the women’s restroom.)

Affirmations are another great way to be kind to yourself and can serve as help. Glancing at inspirational quotes, uplifting doodles, or a few words of positivity can lift your spirits. The Mashable women’s restroom also has a few on display. (Very good restroom.)

Image: nicole gallucci/mashable

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Though the term self-care sounds like an isolated practice, it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re someone who struggles to commit to individual self-care routines, or simply takes enjoyment from the company of others, spending time with and opening up to a friend, loved one, therapist, or even reaching out to the Crisis Text Line could be extremely beneficial.

Just know that you’re not alone in your stress and professionals are out there to help. 

“Certainly, if possible, try to see a stressful situation as an opportunity to grow, and consider the power of reorienting how you confront a stressful situation when it arrives,” Mazure said.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Oh no, not again,’ perhaps a good self-care perspective might be, ‘I’ve seen stress before. I’ve got this.'”

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources. 

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