All posts in “Conversations”

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.”

Https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads%2fvideo uploaders%2fdistribution thumb%2fimage%2f82913%2f3a5c77e4 acf7 4502 8e87 212134a9f7f5

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. 

Https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads%2fvideo uploaders%2fdistribution thumb%2fimage%2f83841%2f18f4f017 0d03 43b3 a44e 3d14e2d3d835

“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.

Https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads%2fvideo uploaders%2fdistribution thumb%2fimage%2f83296%2fdc6b2a84 d236 439a 96c5 d7367ce2ca65

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. 

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2017%2f10%2fd18dbf23 7852 3e8c%2fthumb%2f00001

Florida man hacked Uber in 2016

The hacker behind Uber's massive 2016 data breach has been  revealed.
The hacker behind Uber’s massive 2016 data breach has been  revealed.

Image: David Ramos/Getty Images

A report from Reuters finally revealed the person behind Uber’s massive 2016 data breach: a 20-year-old man from Florida. Florida Man, you might say.

A source told the publication that the man responsible for the hack — which Uber revealed in a November blog post had affected 57 million customers around the world — was reportedly “living with his mom in a small home trying to help pay the bills.” 

The man was able compromise a hefty amount of personal data including millions of names, email addresses, and phone numbers of both drivers and riders.

After learning of the breach, Uber’s now ousted security team paid the hacker $100,000 through “bug bounty” program HackerOne — typically used to pay people who point out software flaws. The hacker agreed to delete the data and not come forward about what he had done..

Sources told Reuters that the company ensured the data had been removed by performing a “forensic analysis of the hacker’s machine,” and made him sign a nondisclosure agreement promising he won’t participate in any “further wrongdoing.”

It was also reported that the Florida hacker paid a second person to help access Uber credentials from GitHub.

Since the hack, two Uber security officials have been fired and others, including former president Jeff Jones have resigned.

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2017%2f11%2fad301314 fbaa 0e8d%2fthumb%2f00001

James Comey throws shade at Flynn and Trump with first Instagram post

Former FBI Director James Comey smiling at the thought of justice.
Former FBI Director James Comey smiling at the thought of justice.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As hellfire prepares to rain down on the White House, former FBI Director James Comey is chillin’, you know, just getting his Instagram on.

After news broke that Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia, Comey responded by posting his first Instagram and trolling the men with a biblical verse about justice.

“‘But justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ Amos 5:24,” Comey captioned a photo of Great Falls Park in Virginia, one which he’s shared on social media before.

In a previous tweet Comey called Amos 5:24 his “favorite scripture verse,” and said it reminds him of this image of the Great Falls. 

Flynn resigned back in February following reports that he had lied about communication with Russia prior to Trump taking office. Then, Comey was fired by Trump in May, which raised a few red flags seeing as the FBI was investigating potential ties between Trump’s administration and Russian government officials. 

Comey explained in a written memo that the day after Flynn resigned, Trump asked him to let any investigation surrounding Flynn to go, and later testified about his interactions with Trump to the Senate Intelligence Committee in June.

After Comey’s wild White House ride it’s pretty clear to see how Friday’s news could inspire him to sub-Instagram for joy about justice.

His Instagram handle, a_higher_loyalty, references the title of his upcoming book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” that’s expected to be released in Spring 2018.

Image: screengrab//instagram

It’s been a big year for Comey and social media, after the man recently revealed he is the owner of a highly speculated secret Twitter account where he used to go by the name Reinhold Niebuhr.

This is just the start of Comey’s Instagram presence — at the time of writing this article he only had a mere 10,000 followers, compared to his 442,000 Twitter followers — but maybe one day his trolling will reach Pete Souza levels.

Https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads%2fvideo uploaders%2fdistribution thumb%2fimage%2f83258%2f0b5c9ecd 8f07 4841 a526 19fb42f03320