Combating Online Extremism

The internet has proven to be wonderful in many respects, particularly in the way it has made communication so quick and simple. Unfortunately, it also has its darker aspects. That ability to get a message out with little expense or expertise has allowed those with radical agendas to reach a much wider audience than their predecessors just 20 years ago.

Online recruiting has been cited as a key way in which groups get new members and radicalize those who might not be able to travel to areas of the world where such groups flourish. The spread of divisive, distorted propaganda can also be used to turn the tide against sections of the population that these groups wish to target.

Social media providers like Facebook and Twitter have policies in place to deal with such material when it arises on their sites. However, when people alert a provider about an offensive post, it can take time for someone to check and pull it down.

Video sites such as YouTube and Google are also having their own issues. Free speech rules vary country-by-country and what might be free speech in some regions could be seen as inflammatory rhetoric in others. Thus, videos have to be analyzed carefully in order to determine whether they cross the line and do indeed violate site regulations. Because of the vagaries involved in reviewing content, there isn’t really any way currently for such monitoring to be automated.

That said, these providers continue to do their best. Google announced plans to step up its efforts by doubling the number of independent experts that it uses to identify and flag such troubling material. This would allow said content to be removed faster, thus reducing its potential audience. In the area of videos, Google also plans to step up its efforts to either take down or content flag material that is in violation of its user policies.

3D Heading for the Scrap Heap?

3D first appeared on movie screens in the 1950s via Arch Oboler’s surprise hit BWANA DEVIL (1952), which promised and delivered a lion in your lap. However, thanks to the difficulty of having two projectors running in perfect sync at all times, there were numerous technical problems that led to eyestrain, headaches, and audience dissatisfaction. Within two years, 3D was dead.

It resurfaced periodically throughout the next three decades, thanks to isolated films appearing and doing well, particularly the softcore comedy THE STEWARDESSES (1969) and and the gruesome import ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN (1974). The 1981 spaghetti western COMIN’ AT YA! did well enough to spark another 3D boom but, once again, flawed presentations and mediocre movies caused the format to fizzle again within a couple of years.

The technology took a big jump in quality, thanks to James Cameron’s hugely successful AVATAR (2009). Digital 3D delivered much better quality, less eyestrain, and, theoretically, less presentation problems for exhibitors. However, audience interest has dropped off considerably in recent years. The technology may be partially to blame once again, but the main problem is that very little of interest is being down with 3D. Outside of animated features aimed at kids, very little comes out of the screen. Sure, there is depth, but how interesting is that on its own?

Most audiences now view 3D as little more than an excuse to hike up the ticket price and many now avoid the format. However, studios are still putting out 3D product and exhibitors often limit the number of 2D showings, making some pick 3D more out of convenience than interest.

3D TV was greeted with much interest a few years back, but while the technology was considerably improved over the old anaglyphic system, interest waned once again and the format died. As of 2017, no manufacturers are still producing 3D televisions. The new 4K format could easily accommodate 3D as well, but no one is including it.

The revenue percentage from 3D screenings has also dipped, but that is not yet the case in Europe or Asia, so it is premature to call the format dead. However, virtual reality seems the more likely successor.


The New York Times vs Trolls

One of the great things about the internet is the way in which communicating with other people becomes so much easier. Also, this interaction can lead to productive debates that help to increase the knowledge and understanding of those participating.

Unfortunately, there are also those people who use the anonymity of the net to cause trouble. The most common of these “trolls” are the ones who place pointlessly negative and abusive comments on websites. While it has faltered a bit in popularity, the Times remains a prominent news site that attracts many visitors. While there are are still many worthwhile comments on their stories, there is also an inordinate amount of junk.

The unenviable task of going through this dross has been the responsibility of a team of employees. Would you want to look at 12,000 comments a day? Probably not, and I suspect that most of these people would rather be in another department.

Regardless, the Times has prided itself on making sure that its comments sections emphasize quality over quantity. That approach continues with their addition of Moderator, a new technology that will aid in the fight against trolls.

Moderator uses machine learning technology to prioritize those comments that are more worthwhile over those that are merely spam or pointless and combative. Moderator is also sophisticated enough that it can automatically approve some comments without the need for human input.

In short, Moderator scans the comment and awards it a summary score based on the likelihood that one of the Times human moderators would reject it. The employees then use that score to prioritize those comments. The paper hopes that the reduction of negativity will help to spur reader engagement, which will also help their traffic and advertising revenue.

The Times’ full statement on their addition of Moderator can be found here.

Watch Out, Identity Thieves: Your Mouse Movement Can Give You Away

Identity theft is one of the scourges of the internet era. It creates a huge hassle for victims that can takes ages (and cost a lot of money) to clean up.

However, it looks like a new form of software may prove helpful in catching people when they are using their mouse for less than legal activities. Scientists at the University of Padova used 40 people in a survey that asked them to participate in a quiz where they would reveal some personal details.  20 were told to answer truthfully, while the rest were given a profile of made-up details to memorize.

While they answered 12 questions, a software program kept track of the ways in which the participants moved their mouse. The program’s analysis revealed that the mouse movements used by the honest people differed from ones encouraged to lie. Everyone was also asked some yes/no questions to answer and the liar group was told to tell the truth on these.

All of this data allowed the scientists to come to an interesting conclusion: the mouse movements of the lying group were less direct than the truthful participants.

This is a new and interesting way of catching fraudsters. While it is still best to come up with ways that prevent identity theft in the first place, if it is still going to happen, then the faster the criminal is apprehended, the better.

Identity theft remains of significant concern to Canadian authorities. While victims of this sort of crime become aware faster, it is taking longer to clear their name and get their credit status back to normal.

Do you think you might be a victim of identity theft? Here is a handy checklist of the steps you should take, courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. That page also contains information that will help ensure this never happens to you.