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Online hate speech could be contained like a computer virus, say Cambridge researchers

The spread of hate speech via social media could be tackled using the same “quarantine” approach deployed to combat malicious software, according to University of Cambridge researchers.

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Photo by Andras Vas from Unsplash.com

The spread of hate speech via social media could be tackled using the same “quarantine” approach deployed to combat malicious software, according to University of Cambridge researchers.

Definitions of hate speech vary depending on nation, law and platform, and just blocking keywords is ineffectual: graphic descriptions of violence need not contain obvious ethnic slurs to constitute racist death threats, for example.

As such, hate speech is difficult to detect automatically. It has to be reported by those exposed to it, after the intended “psychological harm” is inflicted, with armies of moderators required to judge every case.

This is the new front line of an ancient debate: freedom of speech versus poisonous language.

Now, an engineer and a linguist have published a proposal in the journal Ethics and Information Technology that harnesses cyber security techniques to give control to those targeted, without resorting to censorship.

Cambridge language and machine learning experts are using databases of threats and violent insults to build algorithms that can provide a score for the likelihood of an online message containing forms of hate speech.

As these algorithms get refined, potential hate speech could be identified and “quarantined”. Users would receive a warning alert with a “Hate O’Meter” – the hate speech severity score – the sender’s name, and an option to view the content or delete unseen.

This approach is akin to spam and malware filters, and researchers from the ‘Giving Voice to Digital Democracies’ project believe it could dramatically reduce the amount of hate speech people are forced to experience. They are aiming to have a prototype ready in early 2020.

“Hate speech is a form of intentional online harm, like malware, and can therefore be handled by means of quarantining,” said co-author and linguist Dr Stefanie Ullman. “In fact, a lot of hate speech is actually generated by software such as Twitter bots.”

“Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google generally respond reactively to hate speech,” said co-author and engineer Dr Marcus Tomalin. “This may be okay for those who don’t encounter it often. For others it’s too little, too late.”

“Many women and people from minority groups in the public eye receive anonymous hate speech for daring to have an online presence. We are seeing this deter people from entering or continuing in public life, often those from groups in need of greater representation,” he said.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told a UK audience that hate speech posed a “threat to democracies”, in the wake of many women MPs citing online abuse as part of the reason they will no longer stand for election.

While in a Georgetown University address, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke of “broad disagreements over what qualifies as hate” and argued: “we should err on the side of greater expression”.

The researchers say their proposal is not a magic bullet, but it does sit between the “extreme libertarian and authoritarian approaches” of either entirely permitting or prohibiting certain language online.

Importantly, the user becomes the arbiter. “Many people don’t like the idea of an unelected corporation or micromanaging government deciding what we can and can’t say to each other,” said Tomalin. “Our system will flag when you should be careful, but it’s always your call. It doesn’t stop people posting or viewing what they like, but it gives much needed control to those being inundated with hate.”

In the paper, the researchers refer to detection algorithms achieving 60% accuracy – not much better than chance. Tomalin’s machine learning lab has now got this up to 80%, and he anticipates continued improvement of the mathematical modeling.

Meanwhile, Ullman gathers more “training data”: verified hate speech from which the algorithms can learn. This helps refine the “confidence scores” that determine a quarantine and subsequent Hate O’Meter read-out, which could be set like a sensitivity dial depending on user preference.

A basic example might involve a word like ‘bitch’: a misogynistic slur, but also a legitimate term in contexts such as dog breeding. It’s the algorithmic analysis of where such a word sits syntactically – the types of surrounding words and semantic relations between them – that informs the hate speech score.

“Identifying individual keywords isn’t enough, we are looking at entire sentence structures and far beyond. Sociolinguistic information in user profiles and posting histories can all help improve the classification process,” said Ullman.

Added Tomalin: “Through automated quarantines that provide guidance on the strength of hateful content, we can empower those at the receiving end of the hate speech poisoning our online discourses.”

However, the researchers, who work in Cambridge’s Centre for Research into Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), say that – as with computer viruses – there will always be an arms race between hate speech and systems for limiting it.

The project has also begun to look at “counter-speech”: the ways people respond to hate speech. The researchers intend to feed into debates around how virtual assistants such as ‘Siri’ should respond to threats and intimidation.

Technology

Know thy history; revisit the first 10 years of San Francisco’s Pride

Even Pride gatherings are getting confused nowadays – e.g. Is it still to protest, or (even if the organizers claim it’s a “protest”) is it really just one big party? A revisit to Pride’s history – at least of San Francisco’s, in the US – has opened to help every-all see how everything was in the early days.

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Third World Gay Caucus contingent, San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, 1977; photograph by Marie Ueda, Marie Ueda Collection (2006-12), GLBT Historical Society.

Even Pride gatherings are getting confused nowadays – e.g. Is it still to protest, or (even if the organizers claim it’s a “protest”) is it really just one big party? Should events highlight the not-that-pretty/sexy yet still ongoing struggles, or just focus on the glamour (and while at it, earn organizers big bucks)? And part of this confusion stems from the lack of awareness, if not appreciation of Pride’s history.

A revisit to Pride’s history – at least of San Francisco’s, in the US – has opened to help every-all see how everything was in the early days.

Organized by the GLBT Historical Society, with the support of San Francisco Pride, “Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride, 1970–1980” showcases how San Francisco’s LGBTQIA community in the 1970s forged the annual celebration that would come to be known as the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade.

On June 27, 1970, a small group marched down Polk Street, and the following day staged a “gay-in” picnic in Golden Gate Park. Over the course of the decade, Pride became an annual San Francisco event, growing by leaps and bounds. Initially referred to as Christopher Street West — to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riot on that street in New York City — and then as Gay Freedom Day, Pride drew some 250,000 participants and spectators in 1980. 

“Labor of Love” revisits the first 10 years of San Francisco Pride using historic photographs, ephemera, artifacts, and film and sound recordings from the archives of the GLBT Historical Society and from community members. The exhibition explores the goals, the controversies, the hard work, the desires and the sometimes-competing spirits of struggle and celebration that laid the foundation for one of the city’s best-known public festivals. 

The exhibition is co-curated by Gerard Koskovich, a public historian and rare book dealer; Don Romesburg, professor of gender and women’s studies at Sonoma State University; and Amy Sueyoshi, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. They emphasize that Pride has traditionally deployed both frivolity and protest to promote a positive cultural shift in how society views LGBTQ people. 

The exhibition is organized around four themes.

“Why Pride?” considers how organizers and community members explained the purpose of the annual gathering.

“The Work of Pride” explores the ever-increasing commitment to planning, fundraising, volunteer support and governance that the event required.

“Pride Fights” grapples with the debates over what Pride should be, who should be included, who should make the decisions and how they should be made.

Finally, “Big Gay Family” highlights how the creation of San Francisco Pride brought diverse people into a collective, yet often contested kinship. 

POSTER 1: “Christopher Street Liberation Day Gay-In,” offset flyer, 1970; Charles Thorpe Papers (1987-02), GLBT Historical Society.
POSTER 2: San Francisco Gay Pride program, 1972; Ephemera Collection, GLBT Historical Society.

The interactive final section of the show, “Pride: From Past to Future,” invites visitors to reflect on the history, then look ahead by submitting their responses to two questions: “How will the future of Pride be shaped? How should it be shaped?” The answers will be posted in the online gallery to spark an ongoing dialog about the heritage of Pride.

“Labor of Love” will also be installed as a physical exhibition at the GLBT Historical Society Museum at 4127 18th Street in San Francisco’s Castro district at a future date.

For more information, visit the GLBT Historical Society website at www.glbthistory.org.

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Lifestyle & Culture

The best slot games you can play at online casinos

Finding the top titles can be tricky and that’s why I’ve highlighted three leading ones for you, to save you a bit of time and give you a few great options to pick from.

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Playing the best slots games is a great way to have fun at online casinos. Slot games are quick to learn and offer you the chance to win some real money from your gambling sessions. 

Finding the top titles can be tricky and that’s why I’ve highlighted three leading ones for you, to save you a bit of time and give you a few great options to pick from. 

Image source: PxHere.com

Read my mini-reviews, decide which game(s) you like best, and then head over to an online casino to give them a try. 

Starburst

Starburst is perhaps the most popular slots game that you can play at online casinos. It’s in the catalog of most gambling sites and with good reason – it’s fast-paced, fun to play, and features some great graphics. 

Alongside its great gameplay, Starburst also has a competitive RTP of 96.1%. This means that £96.10 of every £100 wagered is returned to players over time. So, not only is Starburst great fun, but it’s also a slots game that gives you a great chance of winning some cash. 

You can play Starburst at many leading gambling sites, such as 888 Casino. You can find out what other great slots games are at 888 by heading to OnlineCasinos.co.uk and reading the review of this top site. 

The Goonies: Jackpot King

One of the reasons that so many gamblers like to play slots games is that they borrow from pop culture. The Goonies: Jackpot King is one such example, using a beloved film as its source of inspiration. 

There’s much to like about The Goonies: Jackpot King. It’s simple to play, has a good range of bet sizes, and has a good RTP. But the main reason it’s one of the best slot games is the storyline – if you like The Goonies then you’ll adore its references to the film’s characters.

The Goonies: Jackpot King is available at the top online casinos, including PlayOJO. You can learn more about the game by visiting PlayOJO.com, selecting the “?” icon on the game, and absorbing PlayOJO’s introduction to The Goonies: Jackpot King.  

Royal Mint: Megaways

Royal Mint: Megaways is made by the excellent Big Time Gaming, guaranteeing that it’s a slots title with great gameplay. It draws its inspiration from the organisation responsible for mining coins in the UK and money is a feature that runs strong through the game. 

Royal Mint: Megaways takes its storyline from money but there’s a much more enticing cash feature to the game – its paylines. Royal Mint: Megaways has a phenomenal 117,649 paylines, meaning there’s an extraordinary number of ways that you can win some cash. 

You can play Royal Mint: Megaways at the very best slot casinos and LeoVegas is one of the top choices for many gamblers. LeoVegas.com has over 1,000 games, with an enormous number of slots titles for you to choose from. 

Recommended reading: Best Microgaming blackjack games in the UK

Starburst, The Goonies: Jackpot King, and Royal Mint: Megaways are three of the very best slot games you can play at online casinos. 

Each offers you something slightly different and I suggest you give them all a try, so you decide which one you like best

Just check the bonuses available at the online casino you’re betting at first, as it may be that it has a free spins offer for the game you’ve picked. 

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Technology

Run a business? 5 Reasons why contactless payments make sense

One of the great things about the digital payment revolution in the 21st century is how people don’t even need a physical card to buy stuff. Android and Apple smartphone users can use their NFC-enabled devices to make contactless payments.

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If you run a retail business, either permanently based in commercial store premises or as a “pop-up” store, one thing’s for sure. You’re going to need to accept card payments from your customers.

Sure, you could run a cash-only business. But, you’d be cutting out a significant customer base that wants to buy your goods. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve states that only 30% of consumers use cash for their purchases. 65% pay with debit and credit cards.

Image source: Pixabay.com

What’s more, most debit and credit cardholders use the contactless payment feature of their cards regularly. These days, virtually all retailers that accept card payments also accept contactless payments.

But why do contactless payments make sense for retailers like yourself? Well, it turns out there are five distinct advantages of offering this payment option to your customers. They are as follows:

1. Contactless payment limits are high

In some countries such as the United Kingdom, contactless payment limits are around $57 (£45 GBP). However, in nations such as the United States, there are no limits.

If you want to give your customers the quickest yet most convenient shopping experience, offering contactless payment options is a good idea. All consumers need to do is hover their card over the reader, and they can go once the transaction gets approved.

2. Contactless payments are a necessity during COVID-19

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone globally. Everyone is adjusting to a new way of living their lives, and one such change is the reliance on contactless payment options.

Contactless payment terminals allow your customers to purchase your goods and services without needing to touch anything other than their cards. They also ensure customers don’t have to queue for long when they get to your checkout tills.

3. Smartphone owners use contactless payments

One of the great things about the digital payment revolution in the 21st century is how people don’t even need a physical card to buy stuff. Android and Apple smartphone users can use their NFC-enabled devices to make contactless payments.

As with physical debit and credit cards, all smartphone owners need to do is hover their smartphones over a compatible card reader. If you chose the best credit card reader for your business, it would offer contactless payment functionality as standard.

4. Contactless transactions are secure

Another advantage of contactless payments is each transaction is secure. Card issuers (i.e., banks and credit card companies) have fraud detection systems in place to minimize contactless card fraud.

For instance, such systems might include requiring users to enter their PIN on the keypad for high-value items or every 10th contactless transaction. What’s more, if a cardholder reports their card lost or stolen, thieves can’t make contactless payments on their accounts.

5. You’ll increase your sales

It should come as no surprise that making it easier for your customers to pay will result in higher sales figures for your business. Contactless payments are convenient for consumers and businesses alike and improve efficiency in retail stores.

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Technology

How much protection does your business really need?

But just how risky are things out there? Do you need a tremendous amount of security? Or will you be okay if you avoid the cost?

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Business owners not only have to worry about their finances and customers, but also protecting their assets from criminals. 

But just how risky are things out there? Do you need a tremendous amount of security? Or will you be okay if you avoid the cost? 

Answering these questions depends very much on your location. Some companies can get away with minimal security apparatus because they occupy distant places or don’t store any valuables on-site. Others need to be much more careful. 

IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay.com

In the digital world, it is an entirely different matter. Distance is no defense. And practically every company owns sensitive data that hackers can exploit in some way if they choose to do so. 

The level of protection your company needs, therefore, depends on the following factors: 

The Value And Sensitivity Of Your Data

If you own a cupcake business that sells packaged cakes for delivery in your local community, then criminals probably won’t go to great lengths to steal your data. It might have value, but it will be relatively low down on their list of target priorities. 

If, however, your data is the source of your competitive advantage, you need to start paying attention to its integrity. If you need the information to develop new products, connect with customers, or advertise effectively, you’re a high-value target. You’re also valuable to criminals if you collect and store personally-identifiable information about your customers. 

Audit the value of your personal data and try to figure out what it is worth. If you’re not sure, call in IT cybersecurity professionals and get them to give you a rundown. 

The Value Of Your On-Site Assets

The majority of modern businesses are capital-light, meaning that they don’t need a vast amount of plant and equipment to make them run. Nobody is going to risk years in prison to raid the offices of an accountant. 

With that said, many companies store vast quantities of expensive machinery and inventory on their premises, immediately putting them at risk. If you have a substantial number of goods lying around, you’re a high-value target and at risk. 

Don’t assume that criminals are oblivious to your activities because you’re a small player. Professional thieves are skilled at what they do and often make a fortune by plying their trade. 

First, you’ll need to put up plenty of security around your premises and outbuildings. An 80W wall pack light, for instance, can act as a deterrent for anybody coming onto your property. You’ll also want to fit a security system with motion sensors and integrated cameras connected to your smartphone via WiFi. Doing this will immediately tell you whether somebody is on your premises. 

Finally, you’ll want to make extensive use of shutters and physical barriers without being too obvious. Criminals know that significant investments in physical defenses signals high-value contents. And so it can sometimes make them more determined to break in and steal your possessions. 

Thus, the amount of protection your business needs scales with the value of its assets, both physical and digital. 

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NEWSMAKERS

Tech-related jealousy is real… including LGBTQIAs

According to the Pew Research Center, about one-third of LGB partnered adults whose significant other uses social media report that they have felt jealous or unsure in their current relationship because of how their partner interacted with others on social media (versus 22% of straight people who say this).

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Photo by @nordwood from Unsplash.com

Social media can be a source of jealousy and uncertainty in relationships – especially for younger adults.

This is according to a Pew Research Center study (with the survey conducted in October 2019, though the study was only released recently) that found that, indeed, many people encounter tech-related struggles with their significant others.

In “Dating and Relationships in the Digital Age”, Pew Research Center noted that “younger people value social media as a place to share how much they care about their partner or to keep up with what’s going on in their partner’s life.” However, “they also acknowledge some of the downsides that these sites can have on relationships.”

Twenty-three percent (23%) of adults with partners who use social media say they have felt jealous or unsure about their relationship because of the way their current spouse or partner interacts with other people on social media.

Now get this: the number is higher among those in younger age groups.

Among partnered adults whose significant other uses social media, 34% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 26% of those ages 30 to 49 say they have felt jealous or unsure in their current relationship because of how their partner interacted with others on social media. This is definitely higher than the 19% of those aged 50 to 64 who say this, and 4% of those ages 65 and up.

The insecurity is also common among those not married – i.e. 37% of unmarried adults with partners who are social media users say they have felt this way about their current partner, while only 17% of married people say the same.

Women are reportedly more likely to express displeasure with how their significant other interacts with others on social media (29% vs. 17% for men).

Meanwhile, college graduates are less likely to report having felt this way than those with some college experience or a high school degree or less.

And yes, LGBTQIA community members are no different.

According to the Pew Research Center, about one-third of LGB partnered adults whose significant other uses social media report that they have felt jealous or unsure in their current relationship because of how their partner interacted with others on social media (versus 22% of straight people who say this).

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NEWSMAKERS

LGB online daters report positive experiences… plus harassment

LGB online daters are more likely than their straight counterparts to experience a range of negative behaviors on dating platforms, varying from name-calling to physical threats. Among those who have ever used an online dating site or app, they reported experiencing at least one of the forms of harassment measured in this survey on those sites and apps (69%, compared with 52% of their straight counterparts).

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Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults who use online dating sites and apps generally report that their experiences with online dating have been positive – even more than straight online daters (65% said their experience was very or somewhat positive, versus 56% of straight online daters).

This is according to a Pew Research Center survey, which found that a majority of LGB adults (55%) report that they have used an online dating site or app at some point, roughly twice the share of straight adults (28%) who say the same.

Among LGB adults who are married, living with a partner, or in a committed relationship, 28% say they met their current partner online. This is more than double when compared with 11% of partnered straight adults.

Also, among LGB people who are now single and looking for a relationship or dates, 37% are currently online dating (versus 24% of straight people who are single and looking).

However – and this is worth highlighting – LGB online daters are also more likely than their straight counterparts to experience a range of negative behaviors on dating platforms, varying from name-calling to physical threats. Among those who have ever used an online dating site or app, they reported experiencing at least one of the forms of harassment measured in this survey on those sites and apps (69%, compared with 52% of their straight counterparts).

More than half of LGB online daters (56%) say they have received a sexually explicit message or image they did not ask for, compared with 32% of straight online daters who say the same.

Stalking was also raised as an issue, with roughly half of LGB online daters (48%) saying that someone continued to contact them after they said they weren’t interested, compared with 35% of their straight counterparts.

About four in 10 LGB online daters (41%) say someone called them an offensive name on one of these sites or apps – 16 percentage points higher than the share of straight online daters (25%) who say the same.

Lastly, 17% of LGB online daters said that someone on a dating site or app threatened to physically harm them. This is more than twice the share of straight online daters (7%).

Perhaps not surprisingly, according to the Pew Research Center survey, LGB adults who have ever online dated are more likely than straight online daters to think harassment and bullying is a “common problem” on dating sites and apps (70%, compared to 61% of non-LGBs).

No matter the drawbacks, don’t expect online daters – LGBT or straight – to just dump it.

As per the Pew Research Center survey, even among those who experienced at least one of the asked-about forms of harassment on dating sites and apps, they still said that online dating is safe for the most part. Three-quarters of LGB people who have experienced at least one of the harassing behaviors saying it’s a very or somewhat safe way to meet someone, with 64% of straight online daters who have been harassed agreeing.

And with 78% of LGBT online daters (and 69% of their straight counterparts) still believing that dating sites and apps are a very or somewhat safe way to meet people, this trend isn’t going anywhere soon…

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