Facebook thinks you should be better at reading the news. In an effort to help, starting Friday, you’ll notice a post appear at the top of your Facebook news feed prompting you to click through to see tips on how to spot “false news.”
“Our purpose here is just to raise awareness about how to think about information critically online,” says Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada. “This is a first step in our efforts to deal with this challenge—it is on the news literacy side.”
To that end, specifically, Facebook has partnered with MediaSmarts, a Canadian media literacy not-for-profit that has developed a new list (available via the Facebook tips page) of the well-known journalistic “Five Ws.” MediaSmart’s Five Ws suggest readers of online news ask questions like why a certain post is being spread around, who posted it—and whether they have an agenda—or where else they might be able to verify information they’ve seen.
“Of course, there’s no way that we can authenticate everything that comes to us through social media, so the first question is when we should authenticate. When do we double-check?” says Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts. One time we should double-check, he says, is “when something seems too good to be true.”
Facebook seems very aware of the position it currently occupies in the greater cultural discussion about news—and, to some extent, facts. It’s not a flattering one.
When the immediate fallout from the U.S. election in November was examined, the most radioactive particles were broadly determined to be so-called ‘fake news’ stories—those shocking headlines so dripping with maximum partisan outrage that well-meaning people on all sides of the ideological spectrum apparently couldn’t help believing and sharing them with their social media networks again and again.
Whether ‘fake news’ really did swing the election toward Donald Trump—or simply away from Hillary Clinton—has yet to be conclusively determined. But, in the weeks following the election, Facebook took seriously the criticism it garnered from having been the primary distribution tool for these posts replete with misinformation or quasi-information.
In an open letter posted in February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote that, in its quest to weed out misinformation, Facebook noted that “in general, if you become less likely to share a story after reading it, that’s a good sign the headline was sensational,” but that “if you’re more likely to share a story after reading it, that’s often a sign of good in-depth content.”
This very well might be true. We don’t know for sure, as Facebook didn’t release any data publicly to support Zuckerberg’s observation. (When asked for it, Facebook pointed to this blog.) But really all that matters is that Facebook has determined it to be true. Chan repeated the same thing, nearly verbatim. And he added that “over time what we’ll want to do as we understand this stuff, is to make sure that where there is something that’s going viral and people are sharing it without having engaged with the content, then those things get severely down-ranked on News Feed.”
On the surface, this seems antithetical to both Facebook’s raison d’etre—as a place to share things with people—and its bottom line. But Chan refutes the idea that Facebook’s ultimate goal is to create a lot of activity around a post, without ever worrying whether people click through to see the story.
“I think that would be the opposite of what we want. What we want is for people to have good content, reliable authentic content that they can engage with on News Feed,” Chan says. “We very much value good engagement and good content on Facebook, so definitely one of our priorities is to make sure that where there is false information, misinformation on our platform, that we understand how it behaves and that we are able to take appropriate enforcement action.”
Missing from this conversation about how to either eradicate misleading or false information posing as news from Facebook, or reduce sensationalist, clickbait-y headlines from reputable news outlets is, of course, the fact that much of the reason all of it exists in the first place is because of Facebook. It’s longstanding ability to make something go “viral” incentivized the very thing it now hopes to squash.
Not that long ago, it thought the full-on democratization of ideas was pretty good.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo
Back in 2012, as Facebook prepared to go public, Zuckerberg wrote another letter—this one to potential investors. He highlighted what kind of world we were living in at that time: one in which a majority of people, via the internet or their mobile phones, had “the raw tools necessary to start sharing what they’re thinking, feeling and doing with whomever they want.”
Back then, Facebook wanted to help people form connections in the hopes that it could “rewire the way people spread and consume information.” The world’s information infrastructure, Zuckerberg wrote, “should resemble the social graph—a network built from the bottom up or peer-to-peer, rather than the monolithic, top-down structure that has existed to date.”
By giving people “the power to share,” he wrote, “we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a number of different scale[s] from what has historically been possible.” Those voices, Zuckerberg predicted, would only increase in number and volume: “They cannot be ignored.” Over time, he continued, “we expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through intermediaries controlled by a select few.”
It is possible that Zuckerberg’s vision has been realized. A massive, global sharing of ideas has indeed happened. But, being a sharing of ideas between humans, it was naturally going to be privy to human conversational failings: hearsay, conjecture, specious arguments, baseless proclamations, just to name a few. In other words, not good or reliable content.
Is it any wonder that we are where we are? It was essentially all part of the plan, in that the plan encouraged people to speak their minds. It just turns out that a lot of the time, people don’t know what they’re talking about.
So what now?
This latest effort by Facebook to change direction—in effect to reverse the tide—is interesting. But there are two things to note.
First, Facebook’s plan does nothing to change the importance given internally to quality content. “Good reporting,” as a report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism put it in March, is still “not currently algorithmically privileged.”
That leads to the second point, which is that this particular move puts the onus on users to figure things out. Facebook might have made a mess of things, it might have—in its design and in what posts it has naturally promoted for years—rewired information consumption, but it’s left up to us to set things right again. Whatever that might mean.
Yet, perhaps that’s the way it should be, for other moves Facebook is making to combat “fake news” could lead us to even weirder territory than we’re in now.
Recently in both the U.S. and Germany, Facebook began testing a flagging system that alerts users to content that might be misinformation. As The Vergereported in December, if at least two fact-checking organizations take issue with a story, users will see a banner reading “Disputed by 3rd Party Fact Checkers,” along with links below it to debunking articles.
Which could mean, with this fact- and news-checking feature in place, and thanks to its incredible size and clout, that Facebook could become the opposite of what Zuckerberg once said it was. We might see things swing entirely the other way. Rather than the disrupter of top-down information, Facebook would become the enforcer of it; the de facto portal through which people feel they must consume the news. For, where else might they be told what information should be read and what should be ignored? Where else in this world will news reading be safe?
When, and if, that tool comes to Canada, it may be trumpeted by Facebook as a thing that will rewire information dissemination again. As a thing that will save us. As a thing, maybe, that seems too good to be true.
But in that case, at least Facebook’s media literacy push will have taught us to double-check it.
An earlier version of this piece contained the suggestion that Facebook is promoting its media literacy effort as a cure-all for ‘fake news’. This piece has been amended to clarify that Facebook is not promoting its current media literacy program as such.
On the heels of Pepsi’s mea culpa comes another doozy, this time in the form of a major skincare company posting and then pulling an advertising campaign criticized as racist (and co-opted by white supremacists) on social media.
Who knew you could make deodorant reek so badly?
You see, while you were reeling from Pepsi’s straight-up implosion, Nivea had also released its Invisible for Black & White deodorant. But just wait ’til you hear the mind-numbing pièce de résistance advertisers of the German skincare giant decided to go with to promote it: “White is Purity.”
It gets worse. The post, which was marketed to the brand’s Middle Eastern followers, featured a photo of the back of a woman’s head with shiny dark hair cascading down her all-white outfit. The caption? “Keep it clean, keep bright. Don’t let anything ruin it, #Invisible.”
With two back-to-back campaigns completely missing the mark like this, it really makes you wonder about the teams vetting these ads before they’re fired out into the great equalizing abyss of the internet and met with universally resounding WTFs the world over.
Nivea has since pulled the ad and halted the entire campaign, issuing a standard apology on Tuesday, a full two days after it was posted. “We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post,” the company said in a statement. “Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of Nivea.”
But of course, the social media damage was already done.
The overt racism in the ad eerily recalls Nivea’s 2011 campaign, in which a well-dressed black man rips off his natural hair under the tagline: “Re-civilize yourself.” At the time, Nivea apologized for the “inappropriate and offensive” campaign. But it doesn’t seem like the brand has learned its lesson.
Here’s the thing, when these kind of instances happen time and again, sorry just doesn’t cut it. If diversity and equal opportunity really are crucial values, start showing it.
Historians say Canada came of age during the First World War, especially during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. But that battle came at a cost with many lives lost, making it the bloodiest day in our military history.
This Sunday is the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, and Canadians will remember those who fought and died in the battle.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge began on Easter Monday, when Canadian Corps started capturing the entrenched German positions on Vimy Ridge in northern France,
The battle began at 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917. While most of the ridge was captured by the afternoon, the entire battleground was under Allied control by April 12. When it was over, 3,598 Canadians were killed and 7,004 were wounded.
This Sunday, ceremonies will be held across in France and across Canada, including at the Fort York National Historic Site in Toronto at 2 p.m. Mayor John Tory will be joined by Premier Kathleen Wynne and Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell. Ahead of the ceremony in Toronto, free events will take place at Fort York over the weekend.
Maple Leafs playoff bound?
The Toronto Maple Leafs will have two more attempts to try to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in four years.
The boys in blue and white lost Thursday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, so will now have battle it out with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. If not, they face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
CN Tower Climb for Nature
Take 1,776 steps towards a future where nature and wildlife thrive this weekend at WWF’s CN Tower Climb for Nature.
The event offers a public climb for friends and family on Saturday, and an ultimate climb challenge for corporate warriors, first responders, extreme sports enthusiasts and other teams on Sunday.
Both climbs begin at 6 a.m. and wrap up at 10 a.m. WWF’s panda mascot will be on hand for photos during the event.
Coffee & Tea Expo
Coffee and tea lovers, rejoice. The Glass Factory on Sudbury Street is hosting its first-ever Coffee & Tea Expo this weekend.
Guests can experience Toronto’s top brews with samples from some of the best indie cafés, discover new beans and recipes, blend their own tea flavours and vote on the city’s best coffee and tea of 2017.
The expo runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $15.
High Park Easter Egg Hunt
With Easter just around the corner, Colborne Lodge is getting a head start on all those egg hunts the weekend before the big day.
Egg hunts will be held every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each hunt costs $3. There will also be egg colouring and other activities to keep the kids busy.
Canada’s Wonderland Lifeguard Job Fair
Calling all lifeguards! Canada’s Wonderland is hosting a lifeguard job fair this Saturday.
Applicants need to be at least 16 years old and have – or be in the process of getting – their Bronze Cross or NL (National Lifeguard) certification. The job fair runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Human Resources building.
Boy Meets World ’90s Party
Travel back to simpler times at Sneaky Dee’s this Saturday night. The restaurant is hosting a Boy Meets World ’90s Party to reminisce about Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and everyone’s favourite teacher, Mr. Feeny.
Sneaky Dee’s will be playing 90’s music all night, from Vanilla Ice to the Backstreet Boys. 90’s attire is encouraged. The party goes from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Partial Line 1 shutdown
If you are planning to head downtown this weekend, part of the Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) line will be off-limits this weekend due to signal upgrades.
Subways won’t be running between St. George and Downsview stations. However, shuttle buses will only run between Lawrence West and Downsview stations because of ongoing construction at street-level.
TTC riders will have to use the east-west streetcar and bus routes to the Yonge portion of Line 1 or the north-south bus routes to Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth).
Wheel-Trans buses will run Downsview and St George stations upon request.
Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War. Some facts about the battle:
The site: Vimy Ridge is a low escarpment in northern France, rising about 150 metres above the countryside. While an unremarkable height normally, it was a military strongpoint, dominating the surrounding lowlands.
The fortress: By 1917, the Germany army had turned the ridge into a fortress studded with concrete pillboxes, deep dugouts and bunkers, festooned with thickets of barbed wire and covered by hundreds of machine guns and artillery pieces. Earlier British and French attacks on the stronghold had failed to budge the defenders and cost about 190,000 casualties.
The Canadians: The Canadian Corps was made up of four divisions under the command of British Lt.-Gen. Sir Julian Byng, known to his colleagues as “Bungo.” They were assigned to take Vimy Ridge as part of a broader offensive. Byng abandoned the idea of a general rush against the enemy. Smaller groups of men were trained to move in short dashes, covered by light machine-guns and showers of grenades. They were taught to go around strongpoints to attack them from the rear or the sides. He also stressed artillery preparation and had engineers excavate tunnels through which soldiers could get close to the front line while being protected from artillery fire. He used a young McGill University engineer, Lt.-Col. Andy McNaughton, to improve methods of pinpointing enemy artillery by triangulating gun flashes and sounds.
The battle: A week before the scheduled attack, hundreds of Canadian and British artillery pieces began firing on the ridge. They pounded it with a million shells, killing men, smashing guns, caving in trenches and bunkers and cutting off supplies in what the defenders called “the week of suffering.” Early on Easter Monday, April 9, the Canadians emerged from their trenches and tunnels. With a stiff wind at their backs blowing snow and sleet into the faces of the Germans, they swept onto the crest and captured the whole ridge except for a rise at one end, known as The Pimple, which fell April 12. The attack was seen as a triumph and a Paris newspaper called it “Canada’s Easter gift to France.” About 40,000 men took part in the actual attack and one in four was killed or wounded (About 3,600 killed, 7,000 wounded).
The monument: In 1922, the French government ceded a tract of land around the ridge to Canada. Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward was commissioned to design and build the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. It took 11 years to finish. The two pylons which tower above the ridgeline and the 20 sculpted allegorical figures are made from almost 6,000 tonnes of limestone. The single largest figure, known as Canada Bereft, is a young women, head bowed, mourning her dead. She was shaped from a single, 30-tonne block. The monument bears the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown.
The inscription: At the base of the memorial, in English and French is an inscription: “To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada.”
The dedication: In July 1936, the memorial was dedicated by King Edward VIII before a crowd of more than 100,000 people, including 6,000 Canadian veterans.
Toronto set a rain record on Thursday and on Friday, the GTA was blanketed with snow.
On April 6, 27.8 millimetres of rain fell at Pearson International Airport. The rainfall broke a record for that date that has stood for more than 70 years. On April 6, 1942, 17.5 millimetres of rain fell at the airport.
But as the temperature fell overnight, it made for a sloppy morning commute on Friday, with snow north of Highway 7 and elsewhere. Two or three centimetres of snow are possible, especially north of the GTA, 680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said.
The weather will clear in the afternoon, CityNews weather specialist Frank Ferragine said, setting up for a nice weekend of sunshine and double-digit highs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada “fully supports the United States’ limited and focused action” in Syria, after an American missile attack on the country in retaliation for this week’s chemical weapons attack which killed at least 80 people.
The U.S. fired almost 60 missiles from two warships on Thursday evening against a government-controlled air base in central Syria.
A spokesperson for National Defence in Ottawa said that Canadian Forces personnel were not involved in the missile strike.
The statement added that Canadian operations in the region remain unchanged.
Global Affairs issued a corresponding statement saying Canada “continues to condemn in the strongest of terms chemical weapons attacks against Syrian civilians” and that Canadian officials have “been in touch” with their U.S. counterparts.
The statement added that Canada supports efforts “to stop these atrocities.”
Trudeau issued a statement early Friday morning:
“Canada fully supports the United States’ limited and focused action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against innocent civilians, including many children. President Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot be ignored. These gruesome attacks cannot be permitted to continue operating with impunity.
“This week’s attack in southern Idlib and the suffering of Syrians is a war crime and is unacceptable. Canada condemns all uses of chemical weapons.
“Canada will continue to support diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria.”
On Thursday, after a day of meetings in New York, Trudeau said Canada strongly condemns the “heinous” chemical weapons attacks against civilians, including children.
Trudeau also promised Canada would be involved in the United Nations process to investigate and punish the perpetrators of the chemical attack, but offered little hint about Canada’s role in any effort to remove Syrian strongman Bashar Assad.
Peel Police are attempting to arrange a bail hearing Thursday night for a 58-year-old American citizen arrested at Pearson International Airport earlier in the day.
Joseph Galaska from Cudahy, Wisconsin was charged with mischief after U.S. Customs Border Protection officials found a mock improvised explosive device (IED) inside his suitcase. He was a passenger on United Airlines flight 547 from Toronto to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Peel Regional Police Explosive Disposal Unit examined the device and determined is was not explosive.
But, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Transport Canada has launched an investigation into the security incident anyway.
In a statement, CBP officials said the mock IED was discovered during inspection at the pre-clearance facility at Pearson. It has since been tested negative for explosives.
“CBP officers immediately notified Canadian Air Transport Security Authority who swabbed the mock IED for explosives with a negative result,” the statement reads.
Authorities inspected the aircraft and re-screened all of the passengers and their baggage before giving the all-clear.
Peel regional police said they are now responsible for the investigation.
U.S. customs said all operations have resumed.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which oversees the running of the airport, said the incident aboard the United airlines flight did not impact other airport operations.
The flight was supposed to depart Pearson at 7 a.m., but after being stuck on the tarmac for four hours, passengers were told they have to get off offloaded to an isolation area. The passengers have since been released from the isolation area.
According to the GTAA website, the flight is now scheduled to depart Pearson at 4 p.m.
Kelsey Kruzel, a passenger on the plane, sent CityNews a video she recorded of the update passengers received from a United representative in the isolation room.
“The issue was there was a passenger whose bags didn’t get cleared from Sao Paolo and it went on the aircraft,” the man told passengers.
Earlier in the day, another passenger on board the flight, told CityNews the plane was sitting on the tarmac since 7 a.m.
“They told us there was going to be a delay based on weather … later they came back and they said there was a security issue but they weren’t very specific as to what it was,” Dal Gemmell told CityNews over the phone. At the time, he was still on the plane.
During the interview, a member of the flight crew could be overheard on the P.A. system telling passengers they have to deplane and take their carry-on luggage with them.
Gemmell said they were being transported onto a bus, which would take them to an isolation area. Passengers have to then be re-screened by customs before re-boarding.
By the time they deplaned, passengers had been on the plane for four hours. Gemmell said they were given several updates during that time but the information kept changing.
First, they were told the plane would be towed to an isolation area. Then, they were told sniffer dogs would be brought on board and then they would deplane. Later, they were told passengers would be taken by bus to an isolation area.
“If there was such a major security breach … why didn’t they get us off the plane earlier,” Gemmell questioned.
Initially, United tweeted that the delay was “due to security screening regulated by the government.”
A United flight from San Francisco to Chicago was also delayed but it was due to a maintenance issue, the airline said.
Smartphones are ultra-capable devices that have proven to be extremely useful when you’re out and need to send an email or download a presentation without access to a computer. Being connected on the go is a must and while some may rely on free Wifi hotspots, most phone users have data plans that offer 3G or LTE service ranging from 100 megabytes a month to a more robust (and pricier) 10 gigabyte bandwidth. There are plenty of data plan deals out there but no matter what you choose, it’s important to stay within your bandwidth limit—otherwise your next monthly phone bill may be several dollars more than you expected. Here are four ways to keep your data usage in check.
1. Be aware of how much you actually use.
Keep track of how much cellular data you really need by downloading an app like My Data Manager (available for Android and iOS) to log your usage. Some smartphones let you keep track of data hogs internally. On iPhones, go to General > Cellular and scroll down to see all your apps and how much data they’ve used since you last refreshed the counter. Try refreshing every month to keep track. You might even have the option of turning off data usage for certain apps, which could come in handy. Finding the root of your overage problem will make combatting the extra few dollars on your monthly bill that much easier.
2. Try the opt-in approach.
If you have a smaller data plan you may want to try the opt-in approach and turn off your data completely.“You’ll still be able to text, you’ll still be able to place calls and receive calls but by default your phone won’t use any of your mobile data and then on those occasional times when you need to look something up on the web or need to use Google maps, go in, turn it on and do what you need to do,” suggests tech expert Simon Cohen. This way you only use your cellular data when you really need it and prevent any background processes from sucking up precious bandwidth when you’re not using your phone.
3. Streaming videos uses more cellular data than you might realize.
“There’s simply no way of consuming video without consuming quite a bit of bandwidth,” says Cohen. “An hour and a half of HD video can easily use up 800 mb to 1 GB of data before you know it.” While browsing your timeline, you may have noticed that social media services like Facebook and Twitter automatically play videos as you scroll past them. Access the settings for the apps and disable this function or enable it for when you’re connected to wifi only to ensure that you don’t waste data without even realizing.
4. Turn off location services.
While your phone’s GPS doesn’t necessarily use data itself, keeping it on means that other apps are constantly using your location (and mobile data) to churn out more information about what’s nearby. Otherwise, you can disable certain apps from using your location to minimize this data-hogging effect.