Social issues involving home computing Archive

Gizmodo examines the weaponisation of a Twitter hashtag

Article

How The #DanLiedPeopleDied Hashtag Reveals Australia’s ‘Information Disorder’ Problem | Gizmodo

My Comments

I read in Gizmodo how an incendiary hashtag directed against Daniel Andrews, the State Premier of Victoria in Australia, was pushed around the Twittersphere and am raising this as an article. It is part of keeping HomeNetworking01.info readers aware about disinformation tactics as we increasingly rely on the Social Web for our news.

What is a hashtag

A hashtag is a single keyword preceded by a hash ( # ) symbol that is used to identify posts within the Social Web that feature a concept. It was initially introduced in Twitter as a way of indexing posts created on that platform and make them easy to search by concept. But an increasing number of other social-Web platforms have enabled the use of hashtags for the same purpose. They are typically used to embody a slogan or idea in an easy-to-remember way across the social Web.

Most social-media platforms turn these hashtags in to a hyperlink that shows a filtered view of all posts featuring that hashtag. They even use statistical calculations to identify the most popular hashtags on that platform or the ones whose visibility is increasing and present this in meaningful ways like ranked lists or keyword clouds.

How this came about

Earlier on in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an earlier hashtag called #ChinaLiedPeopleDied was working the Social Web. This was underscoring a concept with a very little modicum of truth that the Chinese government didn’t come clear about the genesis of the COVID-19 plague with its worldwide death toll and their role in informing the world about it.

That hashtag was used to fuel Sinophobia hatred against the Chinese community and was one of the first symptoms of questionable information floating around the Social Web regarding COVID-19 issues.

Australia passed through the early months of the COVID-19 plague and one of their border-control measures for this disease was to have incoming travellers required to stay in particular hotels for a fortnight before they can roam around Australia as a quarantine measure. The Australian federal government put this program in the hands of the state governments but offered resources like the use of the military to these governments as part of its implementation.

The second wave of the COVID-19 virus was happening within Victoria and a significant number of the cases was to do with some of the hotels associated with the hotel quarantine program. This caused a very significant death toll and had the state government run it to a raft of very stringent lockdown measures.

A new hashtag called #DanLiedPeopleDied came about because it was deemed that the Premier, Daniel Andrews, as the head of the state’s executive government wasn’t perceived to have come clear about any and all bungles associated with its management of the hotel quarantine program.

On 14 July 2020, this hashtag first appeared in a Twitter account that initially touched on Egyptian politics and delivered its posts in the Arabic language. But it suddenly switched countries, languages and political topics, which is one of the symptoms of a Social Web account existing just to peddle disinformation and propaganda.

The hashtag had laid low until 12 August when a run of Twitter posts featuring it were delivered by hyper-partisan Twitter accounts. This effort, also underscored by newly-created or suspicious accounts that existed to bolster the messaging, was to make it register on Twitter’s systems as a “trending” hashtag.

Subsequently a far-right social-media influencer with a following of 116,000 Twitter accounts ran a post to keep the hashtag going. There was a lot of very low-quality traffic featuring that hashtag or its messaging. It also included a lot of low-effort memes being published to drive the hashtag.

The above-mentioned Gizmodo article has graphs to show how the hashtag appeared over time which is worth having a look at.

What were the main drivers

But a lot of the traffic highlighted in the article was driven by the use of new or inauthentic accounts which aren’t necessarily “bots” – machine operated accounts that provide programmatic responses or posts. Rather this is the handiwork of trolls or sockpuppets (multiple online personas that are perceived to be different but say the same thing).

As well, there was a significant amount of “gaming the algorithm” activity going on in order to raise the profile of that hashtag. This is due to most social-media services implementing algorithms to expose trending activity and populate the user’s main view.

Why this is happening

Like with other fake-news, disinformation and propaganda campaigns, the #DanLiedPeopleDied hashtag is an effort to sow seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt while bringing about discord with information that has very little in the way of truth. As well the main goal is to cause a popular distrust in leadership figures and entities as well as their advice and efforts.

In this case, the campaign was targeted at us Victorians who were facing social and economic instability associated with the recent stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19’s intense reappearance, in order to have us distrust Premier Dan Andrews and the State Government even more. As such, it is an effort to run these kind of campaigns to people who are in a state of vulnerability, when they are less likely to use defences like critical thought to protect themselves against questionable information.

As I know, Australia is rated as one of the most sustainable countries in the world by the Fragile States Index, in the same league as the Nordic countries, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand. It means that the country is known to be socially, politically and economically stable. But we can find that a targeted information-weaponisation campaign can be used to destabilise a country even further and we need to be sensitive to such tactics.

One of the key factors behind the problem of information weaponisation is the weakening of traditional media’s role in the dissemination of hard news. This includes younger people preferring to go to online resources, especially the Social Web, portals or news aggregator Websites for their daily news intake. It also includes many established newsrooms receiving reduced funding thanks to reduced advertising, subscription or government income, reducing their ability to pay staff to turn out good-quality news.

When we make use of social media, we need to develop a healthy suspicion regarding what is appearing. Beware of accounts that suddenly appear or develop chameleon behaviours especially when key political events occur around the world. Also be careful about accounts that “spam” their output with a controversial hashtag or adopt a “stuck record” mentality over a topic.

Conclusion

Any time where a jurisdiction is in a state of turmoil is where the Web, especially the Social Web, can be a tool of information warfare. When you use it, you need to be on your guard about what you share or which posts you interact with.

Here, do research on hashtags that are suddenly trending around a social-media platform and play on your emotions and be especially careful of new or inauthentic accounts that run these hashtags.

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WhatsApp to allow users to search the Web regarding content in their messages

WhatsApp Search The Web infographic courtesy of WhatsApp

WhatsApp to allow you to search the Web for text related to viral messages posted on that instant messaging app

Article

WhatsApp Pilots ‘Search the Web’ Tool for Fact-Checking Forwarded Messages | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Search The Web (blog post)

My Comments

WhatsApp is taking action to highlight the fact that fake news and disinformation don’t just get passed through the Social Web. Here, they are highlighting the use of instant messaging and, to some extent, email as a vector for this kind of traffic which has been as old as the World Wide Web.

They have improved on their previous efforts regarding this kind of traffic initially by using a “double-arrow” icon on the left of messages that have been forwarded five or more times.

But now they are trialling an option to allow users to Google the contents of a forwarded message to check their veracity. One of the ways to check a news item’s veracity is whether one or more news publishers or broadcasters that you trust are covering this story and what kind of light they are shining on it.

Here, the function manifests as a magnifying-glass icon that conditionally appears near forwarded messages. If you click or tap on this icon, you start a browser session that shows the results of a pre-constructed Google-search Weblink created by WhatsApp. It avoids the need to copy then paste the contents of a forwarded message from WhatsApp to your favourite browser running your favourite search engine or to the Google app’s search box. This is something that can be very difficult with mobile devices.

But does this function break end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp implements for the conversations? No, because it works on the cleartext that you see on your screen and is simply creating the specially-crafted Google-search Weblink that is passed to whatever software handles Weblinks by default.

An initial pilot run is being made available in Italy, Brazil, Ireland (Eire), UK, Mexico, Spain and the USA. It will be part of the iOS and Android native clients and the messaging service’s Web client.

WhatsApp could evolve this function further by allowing the user to use different search engines like Bing or DuckDuckGo. But they would have to know of any platform-specific syntax requirements for each of these platforms and it may be a feature that would have to be rolled out in a piecemeal fashion.

They could offer the “search the Web” function as something that can be done for any message, rather than only for forwarded messages. I see it as being relevant for people who use the group-chatting functionality that WhatsApp offers because people can use a group chat as a place to post that rant that has a link to a Web resource of question. Or you may have a relative or friend who simply posts questionable information as part of their conversation with you.

At least WhatsApp are adding features to their chat platform’s client software to make it easer to put the brakes on disinformation spreading through it. This could he something that could be investigated by other instant-messaging platforms including SMS/MMS text clients.

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A digital watermark to identify the authenticity of news photos

Articles

ABC News 24 coronavirus coverage

The news services that appear on the “screen of respect” that is main TV screen like the ABC are often seen as being “of respect” and all the screen text is part of their identity

TNI steps up fight against disinformation  | Advanced Television

News outlets will digitally watermark content to limit misinformation | Engadget

News Organizations Will Start Using Digital Watermarks To Combat Fake News |Ubergizmo

My Comments

The Trusted New Initiative are a recently formed group of global news and tech organisations, mostly household names in these fields, who are working together to stop the spread of disinformation where it poses a risk of real-world harm. It also includes flagging misinformation that undermines trust the the TNI’s partner news providers like the BBC. Here, the online platforms can review the content that comes in, perhaps red-flagging questionable content, and newsrooms avoid blindly republishing it.

ABC News website

.. as well as their online presence – they will benefit from having their imagery authenticated by a TNI watermark

One of their efforts is to agree on and establish an early-warning system to combat the spread of fake news and disinformation. It is being established in the months leading up to the polling day for the US Presidential Election 2020 and is flagging disinformation were there is an immediate threat to life or election integrity.

It is based on efforts to tackle disinformation associated with the 2019 UK general election, the Taiwan 2020 general election, and the COVID-19 coronavirus plague.

Another tactic is Project Origin, which this article is primarily about.

An issue often associated with fake news and disinformation is the use of imagery and graphics to make the news look credible and from a trusted source.

Typically this involves altered or synthesised images and vision that is overlaid with the logos and other trade dress associated with BBC, CNN or another newsroom of respect. This conveys to people who view this online or on TV that the news is for real and is from a respected source.

Project Origin is about creating a watermark for imagery and vision that comes from a particular authentic content creator. This will degrade whenever the content is manipulated. It will be based around open standards overseen by TNI that relate to authenticating visual content thus avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to developing any software for this to work.

One question I would have is whether it is only readable by computer equipment or if there is a human-visible element like the so-called logo “bug” that appears in the corner of video content you see on TV. If this is machine-readable only, will there be the ability for a news publisher or broadcaster to overlay a graphic or message that states the authenticity at the point of publication. Similarly, would a Web browser or native client for an online service have extra logic to indicate the authenticity of an image or video footage.

I would also like to see the ability to indicate the date of the actual image or footage being part of the watermark. This is because some fake news tends to be corroborated with older lookalike imagery like crowd footage from a similar but prior event to convince the viewer. Some of us may also look at the idea of embedding the actual or approximate location of the image or footage in the watermark.

There is also the issue of newsrooms importing images and footage from other sources whose equipment they don’t have control over. For example, an increasing amount of amateur and videosurveillance imagery is used in the news usually because the amateur photographer or the videosurveillance setup has the “first images” of the news event. Then there is reliance on stock-image libraries and image archives for extra or historical footage; along with newsrooms and news / PR agencies sharing imagery with each other. Let’s not forget media companies who engage “stringers” (freelance photographers and videographers) who supply images and vision taken with their own equipment.

The question with all this, especially with amateur / videosurveillance / stringer footage taken with equipment that media organisations don’t have control over is how such imagery can be authenticated by a newsroom. This is more so where the image just came off a source like someone’s smartphone or the DVR equipment within a premises’ security room. There is also the factor that one source could tender the same imagery to multiple media outlets, whether through a media-relations team or simply offering it around.

At least Project Origin will be useful as a method to allow the audience to know the authenticity and provenance of imagery that is purported to corroborate a newsworthy event.

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ABC touches on fake news and disinformation in an educational video series

Video Series TV, VHS videocassette recorder and rented video movies

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Behind The News – Media Literacy Series

How To Spot Fake News (Click or tap to play in YouTube)

Which News Sources Can Be Trusted (Click or tap to play in YouTube)

What Makes News, News (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

How To Spot Bias In The Media (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

Dishonesty, Accuracy And Ethics In The Media (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

My Comments

Regularly, I cover on HomeNetworking01.info the issue of fake news and disinformation. This is because of our consumption of news and information being part of our online lives thanks to the ubiquity and affordability of the Intermet.

I have highlighted the use of online sources like social media, Web portals, search engines or news aggregators as our regular news sources along with the fact that it is very easy to spread rumour and disinformation around the world thanks to the ease of publishing the Web provides. As well, it is easy for our contacts to spread links to Web resources or iterate messages in these resources via the Social Web, emails or instant-messaging platforms.

This issue has become of concern since 2016 when fake news and disinformation circulating around the Web was used to distort the outcome of the UK’s Brexit referendum and the US election that brought Donald Trump in to the presidency of that country.

Kogan Internet table radioSince then, I have covered efforts by the tech industry and others to make us aware of fake news, disinformation and propaganda such as through the use of fact-checkers or online services implementing robust data-security and account-management policies and procedures. It also includes articles that encourage the use of good-quality traditional media sources during critical times like national elections or the coronavirus and I even see the issue of being armed against fake news and disinformation as part of data security.

The ABC have run a video series as part of their “Behind The News” schools-focused TV show about the media which underscores the value of media literacy and discerning the calibre of news that is being presented. On Tuesday 6 July 2020, I watched “The Drum” and one of the people behind this series described it as being highly relevant viewing for everyone no matter how old we are thanks to the issue of fake news and disinformation being spread around the Web.

It is part of their continued media-literacy efforts like their “Media Watch” TV series run on Monday nights which highlights and keeps us aware of media trends and issues.

In that same show, they even recommended that if we do post something that critiques a piece of fake news or disinformation, we were to reference the material with a screenshot rather than sharing a link to the content. This is because interactions, link shares and the like are often used as a way to “game” social-network and search-engine algorithms, making it easier to discover the questionable material.

The first video looked at how and why fake news has been spread over the ages such as to drive newspaper sales or listenership and viewership of broadcasts. It also touched on how such news is spread including taking advantage of “thought and social bubbles” that we establish. As well, one of the key issues that was highlighted was fact that fake news tends to be out of touch with reality and to encourage us to research further about the article and who is behind it before taking it as gospel and sharing it further.

This second video of the series that touches on the quality of news and information sources that can be used to drive a news story. It examines the difference between the primary sources that provide first-had information “from the horse’s mouth” and secondary sources that evaluate or interpret the information.

It also touches on whether the news source is relying primarily on secondary sources or hearsay vs expert or authoritative testimony. They raise the legitimacy of contrasting opinion like academic debate or where there isn’t enough real knowledge on the topic. But we were warned about news sources that are opinion-dominant rather than fact-dominant. Even issues like false equivalence, bias or use of anonymous sources were identified along with the reason behind the source presenting the information to the journalist or newsroom.

This video even summed up how we assess news sources by emphasising the CRAP rule – Currency (how recent the news is), Reliability (primary vs secondary source as well as reliability of the source), Authority (is the source authoritative on the topic) and Purpose (why was the news shared such as biases or fact vs opinion).

The third video in the series talks about what makes information newsworthy. This depends on who is reporting it and the consumers who will benefit from the information. It also covered news value like timeliness, frequency of occurrence, cultural proximity, the existence of people in the public spotlight along with factors like conflict or the tone of the story. It completely underscored why and how you are told of information that could shape your view of the world.

The fourth video looks at bias within the media and why it is there. The reasons that were called out include to influence the way we think or vote or what goods or services we buy. It also includes keeping the media platform’s sponsors or commercial partners in a positive light, a media platform building an increasingly-large army of loyal consumers, or simply to pander to their audience’s extant biases.

It also looked at personal biases that affect what we consume and how we consume it, including the “I-am-right” confirmation bias, also known as the “rose-tinted glasses” concept. Even looking at how people or ideas are represented on a media platform, what kind of stories appear in that platform’s output including what gets top place; along with how the stories are told with both pictures and words can highlight potential biases. There was also the fact that a personal bias can be influenced to determine what we think of a media outlet.

The last of the videos looks at honesty, accuracy and ethics within the realm of media. It underscores key values like honest, accurate, fair, independent and respectful reporting along with various checks and balances that the media is subject to. Examples of these include the protections that the law of the land offers like the tort of defamation, contempt of court and similar crimes that protect the proper role of the courts of justice, hatred-of-minority-group offences and right-to-privacy offences. There is also the oversight offered by entities like broadcast-standards authorities and press councils who have effective clout.

The legal references that were highlighted were primarily based on what happens within Australia while British viewers may see something very similar there due to implied freedom of speech along with similarly-rigourous defamation laws. The USA may take slightly different approaches especially where they rely on the First Amendment of their Constitution that grants an express freedom of speech.

But it sums up the role of media as a check on the powerful and its power to shine a light on what needs to be focused on. The series also looks at how we can’t take the media for granted and need to be aware of the way the news appears on whatever media platform we use. This is although there is primary focus on traditional media but in some ways it can also be a way to encourage us to critically assess online media resources.

The video series underscores what the news media is about and covers this issue in a platform-agnostic manner so we don’t consider a particular media platform or type as a purveyor of fake or questionable news. As well, the series presents the concepts in a simple-to-understand manner but with the use of dramatisation in order to grab and keep our attention.

Here, I often wonder whether other public-service or community broadcasters are running a similar media-literacy video program that can be pitched at all age levels in order to encourage the communities they reach to be astute about the media they come across.

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Google fact-checking now applies to image searches

Articles

Google search about Dan Andrews - Chrome browser in Windows 10

Google to add fact checking to images in its search user interfaces

Google adds a fact check feature for images | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Bringing fact check information to Google Images (Blog Post)

My Comments

Increasingly, images and video are being seen as integral to news coverage with most of us seeing them, especially photographs, of importance when corroborating a fact or news story.

But these are becoming weaponised to tell a different truth compared to what is actually captured by the camera. One way is to use the same or a similar image to corroborate a different fact, with this including the use of image-editing tools to doctor the image so it tells a different story.

I have covered this previously when talking about the use of reverse-image-search tools like Tineye or Google Image Search to verify the authenticity of an image and . It will be the same kind of feature that Google has enabled in its search interface when you “google” for something, or in its news-aggregation platforms.

Google is taking this further for people who search for images using their search tools. Here, they are adding images to their fact-check processes so it is easy to see whether an image has been used to corroborate questionable information. You will see a “fact-check” indicator near the image thumbnail and when you click or tap on the image for a larger view or more details, you will see some details about whether the image is true or not.

A similar feature appears on the YouTube platform for exhibiting details about the veracity of video content posted there. But this feature currently is available to users based in Brazil, India and the USA and I am not sure whether it will be available across all YouTube user interfaces, especially native clients for mobile and set-top platforms.

It is in addition to Alphabet, their parent company, offering a free tool to check whether an image has been doctored. This is because meddling with an image to constitute something else using something like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP is being seen as a way to convey a message that isn’t true. The tool, called Assembler, uses artificial intelligence and algorithms that detect particular forms of image manipulation to indicate the veracity of an image.

But I would also see the rise of tools that analyse audio and video material to identify deepfake activity, or video sites, podcast directories and the like using a range of tools to identify the authenticity of content made available through them. This may include “fact-check” labels with facts being verified by multiple newsrooms and universities; or the content checked for out-of-the-ordinary editing techniques. It can also include these sites and directories implementing a feedback loop so that users can have questionable content verified.

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Keeping those videoconferencing platforms relevant beyond the pandemic shutdown

As various jurisdictions around the world are “peeling back” the various stay-at-home restrictions once they are sure they have the coronavirus plague under control in their territory, we could easily see our love for many-to-many videoconferencing wane. It can be more so when the barriers are fully down and we are confident about going out and about, or travelling long-distance.

But these many-to-many video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms do not need to be ignored once we can go out. It is more about keeping these platforms in continual relevance beyond the workplace and as part of personal and community life.

How can you keep these platforms relevant

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Are these multi-party video conferences going to die out when the all-clear to meet face-to-face and to travel is given?

Family and friends

Do you have members of your family or community who are separated by distance? Here, each family cluster who can meet up at a particular venue in their local area can implement Zoom, Skype or a similar platform to create a wide-area meetup amongst the clusters. It can also extend to remote members of that family or community using these platforms to “call in” and join the occasion.

This situation will be very real with us taking baby steps to getting back to what we used to do, including long-distance travel. Initially long-distance travel will be put off due to fears of newer coronavirus infections on crowded transport modes like economy-class airline cabins along with countries putting off opening their borders and enabling long-distance domestic travel until they are sure that the Covid-19 beast is under control.

If one of us moves to a place that is a long distance away like overseas or interstate, these videoconferencing platforms become even more relevant as a tool to “keep in touch with home”. For example, once that person has settled in to their home, they could use a smartphone, tablet or highly-portable laptop computer to take those of us who are “at home” on a tour of their new premises.

Similarly, an event like an engagement or “wetting the new baby’s head” that is typically celebrated by small groups of relatives or friends who get together to celebrate with a toast to the lucky couple or parents can be taken further. Here, these small clusters could effectively “join up” as part of a larger virtual cluster involving the people whom the occasion is about in order to celebrate together.

Education

For education, distance learning can continue to be made relevant especially for people who can’t attend the class in person. This includes underserved rural and remote communities, people who are in hospital and similar places or itinerant students. There can also be a blended-learning approach that can be taken where a class can both be face-to-face and remote.

Teachers can use videoconferencing to teach classes at the school even if they are home due to illness, caring for relatives or similar situations. It is important for those teachers who place value in curriculum continuity for their students no matter what. Foreign-language teachers who are engaging in personal travel to the country associated with the language they are teaching can use aspects of the trip for curriculum enrichment. With this they could “call in” to their classes at home from that country and engage with the country’s locals or demonstrate its local culture and idiosyncrasies.

A school’s student-exchange program can also benefit from videoconferencing by having remote exchange students able to “call in” to their home school. With this the students could share their experiences and knowledge about the remote location with their “home” class.

To the same extent, a school could link up with one or more guest speakers so that speaker can enrich the class with extra knowledge and experiences. It can even help those schools who can’t afford frequent field trips especially long-distance trips to be able to benefit from knowledge beyond the classroom.

Community Worship

In the worship context, videoconferencing technology can be about allowing mission workers to call their home church and present their report to their home congregation by video link. It can even appeal towards multiple-campus churches who want to be part of these video links.

This technology is still relevant to those small Bible-study / prayer / fellowship groups that are effectively smaller communities within a church’s community. Here, these groups could maintain videoconferencing as a way to allow members separated from the group on a temporary basis to effectively “call in” and participate during the meetups. In some cases where one of these groups becomes too large that they “break up” to smaller groups, they could implement the many-to-many videoconferencing technologies to host larger group meetups on an occasional basis.

Of course there are the key occasions that are part of a religious community’s life like the weddings or funerals. Here, it could be feasible to provide a video link-up so that people who can’t attend the services associated with these events in person due to ill-health or long-distance can view them on line.

As well, the supporting parties associated with these events can become global shared celebrations comprising of multiple local celebration clusters using video-link technology. This is more so with families and communities who are split up by distance but want to celebrate together.

Other community organisations who thrive on being close-knit could easily see the multi-party video-conference as being relevant especially for members who are far-flung from where they usually meet. As well, those who have presence in multiple geographic areas can exploit the likes of Zoom or Skype to make ad-hoc virtual meetings that don’t cost much to organise.

What can be done

Increased support for group videocalling on the big screens

If a mobile-platform vendor has an investment in their mobile platform along with a set-top-box platform (that’s you, Apple with your iOS and Apple TV, and Google with your Android and Chromecast), they could work towards enabling their set-top platform towards group videophone functionality.

Here, this idea would require the smartphone or tablet, which has the contact list and the user-interface for the videocalling platforms like Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger; to be able to manage the calls while a camera attached to the top of the TV is linked to the set-top box which works with the videocalling platform as a screen, camera, speakers and microphone.

I wrote in a previous article about this idea and the two ways it can be done. One of these is to have a lean software interface in both devices that link the smartphone to the set-top box and have the caller’s face and voice on the TV with the camera linked to the set-top box bringing your face and voice to the caller. The smartphone would then run the videocalling platform, allowing the user to control the call from that device.

The other is to have the videocalling platform software on the set-top box with the ability to use the smartphone to manage accounts, callers and the like from its surface. This is similar to how DIAL is being used by Netflix and YouTube to permit users to “throw” content from smartphones or computers to smart TVs and set-top devices equipped with client software for these platforms.

Conclusion

The videoconferencing platforms of the Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms ilk can be of use beyond the pandemic shutdown, serving as a way to bridge distance and bring communities together.

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Safe computing practices in the coronavirus age

Coronavirus Covid-19

The coronavirus plague is having us at home, inside and online more….
(iStock by Getty Images)

The Covid-19 coronavirus plague is changing our habits more and more as we stay at home to avoid the virus or avoid spreading it onwards. Now we are strongly relying on our home networks and the Internet to perform our work, continue studying and connect with others in our social circles.

But this state of affairs is drawing out its own cyber-security risks, with computing devices being vulnerable to malware and the existence of hastily-written software being preferred of tasks like videoconferencing. Not to mention the risk of an increasing flow of fake news and disinformation about this disease.

What can we do?

General IT security

But we need to be extra vigilant about our data security and personal privacy

The general IT security measures are very important even in this coronavirus age. Here, you need to make sure that all the software on your computing devices, including their operating systems are up-to-date and have the latest patches. It also applies to your network, TV set-top and Internet-of-Things hardware where you need to make sure the firmware is up-to-date. The best way to achieve this is to have the devices automatically download and install the revised software themselves.

As well, managing the passwords for our online services and our devices properly prevents the risk of data and identity theft. It may even be a good idea to use a password vault program to manage our passwords which may prevent us from reusing them across services.  Similarly using a word processor to keep a list of your passwords which is saved on removeable media and printed out, with both the hard and electronic copy kept in a secure location may also work wonders here.

Make sure that your computer is running a desktop / endpoint security program, even if it is the one that is part of the operating system. Similarly, using an on-demand scanning tool like Malwarebytes can work as a way to check for questionable software. As well, you may have to check the software that is installed on all of the computing devices is what you are using and even verify with multiple knowledgeable people if that program that is the “talk of the town” should be on your computer.

If you are signing up with new online services, it may even be a better idea to implement social sign-on with established credential pools like Google, Facebook or Microsoft. These setups implement a token between the credential pool and the online service as the authentication factor rather than a separate username and password that you create.

As well, you will be using the Webcam more frequently on your computing devices. The security issue with the Webcam and microphone is more important with computing setups that have the Webcam integrated in the computer or monitor, like with portable computing devices, “all-in-one” computers or monitors equipped with Webcams.

Here, you need to be careful of which programs are having access to the Webcam and microphone on your device. Here, if newly-installed software asks for use of your camera or microphone and it is out of touch with the way the software works, deny access to the camera or microphone when it asks for their use.

If you install a health-department-supplied tracking app as part of your government’s contact-tracing and disease-management efforts, remember to remove this app as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over. Doing this will protect your privacy once there is no real need to manage the disease.

Email and messaging security

Your email and messaging platforms will become an increased security risk at this time thanks to phishing including business email compromise. I have covered this issue in a previous article after helping someone reclaim their email service account after a successful phishing attempt.

An email or message would be a phishing attempt if the email isn’t commensurate with proper business writing standards for your country, has a sense of urgency about it and is too good to be true. Once you receive these emails, it is prudent to report them then delete them forthwith.

In the case of email addresses from official organisations, make sure that the domain name represents the organisation’s proper domain name. This is something that is exactly like the domain name they would use for their Web presence, although email addresses may have the domain name part of the address following the “ @ “ symbol prepended with a server identifier like “mail” or “email”. As well, there should be nothing appended to the domain name.

Also, be familiar with particular domain-name structures for official organisation clusters like the civil / public service, international organisations and academia when you open email or surf the Web. These will typically use protected high-level domain name suffixes like “.gov”, “.int” or “.edu” and won’t use common domain name suffixes like “ .com “. This will help with identifying whether a site or a sender is the proper authority or not.

Messaging and video-conferencing

Increasingly as we stay home due to the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus plague, we are relying on messaging and video-conferencing software more frequently to communicate with each other. For example, families and communities are using video-conferencing software like Zoom or Skype to make a virtual “get-together” with each other thanks to these platforms’ support for many-to-many videocalls.

But as we rely on this software more, we need to make sure that our privacy, business confidentiality and data security is protected. This is becoming more important as we engage with our doctors, whether they be general practitioners or specialists, “over the wire” and reveal our medical issues to them that way.

If you value privacy, look towards using an online communications platform that implements end-to-end encryption. Infact, most of the respected “over-the-top” communications platforms like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and iMessage offer this feature for 1:1 conversations between users on the same platform. Some, like WhatsApp and Viber offer this same feature for group conversations between users on that same platform.

Video-conferencing software like Zoom and Skype

When you are hosting a video-conference using Zoom, Skype or similar platforms, be familiar with any meeting-setup and meeting-management features that the platform offers. If the platform uses a Weblink to join a video-conference that you can share, use email or a messaging platform to share that link with potential participants. Avoid posting this on the Social Web so you keep gatecrashers from your meeting or class.

As well, if the platform supports password-protected meeting entry, use this feature to limit who can join the meeting. Here, it is also a good idea to send the password as a separate message from the meeting’s Weblink.

Some platforms like Zoom offer a waiting-room function which requires potential participants to wait and be vetted by the conference’s moderator before they can participate. As well these platforms may have a meeting-lockout so no more people can participate in the video-conference. Here, you use this function when all the participants that you expect are present in the meeting.

You need to regulate the screen sharing feature that your platform offers which allows meeting participants to share currently-running app or desktop user interfaces. Here, you may have the ability to limit this function to the moderator’s computer or a specified participant’s computer. Here this will prevent people from showing offensive imagery or videos to all the meeting’s participants. As well, you may also need to regulate access to any file-sharing functionality that the platform offers in order to prevent the video conference becoming a vector for spreading malware or offensive material.

Fake news and disinformation

Just like with the elections that count, the coronavirus issue has brought about its fair share of fake news and disinformation.

Here, I would recommend that you use trusted news sources like the respected public-service broadcasters for information about this plague. As well, I would recommend that you visit respected health-information sites including those offered “from the horse’s mouth” by local, regional or national government agencies for the latest information.

As well, trust your “gut reaction” when it comes to material that is posted online about the coronavirus plague, including the availability of necessary food or medical supplies. Here, he careful of content that is “out of reality” or plays on your emotions. The same attitude should also apply when it comes to buying essential supplies online and you are concerned about the availability and price of these supplies.

Conclusion

As we spend more time indoors and online thanks to the coronavirus, we need to keep our computing equipment including our tablets and smartphones running securely to protect our data and our privacy.

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Reverse image searching–a very useful tool for verifying the authenticity of content

Tineye reverse image search

Tineye – one of the most popular and useful reverse image search tools

Article

How To Do A Reverse Image Search From Your Phone | PCMag

My Comments and further information

Increasingly, most of us who regularly interact with the Internet will be encouraged to perform reverse-image searches.

This is where you use an image you supply or reference as a search term for the same or similar images on other Internet resources. It can also be about identifying a person or other object that is in the image.

Increasingly this is being used by people who engage in online dating to verify the authenticity of the person whom they “hit” on in an online-dating or social-media platform. It is due to romance scams where “catfishing” (pretending to be someone else in order to attract people of a particular kind) is part of the game. Here, part of the modus operandi is for the perpetrator to steal pictures of other people that match a particular look from photo-sharing or social-media sites and use these images in their profile.

It also is being used as a way to verify the authenticity of a product being offered for sale through an online second-hand-goods marketplace like eBay, Craigslist or Gumtree. It also extends to short-term house rentals including AirBnB where the potential tenant wants to verify the authenticity of the premises that is available to let.

As well, reverse image searching is being considered more relevant when it comes to checking the veracity of a news item that is posted online. This is very important in the era of fake news and disinformation where online images including doctored images are being used to corroborate questionable news articles.

How do you do a reverse image search?

At the moment, there are a few reverse-image-search engines that are available to use by the ordinary computer user. These include Tineye, Google Image Search, Bing Visual Search, Yandex’s image search function and Social Catfish’s reverse-image-search function.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

A regular computer like this Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 makes it easier to do a reverse image search thanks to established operating system and browser code and its user interface.

The process of using these services involves you uploading the image to the service including using “copy-and-paste” techniques or passing the image’s URL to an address box in the search engine’s user interface. The latter method implies a “search-by-reference” method with the reverse-image-search site loading the image associated with that link into itself as its search term.

Using a regular desktop or laptop computer that runs the common desktop operating systems makes this job easier. This is because the browsers offered on these platforms implement tabs or allow multiple sessions so you can run the site in question in one tab or window and one or two reverse-image-search engines in other tabs or windows.

These operating systems also maintain well-developed file systems and copy-paste transfer algorithms that facilitate the transfer of URLs or image data to these reverse-image-search engines. That will also apply if you are dealing with a native app for that online service such as the client app offered by Facebook or LinkedIn for Windows. As well, Chrome and Firefox provide drag-and-drop support so you can drag the image from that Tinder or Facebook profile in one browser session to Tineye running in the other browser session.

But mobile users may find this process very daunting. Typically it requires the site to be opened and logged in to in Chrome or Safari then opened as a desktop version which is the equivalent of viewing it on a regular computer. For Chrome, you have to tap on the three-dot menu and select “Request Desktop Site”. For Safari, you have to tap the upward-facing arrow to show the “desktop view” option and select that option.

Then you open the image in a new tab and copy the image’s URL from the address bar. That is before you visit Google Image Search or Tineye to paste the URL in that app’s interface.

Google has built in to recent mobile versions of Chrome a shortcut to their reverse-image-search function. Here, you “dwell” on the image with your finger to expose a pop-up menu which has the “Search Google For This Image” option. The Bing app has the ability for you to upload images or screenshots for searching.

Share option in Google Chrome on Android

Share option in Google Chrome on Android

If you use an app like the Facebook, Instagram or Tinder mobile clients, you may have to take a screenshot of the image you want to search on. Recent iOS and Android versions also provide the ability to edit a screenshot before you save it thus cutting out the unnecessary user-interface stuff from what you want to submit. Then you open up Tineye or Google Image Search in your browser and upload the image to the reverse-image-search engine.

How can reverse image searching on the mobile platforms be improved

What can be done to facilitate reverse image searching on the mobile platforms is for reverse-image-search engines to create lightweight apps for each mobile platform. This app would make use of the mobile platform’s “Share” function for you to upload the image or its URL to the reverse-image-search engine as a search term. Then the app would show you the results of your search through a native interface or a view of the appropriate Web interface.

Share dialog on Android

A reverse-image-search tool like Tineye could be a share-to destination for mobile platforms like iOS or Android

Why have this app work as a “share to” destination? This is because most mobile-platform apps and Web browsers make use of the “share to” function as a way to take a local or online resource further. It doesn’t matter whether it is to send to someone else via a messaging platform including email; obtain a printout or, in some cases, stream it on the big screen via AirPlay or Chromecast.

The lightweight mobile app that works with a reverse-image-search engine answers the reality that most of us use smartphones or mobile-platform tablets for personal online activity. This is more so with social media, online dating and online news sources, thanks to the “personal” size of these devices.

Conclusion

What is becoming real is reverse image searching, whether of particular images or Webpages, is being seen as important for our security and privacy and for our society’s stability.

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NewsGuard to indicate online news sources’ trustworthiness

Articles

Untrustworthy news sites could be flagged automatically in UK | The Guardian

From the horse’s mouth

NewsGuard

Home Page

My Comments

Google News screenshot

Google News – one of the way we are reading our news nowadays

Since 2016 with the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential Election that caused outcomes that were “off the beaten track”, a strong conversation has risen up about the quality of news sources, especially online sources.

This is because most of us are gaining our news through online resources like online-news aggregators like Google News, search engines like Google or Bing, or social networks like Facebook or Twitter. It is while traditional media like the newspapers, radio or TV are being seen by younger generations as irrelevant which is leading to these outlets reducing the staff numbers in their newsrooms or even shutting down newsrooms completely.

What has been found is that this reliance on online news and information has had us become more susceptible to fake news, disinformation and propaganda which has been found to distort election outcomes and draw in populist political outcomes.

Increasingly we are seeing the rise of fact-checking groups that are operated by newsrooms and universities who verify the kind of information that is being run as news. We are also seeing the electoral authorities like the Australian Electoral Commission engage in public-education campaigns regarding what we pass around on social media. This is while the Silicon-Valley platforms are taking steps to deal with fake news and propaganda by maintaining robust account management and system-security policies, sustaining strong end-user feedback loops, engaging with the abovementioned fact-check organisations and disallowing monetisation for sites and apps that spread misinformation.

Let’s not forget that libraries and the education sector are taking action to encourage media literacy amongst students and library patrons. With this site, I even wrote articles about being aware of fake news and misinformation during the run-up to the UK general election and the critical general elections in Australia i.e. the NSW and Victoria state elections and the Federal election which were running consecutively over six months.

Google News on Chrome with NewsGuard in place

NewsGuard highlighting the credibility of online news sources it knows about on Google News

But a group of journalists recently worked on an online resource to make it easy for end-users to verify the authenticity and trustworthiness of online news resources. NewsGuard, by which this resource is named, assesses the online news resources on factors like the frequency it runs with false content; responsible gathering and presentation of information; distinguishing between news and opinion / commentary; use of deceptive headlines and proper error handling. Even factors that affect transparency like ownership and financing of the resource including ideological or political leanings of those in effective control; who has effective control and any possible conflicts of interest; distinction between editorial and advertising / paid content; and the names of the content creators and their contact or biographical information.

NewsGuard in action on Google Chrome - detail with the Guardian

The NewsGuard “pilot light” on Chrome’s address bar indicating the trustworthiness of a news site

End-users can use a plug-in or extension for the popular desktop browsers which will insert a “shield” behind a Weblink to a news resource indicating whether it is credible or not, including whether you are simply dealing with a platform or general-info site or a satire page. They can click on the shield icon to see more about the resource and this resource is even described in an analogous form to a nutrition label on packaged foodstuffs.

For the Google Chrome extension, there is also the shield which appears on the address bar and changes colour according to how the Web resource you are reading has been assessed by NewsGuard. It is effectively like a “pilot light” on a piece of equipment that indicates the equipment’s status such as when a sandwich toaster is on or has heated up fully.

NewsGuard basic details screen about the news site you are viewing

Basic details being shown about the trrustworthiness of online news site if you click on NewsGuard “pilot light”

It is also part of the package for the iOS and Android versions of Microsoft Edge but it will take time for other mobile browsers to provide this as an option.

NewsGuard is a free service with it gaining a significant amount of funding from the Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program. This is a program that is about protecting democratic values like honest and fair elections.

It is also being pitched towards the online advertising industry as a tool to achieve a brand-safe environment for brands and advertisers who don’t want anything to do with fake news and disinformation. This will be positioned as a licensable data source and application-programming interface for this user group to benefit from. Libraries, educational facilities, students and parents are also being encouraged to benefit from the NewsGuard browser add-ons as part of their media-literacy program and curriculum resources.

Detailed "Nutrition Label" report from NewsGuard about The Guardian

Click further to see a detailed “nutrition label” report about the quality and trustworthiness of that online news resource

But I see it also of benefit towards small newsrooms like music radio stations who want to maintain some credibility in their national or international news coverage. Here, they can make sure that they use news from trusted media resources for their news output like the “top-of-the-hour” newscast. Students, researchers, bloggers and similar users may find this of use to make sure that any media coverage that they cite are from trustworthy sources.

The UK government are even considering this tool as a “must-have” for Internet service providers to provide so that British citizens are easily warned about fake news and propaganda. It is in the same approach to how users there can have their ISPs provide a family-friendly “clean feed” free of pornography or hate speech.

It is now being rolled out around the rest of Europe with France and Italy already on board with this service for their mastheads. Germany is yet to come on board but it could be a feasible way to have other countries speaking the same language climbing on board very quickly such as having Germany, Austria and Switzerland come on board very quickly once German presence is established.

As NewsGuard rolls out around the world, it could effectively become one of the main “go-to” points to perform due-diligence research on that news outlet or its content. It will also become very relevant as our news and information is delivered through podcasts and Internet-delivered radio and TV broadcasts or we use Internet-connected devices to receive our news and information.

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Australian media raises the issue of fake celebrity and brand endorsements

Article

Event page for spammy Facebook event

Facebook is one of many online platforms being used for fake celebrity and brand endorsements

Networks warn of fake ads, scams. | TV Tonight

Media Watch broadcast on this topic | ABC

My Comments

An issue that has been called out at the end of April this year is the improper use of endorsements by celebrities and brands by online snake-oil salesmen.

ABC’s Media Watch and TV Tonight talked of this situation appearing on Facebook and other online advertising platforms. Typically the people and entities being affected were household names associated with the “screen of respect” in the household i.e. the TV screen in the lounge room. It ranged from the free-to-air broadcasters themselves including the ABC who adheres strictly to the principles established by the BBC about endorsement of commercial goods and services, as well as TV shows like “The Project” or “Sunrise”, or TV’s key personalities like Eddie McGuire and Jessica Rowe.

Lifehacker Website

…. as are online advertising platforms

Typically the ads containing the fake endorsements would appear as part of Facebook’s News Feed or in Google’s advertising networks, especially the search-driven Adwords network. I also see this as being of risk with other online ad networks that operate on a self-serve process and offer low-risk high-return advertising packages such as “cost-per-click-only” deals and had called this out in an earlier article about malvertisement activity.

There has been recent investigation activity by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission concerning the behaviour of the Silicon Valley online-media giants and their impact on traditional media around the world. It will also include issues relating to Google and its control over online search and display advertising.

Facebook have been engaging in efforts to combat spam, inauthentic account behaviour and similar activity across its social-network brands. But they have found that it is a “whack-a-mole” effort where other similar sites or the same site pops up even if they shut it down successfully. I would suspect that a lot of these situations are based around pages or ads linking to a Website hosted somewhere on the Internet.

A question that was raised regarding this kind of behaviour is whether Facebook, Google and others should be making money out of these scam ads that come across their online platforms. This question would extend to the “estate agents” and “landlords” of cyberspace i.e. the domain-name brokers and the Webhosts who offer domain names or Webhosting space to people to use for their online presence.

There is also the idea of maintaining a respectable brand-safe family-and-workplace-friendly media experience in the online world which would be very difficult. This issue affects both the advertisers who want to work in a respectable brand-safe environment along with online publishers who don’t want their publications to convey a downmarket image especially if the invest time and money in creating quality content.

As we see more ad-funded online content appear, there will be the call by brands, publishers and users to gain control over the advertising ecosystem to keep scam advertising along with malvertisements at bay along with working against ad fraud. It will also include verifying the legitimacy of any endorsements that are associated with a brand or personality.

A good practice for advertisers and publishers in the online space would be to keep tabs on the online advertising beheaviour that is taking place. For example, an advertiser can keep reporting questionable impressions of their advertising campaigns including improper endorsement activity while a publisher can report ads for fly-by-night activity that appear in their advertising space to the ad networks they use. Or users could report questionable ads on the Social Web to the various social network platforms they see them appear on.

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