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News January 9, 2023

Lawsuit Filed Against Meta, Snap, TikTok for Mental Health Crisis

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Lawsuit Filed Against Meta, Snap, Tiktok for Mental Health Crisis

Seattle’s public school district has filed a lawsuit against social media giants Alphabet, Meta Platforms, Snap, and TikTok-owner ByteDance in the US District Court. The complaint, filed on Friday, claims that these tech giants intentionally designed their platforms to lure young people, leading to a mental health crisis.

Also read: ChatGPT banned in NYC Schools, Stack Overflow, WeChat

Data shows that the United States has more than 300 million social media users, ranking third after China and India. More than 80% of people aged 18–29 use social media in the United States, and TikTok is the most popular social media app.

“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” the lawsuit said.

However, in emailed statements to Reuters, social media platforms claimed they’re prioritizing the safety of children.

Snap said it works closely with mental health organizations and that the mental health of the community is a priority, while Google said it does not leave any room for doubt in ensuring the creation aof safe experiences for children across its platforms, and has introduced “strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well-being.”

Students with mental health issues are performing poorly and require treatment from trained personnel.

Demand for compensation

The 92-page complaint demands compensation for monetary damage. The public schools are forced to hire trained personnel to treat affected students in person.

“Defendants’ growth is a product of choices they made to design and operate their platforms in ways that exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their users into spending more and more time on their platforms. These techniques are both particularly effective and harmful to the youth audience,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit states that from 2009 to 2019, there was an average increase of 30% in the number of students at Seattle public schools who reported feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities.”

“The argument that we deliberately push content that make people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” Mark Zuckerberg commented on the matter.

“We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed,” he added.

Not just kids are affected

People are calling out in support of Seattle Public Schools in social media.

“It’s not just kids it’s causing problems for. Just spend 10 minutes on twitter to see the hate and vileness it’s created,” user Gump tweeted in a response to the Reuters News.

Another user tweeted “It is a no brainer, Tik-Tok and Facebook are causing some serious social damage. But as parents we all need to be held equally responsible,” in response to same news.

In 2021, following testimony by whistle-blower Frances Haugen, US lawmakers accused Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, of prioritizing profits over children’s mental health. Facebook has consistently denied Haugen’s claim that the company failed to protect teenage girls on Instagram.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.

Metaverse

The Weekly Metaverse Review: Apple Cancels, Microsoft turns to Mesh, Tokens Go Up

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The Weekly Metaverse Review: Apple Cancels, Microsoft turns to Mesh, Tokens Go Up
The newsweek in the Metaverse, according to Midjourney AI.

MetaNews picks through another week of Metaverse hype with equal amounts of hope and skepticism as we chart a path through difficult waters to our brave new virtual world.

Here are the stories that made landfall this week on the metaverse review.

Canceled Apple of my eye

This week Apple announced that its mixed-reality headset will arrive as promised, but its follow-up product – Apple Glass – has been suspended indefinitely.

Apple Glass was originally scheduled for 2023 before being delayed to 2025. The company has now kicked the product into the long grass. Goodbye Apple Glass.

Apple will now seek to bring a less expensive, but not widely affordable, product to market in the nearer term. Apple’s premium mixed-reality device is set to cost $3,000. The less expensive option will look to compete with Meta’s mixed-reality device which retails for $1,500.

Metaverse hype counterproductive

Regular readers of MetaNews will know that there is no shortage of hype to be found in the metaverse and with metaverse-related topics.

With that hype comes raised expectations, which are sometimes difficult to meet in the shorter term. Alexandra Kuzmina, innovation consultant at Nova MMR, summed up the phenomenon in a panel session for The Market Research Society’s (MRS) Metaverse conference earlier this month.

“There has been no shortage of hype,” admitted Kuzmina as reported by ResearchLive on Thursday. “It is important to remind ourselves that what we see currently are only the fragments of what eventually will become the metaverse. There is a tendency today to believe the fragments, such as VR and augmented reality, are actually the metaverse.”

As for what happens when those fragments coalesce, Kuzmina went on to add, “I wouldn’t bet against the metaverse dream just yet.”

A real Microsoft Mesh

Software giant Microsoft has been making great progress in the field of artificial intelligence lately, but in virtual reality and the metaverse it appears to be doing less well.

The company has announced it plans to close its AltspaceVR and Mixed Reality Tool Kit, as part of a company-wide cost-cutting exercise that will see the company shed 10,000 jobs.

The news comes just one week after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stated, “I don’t think Web3 was that big or that Metaverse stuff alone was revolutionary, but AI is quite revolutionary.”

AltspaceVR is hardly a landmark product for Microsoft. The VR firm was acquired in 2017 for an undisclosed fee after falling into difficulties, and the change of management seems to have done little to turn things around.

Microsoft now plans to ‘sunset’ – corporate speak for shut down – the platform on March 10. Those AltspaceVR staff lucky enough to hold on to their jobs will be folded into the team bringing Microsoft Mesh, the company’s new VR and videoconferencing product, to market.

Should Mesh ever become successful perhaps Gates will change opinion on which technologies he is willing to consider revolutionary.

The Weekly Metaverse Review: Apple Cancels, Microsoft turns to Mesh, Tokens Go Up

Decentraland (MANA) is among the metaverse tokens doing well (Source: CoinGecko)

MANA, SAND, RBLX perform well

Crypto-metaverse projects have performed well over the course of January with the Decentraland (MANA) token at $0.662239, up 105.7% over the previous 30 days, and Sandbox (SAND) at $0.727717, up 65.6% over the same period.

Outside of the cryptosphere, the Roblox (RBLX) share price now stands at $35.97, up 36.6% on the month. That’s seriously good price action for an industry that mainstream media outlets continually write off.

My brain is my weapon

Twitch streamer Perri Karyal has posted videos showing using a brain wave (EEG) interface to control her character in the popular role-playing game Elden Ring.

It’s the sort of claim that provokes curiosity and skepticism in equal measure, even if Karyal does seem genuine. Controlling computerized avatars through brainwave interfaces is the subject of ongoing experimentation, but so far, the level of control remains limited.

Fortnite to lead the charge, maybe

A recent survey conducted by Game Developers Conference (GDC) found that game developers have most confidence in Epic Games to deliver the Metaverse. Of the 2,300 respondents to the poll, 14% believe that Fortnite’s creators will charge to victory in the sector.

Of the runners up Meta and Microsoft took joint second position with 7% of the vote each, while Roblox claimed 5%. Google and Apple both received a paltry 3% of the vote.

The survey also found that 45% of respondents believe the metaverse “will never deliver on its promise,” but respondents also confessed to being unclear about what that promise is. 

With that level of confusion, perhaps the survey results can be taken with a significant grain of salt.

Metaverse for mental health?

Interacting with a metaverse avatar may help some people to better cope with social anxiety, or to interact with others. It could also overcome issues of accessibility and affordability according to Psychology Today.

Mental health practitioners are now looking into the potential benefits of breakthrough technologies, but caution is warranted in this highly sensitive field. A recent experiment that leveraged the ChatGPT AI in mental health support at first seemed to yield positive results but ended badly.

On that note, it’s time to call an end to another weekly metaverse round-up. Join us throughout the week for more metaverse and technology-related news.

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Business

FBI Investigating Snapchat over Its Role in Fentanyl Crisis

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FBI Investigating Snapchat over Its Role in Fentanyl Crisis

Snap’s popular photo and text app, Snapchat, is reportedly under investigation by FBI and The Justice Department over its involvement in the distribution of fentanyl. Bloomberg reported that the investigators have been contacting the families of children who died after consuming an overdose of fentanyl-laced pills.

Also Read: Snap’s approach to the metaverse

As evidence from subpoenaed Snapchat posts shows, many teenagers who ordered prescribed painkillers like Percoset received pure fentanyl, and two milligrams is enough to take their lives.

“Big Tech has many problems,” said Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer who works on cases seeking to hold tech platforms accountable for often offline harms. “But the lethal fentanyl sales is not a general Big Tech problem. It’s a Snap-specific problem. Snap’s product is designed specifically to attract both children and illicit adult activity.”

On Wednesday, Goldberg even emphasized Snapchat’s message disappearing and real-time mapping features, which allow users to track their friends.

Not Just Snapchat

Not just Snapchat is the problem, as lawmakers are specious about other platforms as well. “This is not just Snapchat,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla, pointing at the example of fentanyl-laced drug deals over Facebook Messenger, “It’s all these Social Medias.”

However, Meta declined to comment on CNBC’s inquiry, claiming that their service prohibits such trading, as per a spokesperson. Snap’s spokesperson also reiterated and said the company is committed to fight the fentanyl-crisis.

“We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this epidemic,” said the spokesperson, “including by working with other tech companies, public health agencies, law enforcement, families and nonprofits.”

The spokesperson even said that the company has shut down the dealer’s account and blocked search results for drugs.

‘Platform of Choice for Drug Dealers’

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) called on federal authorities to investigate Snapchat, stating it is “the platform of choice for fentanyl drug dealers” last month.

Snapchat’s encrypted technology and message disappearance feature is attracting suppliers, according to NCPC.

“Drug dealers are using American innovation to sell lethal products,” said NCPC Director Paul DelPonte in an open letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The death rate of teenagers by overdose between the ages of 10 and 19 has increased by more than 100%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, the death rate from illegally manufactured fentanyl has increased by 84% in the same time frame.

“In about the same amount of time it takes to read this letter, someone will die from fentanyl poisoning because they purchased a fake pill on a social media platform like Snapchat,” said DelPonte.

According to Statista, more than 89 million people in the United States use Snapchat, with 48% of them being between the ages of 15 and 25. Only in the first half of last year, Snap claimed to have removed more than 270,000 pieces of illicit drug-related content.

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AI

CNET Suspends AI After Publishing a Series of Bad Articles

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CNET AI writes nonsense articles
CNet choose to trust the AI.

From November to January, technology website CNET published a series of financial advice articles written by artificial intelligence (AI), but an audit confirmed that the majority of these pieces contained factual errors, serious omissions, and plagiarised content.

The CNET editorial team failed to catch and correct these errors prior to publication.

CNET suspends disastrous ‘test’

Technology site CNET has admitted to publishing a string of low-quality articles written by artificial intelligence. All of the articles were misleadingly published under the byline “CNET Money Staff,” implying to casual observers that they were the work of a human hand.

On Tuesday CNET confirmed it would end the practice in what it now calls a “test,” of a an “internally designed AI engine.”

The publication offered no apology to its audience for the long list of inaccuracies and wrong financial advice it had printed since November.

“We stand by the integrity and quality of the information we provide our readers,” said CNET.

CNET’s AI engine was tasked with creating financial services explainers and over three month period proceeded to serve up wrong financial information to its readers. Some of the subjects of these articles included topics such as, “What Factors Determine Your Credit Score?” and “What Is a Credit Card Number?”

Under the guise of providing expert information, CNET published a total of 77 AI-written pieces without adequate safeguards. According to the technology outlet, the articles were outlined by human staff members before being written by the AI and were subsequently checked by their editors before final publication. 

Somewhere CNET’s system fell apart. When one of the articles was recently cited for obvious falsehoods, CNET was forced to audit the AI’s body of work. It found that 41 of the 77 pieces required significant corrections. It appears that absolutely everybody took their eye off the ball.

A compendium of nonsense

Included in the errors which made their way to curious CNET readers was the following explanation of how compound interest works.

According to the CNET AI, “if you deposit $10,000 into a savings account that earns 3% interest compounding annually, you’ll earn $10,300 at the end of the first year.”

This certainly sounds exciting, but in reality, an investor would receive the rather smaller sum of $300 of interest over the first year. 

In the same piece, the following explanation of loan repayments is offered: “For example, if you take out a car loan for $25,000, and your interest rate is 4%, you’ll pay a flat $1,000 in interest per year.”

This, again, is completely wrong. Once the person who has taken the loan starts to pay back on a monthly basis, they would only owe interest on the remaining sum. In reality, there is never a year in which the person repaying the loan would ever pay back “a flat $1,000.”

Other basic mistakes and errors are littered across the 41 inaccurate AI articles. For instance, an article on credit card penalties stated the wrong dollar value of a late fee, while a report on certificates of deposit failed to include key information and facts, and an article about prequalification for credit cards was found to contain plagiarised content.

As one former CNET staffer put it, “this is so incredibly disappointing and disheartening, but it’s not surprising. What other choice do you have when you lay off all your talented and loyal writers?”

Humans make ‘mistakes’ too

The editorial line taken by CNET is that AIs, like humans, are prone to making mistakes. Even so, CNET has sought to minimize the scandal by stating that only a small number of their error-strewn articles required “substantial correction.”

It is clear then that the failure at CNET was not one simply of artificial intelligence but of human bosses failing to exercise their better judgment. The heart of the matter lies in why those mistakes were allowed to be made in the first place. 

What motivated CNET to churn out large numbers of partially inaccurate and partially plagiarised articles, and why did the company only reveal its ‘test’ after it had been caught in the act?

It’s worth noting that CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, profits through affiliate advertising programs. When a visitor to one of their sites ultimately purchases a credit card from one of its sites, CNET makes money. Besides CNET the company owns numerous other publications including Bankrate, The Points Guy, and CreditCards.com

Given that the AI articles performed well as SEO bait, CNET’s biggest mistake may have been placing affiliate dollars before the integrity of their own journalistic teams. That, sadly, is a very human mistake indeed.

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