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Thousands of people harmed by Facebook and Instagram are lost in Meta’s ‘average user’ data – The New Indian Express

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Thousands of people harmed by Facebook and Instagram are lost in Meta's 'average user' data - The New Indian Express

Fall 2021 has been filled with a steady stream of media attention claiming that Meta’s Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram social media platforms are threatening the mental health and wellbeing of users, radicalising, polarizing users and spreading misinformation.

Are these technologies – embraced by billions – killing people and undermining democracy? Or is this just another moral panic?

According to Meta’s PR team and a handful of unruly academics and journalists, there is evidence that social media does not cause harm and the overall picture is unclear. They cite seemingly conflicting studies, imperfect access to data, and the difficulty of establishing causality to support this view.

Some of these researchers surveyed social media users and found that social media use appears to have at most minor negative impacts on individuals. These results seem inconsistent with years of journalistic coverage, Meta’s leaked internal data, common sense intuition and people’s experience.

Teens struggle with their self-esteem, and it doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest that browsing Instagram could make that worse. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine so many people refusing to get vaccinated, becoming biased or succumbing to conspiracy theories in the days before social media.

So who’s right? As a researcher studying collective behavior, I see no conflict between the research (methodological bickering aside), leaks and people’s intuition. Social media can have catastrophic consequences, even if the average user experiences only minimal consequences.

The blind spot of averaging

To see how this works, take a look at a world where Instagram has a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effect on users’ well-being. A majority, those who are already doing well, find that Instagram provides social affirmation and helps them stay in touch with friends. A minority, those who struggle with depression and loneliness, see these messages and feel worse.

If you put them together in a study, you may not see much change over time. This could explain why findings from surveys and panels can claim minimal impact on average. More generally, small groups in a larger sample have a hard time changing the mean.

But if we zoom in on the most at-risk people, many of them may have gone from occasionally sad to mildly depressed or from mildly depressed to dangerous. This is exactly what Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen reported in her congressional testimony: Instagram is creating a downward spiral of feedback among the most vulnerable teens.

The inability of this kind of research to capture the smaller but still significant numbers of people at risk — the tail of the distribution — is compounded by the need to measure a range of human experiences in discrete steps. When people rate their well-being from a low of one to a high of five, “one” can mean anything from breaking up with a partner they didn’t like at all to urgently in need of crisis intervention to stay alive. These nuances are buried in the context of population averages.

A history of averaging damage

The tendency to ignore harm in the margins isn’t unique to mental health or even social media impacts. It’s a common mistake to let most of the experience obscure the fate of smaller groups, and I’d say these are often the people society should be most concerned about.

It can also be a pernicious tactic. Both tobacco companies and scientists once argued that premature death among some smokers was not a serious concern because most people who smoked a cigarette do not die of lung cancer.

Pharmaceutical companies have defended their aggressive marketing tactics by claiming that the vast majority of people treated with opioids get pain relief without dying from an overdose. In doing so, they’ve traded the vulnerable for the average and steered the conversation toward benefits, often measured in a way that obscures the very real harm done to a minority — but still substantial — group of people.

Lack of harm to many is not incompatible with serious harm to a few. With most of the world using some form of social media, I think it’s important to listen to the voices of concerned parents and struggling teens as they point to Instagram as a source of distress. Likewise, it is important to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing because misinformation on social media has scared some people into taking a safe and effective vaccine. These lived experiences are important pieces of evidence about the damage social media is doing.

Does Meta have the answer?

Establishing causality based on observational data is challenging, so challenging that progress on this front earned the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2021. And social scientists are not well positioned to conduct randomized controlled trials to definitively establish causality, especially for social media platform design choices, such as changing the way content is filtered and displayed.

But Meta does. The company has petabytes of human behavior data, many social scientists on its payroll, and the ability to run randomized control trials in parallel with millions of users. They are constantly conducting such experiments to understand how best to grab users’ attention, right down to the color, shape and size of each button.

Meta could come up with irrefutable and transparent evidence that their products are harmless, even to the vulnerable, if it exists. Did the company choose not to conduct such experiments or did it conduct them and decide not to share the results?

Regardless, Meta’s decision to release and highlight data on average effects instead is telling.

Joseph Bak Coleman is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for an Informed Public, University of Washington.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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Dual polarization weather radar protects us every day

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Dual polarization weather radar protects us every day

On a lazy Sunday morning, I asked my Twitter followers what they would like me to write about in this space. Andrew Hatter suggested I do something on dual-polarization radar. Going through my previous articles from the past 5 years, I really hadn’t written much about it. That’s my fault, everyone. Dual polarization is a critical tool of the National Weather Service and is used daily to protect us.

First I need to give a little “weather radar 101”. Many of us teaching weather radar often cite Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) as a byproduct of World War II. During that time, it became very apparent that annoying “precipitation-related” noise on radar was hampering the radar’s intended military needs. However, the National Weather Service website points out that “the fundamental principle underlying all radars was first observed in 1886 by the physicist Heinrich Hertz when he discovered that electromagnetic waves could be reflected off various objects and even into beams could be focused by appropriate reflectors.” For a deep dive into the history of weather radar, visit this clutch.

At this point, I want to fast-forward to the 1950s. The WSR-57 radar system was adopted by the United States Weather Bureau and the US Navy. This was an S-band (~10 cm wavelength) system that has been the backbone of US radar weather monitoring for over 30 years. It evolved from an experimental X-band system. In the 1970s, the WSR-74 system came into use. At this point, some readers might say, “What the hell are you talking about Dr. Shepherd with all this talk about alphabet soup?

Weather radars send a pulse of microwave energy into the clouds. Some of that energy is scattered back to the radar from the volume of scattering (raindrops, hailstones, insects, and so on). The different frequencies commonly used in radar meteorology are shown in the image above. For example, the S band frequencies are less prone to attenuation than bands with lower wavelengths and have a longer range. If you have satellite TV, you know what attenuation is when it rains hard and your signal is lost.

About the time I entered college in the late 1980s, the National Weather Service, the Department of Defense, and other partners upgraded the U.S. weather radar network to the WSR-88D “S” band system. This was part of the Modernizing the National Weather Service effort in the early 1990s. These radars introduced the life-saving ability of Doppler-shifted phases. Since we know the phase (shape, position, shape, frequency) in which the radar beam was emitted, as scatterers (raindrops, etc.) move will shift the phase of the returning radar echo. From that information we can deduce the speed towards or away from the radar (radial speed is not a real wind speed by the way). This Doppler effect also explains why the pitch of the train’s horn sounds different as it approaches and moves away from you. With such information, meteorologists can now detect rotation in storms that could indicate a tornado. In fact, most tornado warnings today are based on Doppler radar identification. My master’s degree involved using early WSR-88D radar data to track and locate landfall hurricanes.

Okay, we’ve finally reached dual polarization. According to NOAA website“Dual-polarimetric radar transmits and receives pulses in both horizontal and vertical directions.” This means that the returned echoes contain information in both directions about the raindrops, snowflakes, sleet and hailstones. Better information about the shape, size and composition of the targets allows for better discrimination of the type of precipitation (e.g. is it heavy rain or hail? or is it snow or icy rain?) There are even products that can be derived from dual-polarization radar that can help identify tornado-related debris in real time and improve rainfall estimation.

The National Weather Service began the transition to dual-polarization radar in early 2010. According to the National Weather Service, the first upgraded “dual-pol” system (NWS WSR-88DP) at Vance Air Force Base near Enid, Oklahoma. Since this installation in 2011, the National Weather Service has upgraded more than 150 operational radars in the US and its territories.

The image above is a good example of how dual polarization products (correlation coefficient (CC) and differential reflectivity (ZDR) supplemented standard reflectivity products and Doppler rotational patterns (SRM) to confirm that the radar sampled tornado debris thrown into the air. below illustrates how dual polarization radar helped forecasters better determine the location of rainfall versus snowfall in New York.

For more information on how dual polarization is used in weather forecasting, visit this: NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory website.

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Trump Accidentally Releases Statement Destroying His Own ‘Dumb’ Election Lies

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Trump Accidentally Releases Statement Destroying His Own 'Dumb' Election Lies

The twice-indicted former President Donald Trump made a brief statement Saturday night that appeared to inadvertently disprove his own long-running (and false) claim that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. “Anyone who doesn’t think there was no mass voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election is either very stupid or very corrupt!” read the statement.

Trump’s (apparently) coincidental double-negative means the opposite of what Trump and countless conservatives have falsely claimed about the 2020 presidential outcome. During the end of his presidency, Trump led a failed, anti-democratic and sometimes deadly GOP crusade based on allegations of electoral fraud, to try to undo Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. Trump and several figures in the Republican Party have continued to push these lies in their efforts to conduct an increasing number of election and voting campaigns across the country.

Trump spokespersons did not respond to messages Saturday seeking clarification as to whether the ex-president and current GOP leader meant the opposite of what he said in his written statement, or whether Trump actually admitted that he was either incredibly stupid or was astonishingly corrupt.

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Amazon deals Get Razer headsets, Logitech keyboards and Roccat mice

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Amazon deals Get Razer headsets, Logitech keyboards and Roccat mice

This Week’s Amazon Deals Post Features Incredible Accessories

As the end of the year approaches, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc outside our homes. This means we all play a lot of games while sitting at home. Don’t worry if you’re looking for a new mouse, keyboard, headset or other gaming accessory. As we’ve been saying for the past few months, we know how you feel and have just what you need to fill that void in your gaming setup. In other words, there’s a wealth of cool stuff waiting for you in this week’s Amazon Deals post, including Razer Gaming Headsets, Logitech Gaming Keyboards, and Roccat Gaming Mice. All of these accessories are convenient and affordable, and we’re here to make sure you find exactly what you need. Here are ten great Amazon deals designed to take your gaming experience to the next level.

Logitech G502 HERO Wired Gaming Mouse – $39.99 ($2.51 off)

Logitech G502 HERO Premium Wired Gaming Mouse

Logitech G915 TKL Tenkeyless Wireless Gaming Keyboard – $178.06 ($51.93 off)

Logitech G915 TKL Tenkeyless Wireless Gaming Keyboard

Logitech G502 Lightspeed Wireless Gaming Mouse – $99.99 ($50.00 off)

Logitech G502 Lightspeed Wireless Gaming Mouse

Razer BlackShark V2 X Gaming Headset – $39.99 ($20.00 off)

Razer Viper Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse – $79.99 ($50.00 off)

Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini Keyboard – $149.99 ($30.00 off)

Razer BlackWidow V3 Keyboard

Razer Blade Stealth 13 Ultrabook Gaming Laptop – $1,299.99 ($500.00 off)

Razer Blade Stealth 13 Ultrabook Gaming Laptop

Razer BlackShark V2 Pro Wireless Gaming Headset – $139.99 ($40.00 off)

Razer BlackShark V2 Pro Wireless Gaming Headset

Razer DeathAdder Essential Gaming Mouse – $19.99 ($30.00 off)

Razer DeathAdder Essential Gaming Mouse

ROCCAT Kone AIMO Gaming Mouse – $59.99 ($20.00 off)

roccat kone aimo mouse

Did you pick up some new stuff this weekend? If so, let us know in the comments below, or drop us a line facebook and tweet. After letting us know, be sure to come back tomorrow. By then, we’ll have a new Amazon deals post this weekend featuring some of the best game deals across all platforms. And of course don’t forget to share these deals with your friends and fellow gamers so they can get the most out of their setup too!

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