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Gut Microbiome Health Linked to Social Circles

We influence one another more than we’ll ever know. Ideas, mores, customs, and religions spread through communities like contagions. So does bacteria, as we know from a history of infections as well as new research on the social circles of lemurs. This study might offer another insight into the complex and fascinating nature of what health entails. 

One major advance in recent years has been recognizing how relevant gut microbiome is to physical and cognitive health. Some researchers speculate that the microbiome might be the most relevant marker of fitness. We also know that the composition of the thousands of species of bacteria inside of your gut is multifactorial, relying on the food you consume, the environment you live in, behavioral patterns, and genetics. 

But how relevant are other people in your environment? That’s what a team, led by Amanda Perofsky, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, wanted to find out. Having spent time studying lemurs at the Kirindy Mitea National Park in western Madagascar, Perofsky’s academic career has been focused on the link between social behavior and disease risk in this wild sifaka population. 

The paper, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, focuses on gene sequencing and social network analysis and determines that denser grooming networks “have more homogeneous gut microbial compositions.” It should be noted that this particular species is more tightly knit than others: 

Higher-order social network structure—beyond just pairwise interactions—drives gut bacterial composition in wild lemurs, which live in smaller and more cohesive groups than previously studied anthropoid species.

Studying forty-seven lemurs from seven different social groups, the team discovered that 67.6 percent of variation in microbiome can be attributed to group membership. Even more surprisingly, 

Even after controlling for diet, kinship and habitat overlap, group membership was the single most informative predictor of gut microbiome diversity and similarity between individuals, revealing the importance of social network structures beyond the dyadic associations reported by prior studies.

This potentially overturns a common notion that infection spreads more quickly through tight-knit groups because of proximity to the affected. As Perfosky notes, social groups might make these lemurs more resistant to infection because their stable microbiomes ensure that members spread beneficial bacteria. 

It would be fascinating to understand if similar patterns affect the human microbiome. While we’re not known for daily grooming (outside of our immediate family, perhaps), we do know our actions influence others in ways that elude conscious detection. We also know how vulnerable we are to the bad habits of others, dietary and behavioral choices included. (To be fair, our good habits are also communicable.) 

While studies like this cannot be easily transferred to our species, they remind us of the inherent interconnectedness of social groups and our relationship to our environment. We know relationships are a critical component of individual health. Just how much that’s the case is continually becoming apparent. 

Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Daisy Ridley: Social media is bad for your mental health

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.

4aa00_gettyimages-881271590 Daisy Ridley: Social media is bad for your mental health

She wants to be social like, you know, a human being.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Recently, Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, worried that the site was detrimental to children’s health.

He admitted that Facebook’s design deliberately exploited human vulnerabilities.

Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley has no worries. She seems certain that social media is bad for you.

In an interview with the BBC’s Radio Times, Ridley explained: “I don’t do social anymore. I came off it last September and I will never get back on. The more I read about teenage anxiety, the more I think it’s highly unhealthy for people’s mental health.”

It’s hard to view the obsessional, self-obsessional  nature of social media as a wonderful thing.

Indeed, scientists have long worried that increasing social media use brings with it increasing mental problems.

Too many people seem desperate not to be liked, but to be “liked.” You know, on Facebook and Instagram. 

Ridley herself used to be an enthusiastic Instagrammer. 

Now she says: “I find the whole taking pictures thing weird. I’d prefer to have a conversation than someone asking for a picture, but I guess people feel the need to prove they’ve had the interaction through social media.”

How much of an interaction is it, though, if the only words exchanged are: “Hullo, Daisy. Would you mind if we took a selfie together?”

As Ridley says, this isn’t a conversation. It’s an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Just think how many “likes” you’ll get for that selfie.

Of course, some stars choose to have staff perform their social media tasks for them. Their Instagram and Twitter accounts become a steady flow of anodyne messages designed to say: “Yes, I’m still a star.”

Yes, they want “likes” and retweets just as much as you do. Except they’re trying to sell you something.

CNET en Español: Get all your tech news and reviews in Spanish.

Tech Culture: From film and television to social media and games, here’s your place for the lighter side of tech.

Daisy Ridley: Social media is bad for mental health

59926__99096196_gettyimages-881271590 Daisy Ridley: Social media is bad for mental healthImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Daisy Ridley deleted her social media after becoming famous

Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley says becoming famous made her delete her social media.

The 25-year-old, who stars as Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, quit Instagram earlier this year.

In an interview with Radio Times, she says she did it because of how bad it is for mental health.

Ridley says: “The more I read about teenage anxiety, the more I think it’s highly unhealthy for people’s mental health.”

She adds: “It’s such a weird thing for young people to look at distorted images of things they should be.”

Image copyright

Image caption

Daisy Ridley plays Rey in the Star Wars trilogy

Ridley’s big break came in 2014 when she was cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Before that she had only had minor roles in Casualty and Mr Selfridge.

She says her “life suddenly got a bit different” after being cast in the sci-fi film franchise.

“I’m definitely recognised more, but I find the whole taking pictures thing weird,” she says.

“I’d prefer to have a conversation than someone asking for a picture, but I guess people feel the need to prove they’ve had the interaction through social media.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ridley with her co-stars Gwendoline Christie, John Boyega and director Rian Johnson.

Ridley deleted her social media in September, following the likes of celebrities like Adele, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, who have all deleted their accounts in the past after being overwhelmed by the online world.

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Social bots are ruining the internet for the rest of us

We’ve all seen the stories and allegations of Russian bots manipulating the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, most recently, hijacking the FCC debate on net neutrality. Yet far from such high stakes arenas, there’s good reason to believe these automated pests are also contaminating data used by firms and governments to understand who we (the humans) are, as well as what we like and need with regard to a broad range of things.

Let me explain.

Social bots — which is what we’re talking about here; “bot” is a catch-all term for many different types of AI — can be a nuisance for social media platforms. A recent report estimated as many as 48 million Twitter accounts are actually bots, and they are responsible for as many as 1 in 4 tweets. Depressingly for Taylor Swift fans, a study in 2015 revealed that 67 percent of her followers were bots, and a new study from the University of Cambridge revealed that celebrities with more than 10 million followers behave in bot-like ways themselves. Indeed, everywhere you turn on social media, you are likely to be confronted by automated accounts. Many of them are highly sophisticated when it comes to impersonating human interactions using natural language, and they can even replicate real-life human networks.

So why does this matter? The answer to this is really twofold. The first is well-reported in the context of politics. These bots are deceptive and specifically designed to present as real people. This means they have regular names, hobbies, ages, and affiliations. They are relatable, and as such, they can influence real users. A user can also rent bots. This is not limited to governments — there are also big businesses that use bots to create hype. These users deploy bots with the knowledge that we humans are susceptible to bandwagons. Consequently, bots can create or mask real public sentiment, which means whoever programs and operates them can wield a lot of power.

The second problem is rather more subtle — bots can badly distort the social data that is used to make predictions and assumptions about human behavior. In other words, they make social media less reflective of “real life” and real people. This is significant for companies participating in social listening, data mining, or sentiment analysis. Researchers at Networked Insight found that nearly 10 percent of the social media posts that brands analyze to understand their customers’ behavior do not come from real users. It is significant for us because, where this analysis fuels “nudge” techniques and causes brands to shepherd us toward particular options (which happens even when we aren’t conscious of it), this is based on “insights” muddied by artificial voices.

Internet trends are often scaled up and relayed as fact by those who seek to analyze (and capitalize on) our every online movement. Where sentiment is warped by bots, this could cause brands and governments to mistakenly lead us away from what we actually want or need, stifling the will of the public. And there’s an additional harm here — if an individual and/or societal group decides the way that they are categorized is contrary to their preferences, there’s a good chance they’ll make efforts to modify their behavior to fool the analysis.

The social media giants are not standing by idly as this issue grows. They are hard at work bot-busting, and at the same time data users are trying to “clean” their bounty as best they can. Meanwhile, bot-makers are adapting and evolving the qualities that make their AI undetectable. Germany has plans to introduce a compulsory labeling system for posts from automated accounts, but given that many bot users are rogue anyway, such rules will likely be flouted. Consequently, citizens, small businesses, and members of civil society must be aware of bots’ ability to both steer and infect the “truths” of the masses, which thus cannot be taken at face value. People also need to proceed with appropriate caution.

This story originally appeared on Medium. Copyright 2017.

Fiona J. McEvoy is a tech ethics researcher and founder of

Everything That’s Wrong With Social Media And Big Internet Companies: Part 1

Some of today’s anxiety about social-media platforms is driven by the concern that Russian operatives somehow used Facebook and Twitter to affect our electoral process. Some of it’s due a general perception that big American social-media companies, amorally or immorally driven by the profit motive, are eroding our privacy and selling our data to other companies or turning it over to the government—or both. Some of it’s due to the perception that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms are bad for us—that maybe even Google’s or Microsoft’s search engines are bad for us—and that they make us worse people or debase public discourse. Taken together, it’s more than enough fodder for politicians or would-be pundits to stir up generalized anxiety about big tech.

But regardless of where this moral panic came from, the current wave of anxiety about internet intermediaries and social-media platforms has its own momentum now. So we can expect many more calls for regulation of these internet tools and platforms in the coming months and years. Which is why it’s a good idea to itemize the criticisms we’ve already seen, or are likely to see, in current and future public-policy debates about regulating the internet. We need to chart the kinds of arguments for new internet regulation that are going to confront us, so I’ve been compiling a list of them. It’s a work in progress, but here are three major claims that are driving recent expressions of concern about social media and internet companies generally.

(1) Social media are bad for you because they use algorithms to target you, based on the data they collect about you.

It’s well-understood now that Facebook and other platforms gather data about what interests you in order to shape what kinds of advertising you see and what kind of news stories you see in your news feed (if you’re using a service that provides one). Some part of the anxiety here is driven by the idea (more or less correct) that an internet company is gathering data about your likes, dislikes, interests, and usage patterns, which means it knows more about you in some ways than perhaps your friends (on social media and in what we now quaintly call “real life”) know about you. Possibly more worrying than that, the companies are using algorithms—computerized procedures aimed at analyzing and interpreting data—to decide what ads and topics to show you.

It’s worth noting, however, that commercial interests have been gathering data about you since long before the advent of the internet. In the 1980s and before in the United States, if you joined one book club or ordered one winter coat on Land’s End, you almost certainly ended up on mailing lists and received other offers and many, many mail-order catalogs. Your transactional information was marketed, packaged, and sold to other vendors (as was your payment and credit history). If false information was shared about you, you perhaps had some options ranging from writing remove-me-from-your-list letters to legal remedies under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. But the process was typically cumbersome, slow, and less-than-completely satisfactory (and still is when it comes to credit-bureau records). One advantage with some internet platforms is that (a) they give you options to quit seeing ads you don’t like (and often to say just why you don’t like them), and (b) the internet companies, anxious about regulation, don’t exactly want to piss you off. (In that sense, they may be more responsive than TiVo could be.)

Of course it’s fair—and, I think, prudent—to note that the combination of algorithms and “big data” may have real consequences for democracy and for freedom of speech. Yale’s Jack Balkin has recently written an excellent law-review article that targets these issues. At the same time, it seems possible for internet platforms to anonymize data they collect in ways that pre-internet commercial enterprises never could.

(2) Social Media are bad for you because they allow you to create a filter bubble where you see only (or mostly) opinions you agree with. (2)(a) Social media are bad for you because they foment heated arguments between you and those you disagree with.

To some extent, these two arguments run against each other—if you only hang out online with people who think like you, it seems unlikely that you’ll have quite so many fierce arguments, right? (But maybe the arguments between people who share most opinions and backgrounds are fiercer?) In any case, it seems clear that both “filter bubbles” and “flames” can occur. But when they do, statistical research suggests, it’s primarily because of user choice, not algorithms. In fact, as a study in Public Opinion Quarterly reported last year, the algorithmically driven social-media platforms may be both increasing polarization and increasing users’ exposures to opposing views. The authors summarize their conclusions this way:

“We find that social networks and search engines are associated with an increase in the mean ideological distance between individuals. However, somewhat counterintuitively, these same channels also are associated with an increase in an individual’s exposure to material from his or her less preferred side of the political spectrum.”

In contrast, the case that “filter bubbles” are a particular, polarizing problem relies to a large degree not on statistics but on anecdotal evidence. That is, the people who don’t like arguing or who can’t bear too different a set of political opinions tend to curate their social-media feeds accordingly, while people who don’t mind arguments (or even love them) have no difficulty encountering heterodox viewpoints on Facebook or Twitter. (At various times I’ve fallen into one or the other category on the internet, even before the invention of social media or the rise of Google’s search engine.)

The argument about “filter bubbles”—people self-segregating and self-isolating into like-minded online groups—is an argument that predates modern social media and the dominance of modern search engines. Law professor Cass Sunstein advanced it in his 2001 book, and hosted a website forum to promote that book. I remember this well because I showed up in the forum to express my disagreement with his conclusions—hoping that my showing up as a dissenter would itself raise questions about Sunstein’s version of the “filter bubble” hypothesis. I didn’t imagine I’d change Sunstein’s mind, though, so I was unsurprised to see the professor has revised and refined his hypothesis, first in 2.0 in 2007 and now in #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, published just this year.

(3) Social media are bad for you because they are profit-centered, mostly (including the social media that don’t generate profits).

“If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product.” That’s a maxim with real memetic resonance, I have to admit. This argument is related to argument number 1 above, except that instead of focusing on one’s privacy concerns, it’s aimed at the even-more-disturbing idea that we’re being commodified and sold by the companies who give us free services. This necessarily includes Google and Facebook, which provide users with free access but which gather data that is used primarily to target ads. Both of those companies are profitable. Twitter, which also serves ads to its users, isn’t yet profitable, but of course aspires to be.

As a former employee of the Wikimedia Foundation—which is dedicated to providing Wikipedia and other informational resources to everyone in the world, for free—I don’t quite know what to make of this. Certainly the accounts of the early days of Google or of Facebook suggest that advertising as a mission typically arose after the founders realized that their new internet services needed to make money. But once any new company starts making money by the yacht-load, it’s easy to dismiss the whole enterprise as essentially mercenary.

(In Europe, much more ambivalent to commercial enterprises than the United States, it’s far more common to encounter this dismissiveness. This helps explain some the Europe’s greater willingness to regulate the online world. The fact that so many successful internet companies are American also helps explain that impulse.)

But Wikipedia has steadfastly resisted even the temptation to sell ads—even though it could have become an internet commercial success just as has—because the Wikipedia volunteers and the Wikimedia Foundation see value in providing something useful and fun to everyone regardless of whether one gets rich doing so. So do the creators of free and open-source software. If creating free products and services doesn’t always mean you’re out to sell other people into data slavery, shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that social-media companies may really mean it when they declare their intentions to do well by doing good? (“Do Well By Doing Good” is a maxim commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin—who of course sold advertising, and even wrote advertising copy, for his Pennsylvania Gazette.) I think it’s a good idea to follow Mike Masnick’s advice to stop repeating this “you’re the product” slogan—unless you’re ready to condemn all traditional journals that subsidize giving their content to you through advertising.

So that’s the current top three chart-toppers for the Social Media-Are-Bad-For-You Greatest Hits. But this is a crowded field—only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trendy criticisms of social-media platforms, search engines, and unregulated mischievous speech on the internet–and we expect to see many other competing criticisms of Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. surface in the weeks and months to come. I’m already working on Part 2.

Mike Godwin (@sfmnemonic) is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the R Street Institute.

Israel’s Social Media War: How The IDF Uses the Internet To Fight Hezbollah

Israel has been fighting Hezbollah on the battlefield for more than three decades, most recently in 2006, but the country is increasingly taking the fight to their Lebanese rivals online too. 

Israel’s chief military spokesman Ronen Manelis told journalists that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) was conducting a “psychological war” against Hezbollah as well as preparing conventional operations against the Iran-backed group.

Related: Iran: Israel Will Be ‘Eradicated’ In Next War With Hezbollah

Such operations, Manelis said, included the targeting of Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. “There won’t be a clear victory picture in the next war, though it’s clear that Nasrallah is a target,” he explained, according to Haaretz.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a war against each other in northern Lebanon in 2006, with the Israeli army probing deep into Hezbollah territory in southern Lebanon and bombarding the Lebanese capital, Beirut. But the Shiite paramilitary group emerges from the war in Syria a stronger, more battle-hardened force.  

e16a9_gettyimages-82408846 Israel's Social Media War: How The IDF Uses the Internet To Fight Hezbollah An Israeli flag flies from the Kidmat Zion Jewish settlement community on the outskirts of the Arab village of Abu Dis, where the Old City with its golden Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine is seen in the background, August 18, 2008 in East Jerusalem David Silverman/Getty Images

Manelis said that the propaganda war is shifting from traditional media to online: “One of the things we talk about is the transition from traditional media consumption to social media. We are also active in this theater, and it is an operational theater in every respect. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve taken a great many actions that caused consternation on the other side.”

Since 2013 the Israeli government has been engaged in recruiting what it has referred to as “cover units,” the Guardian reported. A mixture of international students and domestic students have been employed by Israel in a “professional trolling” capacity to defeat a wide range of enemies from the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement to to foreign governments.

During the 2014 Gaza war the student group “Israel Under Fire” emerged as a key voice on social media promoting Israel’s narrative of the conflict. “Social media is another place where the war goes on. This is another way to tell our story,” the group’s leader, Yarden Ben-Yosef, said.

Hezbollah has itself maintained a sophisticated media operation since the 1980s. In 1984 its political wing, the Loyalty To the Resistance Bloc, has published a weekly newspaper al-Ahad, and subsequently the party began broadcasting on two radio stations. In 1989 Hezbollah created its own television station, al-Manar.

According to the Jersualem Post, more recently Hezbollah has bolstered its media presence operating more than 50 websites including the website of its leader Hassan Nasrallah. On the Hezbollah leader’s website the archives of his speeches and and pronouncements are available.

Tensions have ratcheted between Israel, Hezbollah and the militia’s backers in Iran in recent weeks. In a of recent statements Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has attacked Israel, saying Saturday Israel would be “eradicated” in the next war with Hezbollah.

The comments by IRGC commander Mohammed Ali Jafri came against a backdrop of increased sectarian pressure between Shiite Tehran and Sunni Riyadh. At a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo a week ago the body condemned Hezbollah and Iran, accusing both of supporting terrorism and extremist groups with advanced weapons and ballistic missiles.

In a Thursday interview with the New York Times Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, said Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khameni, the Supreme Leader of Iran, was the “new Hitler of the Middle East.” He went on to further compare the sectarian power struggle in the region between Riyadh and Tehran to Europe in World War II.   

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Global Health Challenges Offer Social Entrepreneurs Opportunity

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

“We have grown far too tolerant of businesses not acting in alignment with the public good,” said Derek Fetzer, director of Johnson and Johnson’s CaringCrowd crowdfunding site for global health. “ Shouldn’t all business, all entrepreneurship be for the public good?

“The spirit of social entrepreneurs is crucial in solving global health challenges, and has been a driving force in uncovering innovative solutions to tackle the ever-changing global health landscape,” Carol Pandak, PolioPlus director for Rotary International, said. (I am a member of Rotary and once wrote an article for the Rotarian Magazine.)

Pandak noted that global health issues hold a unique space on the plant. “It could be easy to diagnose many global health challenges as problems of individual regions and nations.” After all, it has been decades since anyone in the Americas got polio.

She pointed out that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 3 targets healthy lives and well-being for all. “When it comes to global health, there really is no issue from which any group, any nation is immune.” Even with only 15 cases reported so far in 2017, polio is just a plane ride away.

To get a better perspective on global health opportunities for social entrepreneurs, I invited 12 experts and practitioners to join me for a roundtable discussion. You can watch the entire 90-minute discussion in the video player above. Pandak participated only in writing. In a wide-ranging discussion, we covered challenges and opportunities in global health along with specific examples and some key lessons learned.

Credit: Engineering World Health

Leslie Calman, Engineering World Health

Leslie Calman, CEO of Engineering World Health, extended Pandak’s idea. “The answer must be broadly systemic, not singular: a combination of broad public health measures; an educated and paid healthcare workforce including doctors, nurses and technicians; support from governments and NGOs for public hospitals and clinics that serve low-income people; [and] the education of women and girls.”

Entrepreneurs have many roles to play in global health, said Deepak Kapur, the Chairman, India National PolioPlus Committee. He highlights needs assessment, monitoring, cutting red-tape for rapid response to emergent needs, special perspectives of business and industry and piloting new programs.

Global Health Challenges Offer Social Entrepreneurs Opportunity

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

“We have grown far too tolerant of businesses not acting in alignment with the public good,” said Derek Fetzer, director of Johnson and Johnson’s CaringCrowd crowdfunding site for global health. “ Shouldn’t all business, all entrepreneurship be for the public good?

“The spirit of social entrepreneurs is crucial in solving global health challenges, and has been a driving force in uncovering innovative solutions to tackle the ever-changing global health landscape,” Carol Pandak, PolioPlus director for Rotary International, said. (I am a member of Rotary and once wrote an article for the Rotarian Magazine.)

Pandak noted that global health issues hold a unique space on the plant. “It could be easy to diagnose many global health challenges as problems of individual regions and nations.” After all, it has been decades since anyone in the Americas got polio.

She pointed out that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 3 targets healthy lives and well-being for all. “When it comes to global health, there really is no issue from which any group, any nation is immune.” Even with only 15 cases reported so far in 2017, polio is just a plane ride away.

To get a better perspective on global health opportunities for social entrepreneurs, I invited 12 experts and practitioners to join me for a roundtable discussion. You can watch the entire 90-minute discussion in the video player above. Pandak participated only in writing. In a wide-ranging discussion, we covered challenges and opportunities in global health along with specific examples and some key lessons learned.

Credit: Engineering World Health

Leslie Calman, Engineering World Health

Leslie Calman, CEO of Engineering World Health, extended Pandak’s idea. “The answer must be broadly systemic, not singular: a combination of broad public health measures; an educated and paid healthcare workforce including doctors, nurses and technicians; support from governments and NGOs for public hospitals and clinics that serve low-income people; [and] the education of women and girls.”

Entrepreneurs have many roles to play in global health, said Deepak Kapur, the Chairman, India National PolioPlus Committee. He highlights needs assessment, monitoring, cutting red-tape for rapid response to emergent needs, special perspectives of business and industry and piloting new programs.

Why social media and the internet are vital for Filipino indie bands

Disruptive technology and the wide reach of the internet have been sweet music to the ears of the world’s independent bands that lack support from monolithic entertainment corporations.

Nowhere is it sweeter than in the Philippines, a country that is passionate about music – even if it’s just a trip to one of the country’s ubiquitous karaoke bars.

Backed by massive media and entertainment groups such as ABS-CBN, the country’s top stars are often television stars turned pop singers, but there’s a thriving independent music scene in the Philippines.

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Equipped with cheap and easy-to-use recording tools and platforms such as Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Spotify to promote their sound, ambitious independent musicians are finding an opportunity to break through the noise and carve out their own niche in Manila’s music scene.

Filipino indie artists are the most active in the country’s recording industry, according to local non-profit publication The Manila Review. And independent licensing agency Merlin says a growing number of indie musicians are emerging via self-release services. A few have even managed to use the reach of the internet to cross the line between indie and mainstream, expanding the boundaries of genre and redefining contemporary music in the country.

One example is Autotelic. Members of the Metro Manila-based group originally got together in 2012 to make heavy rock. The band formed as a side project for musicians who had all previously played in rock outfits. The driving force was Neil Tin, former lead guitarist of a punk band called The Naked Lights, and Josh Villena, former lead guitarist of Maya’s Anklet and Peryodiko.

Tin and Villena wanted to create something that would have a lasting impact on Filipino music, which would require venturing beyond the sounds they grew up with.

Historically, the Philippines has been heavily influenced by the American entertainment industry. Rock’n’roll was introduced in the 1970s, with stars including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Vale enjoying massive popularity. Filipinos developed their own style, with lyrics in the local language and dialects. This became known as Filipino rock, or “Pinoy rock”.

 Why social media and the internet are vital for Filipino indie bands“Alternative rock music in the Philippines boomed in the 1990s, led by bands like Eraserheads and Rivermaya,” says Gep Macadaeg, Autotelic’s drummer.

However, interest in the genre slowly waned when Electronic Dance Music (EDM) swept into the country in the early 2010s.

Autotelic recognised that EDM would have a lasting impact on music worldwide. Without losing their rock sound and artistic identity, the band decided to try out a fresh approach, infusing their new songs with electronica.

Wanting to expand traditional genre boundaries, in 2015 Autotelic crafted a new sound that band members believed would find wide enough appeal to be picked up by local radio stations.

According to Macadaeg, new listeners began to search for the band on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “We always announce our gigs and band updates through social media, and we try our best to entertain every post and inquiry from our followers,” the drummer says.

Macadaeg says the internet has become the most effective platform to showcase the band and its music – the radio stations are already playing their songs. “We owe our exposure to social media and the buzz generated from it,” Macadaeg says.

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Since the band was established, the number of Autotelic fans has grown steadily. It now has about 103,000 monthly listeners on the Spotify music streaming app alone, and more than 74,000 followers on Facebook.

Macadaeg says the band wants to reach as many people as possible – which is always a struggle for an indie outfit. So they take any opportunity to perform, ranging from hosting regular gigs to playing at corporate events.

The band’s biggest fan base is in Metro Manila, especially among teenagers and young adults. Whenever they perform, crowds shout loudly to request the band’s two most popular songs: Laro and Gising.

 Why social media and the internet are vital for Filipino indie bandsAlthough Autotelic began as an indie group, it has crossed the commercial barrier. In 2016, the band signed a deal with MCA Music, the Philippine arm of Universal Music Group. The label is now helping to promote the band, together with Autotelic’s own independent management – a hybrid arrangement of sorts.

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But despite the band’s growing popularity, its members continue to struggle with drawbacks such as a lack of budget and disposable income. Although playing live generates a fair level of income, it’s not a living wage. So each member has another job.

Villena works as a designer for a brand of chilli garlic called Silly Garlic. Kai Honasan, who joined Autotelic in 2014 as a vocalist, also performs as a solo artist and released a pop EP that year. Tin works as an account manager for a design agency, while Macadaeg has a day job as a marketer for international schools in Metro Manila.

 Why social media and the internet are vital for Filipino indie bandsThe band is now writing songs for its second album, which is slated for release in mid-2018.

For some musicians, diving into the indie scene is a path to artistic renewal. Jensen Gomez had years of experience performing as a solo artist in the early 2000s, while under contract with Universal Records. But around 2010, Gomez wanted a more adventurous creative experience. He realised that being signed to major label wouldn’t allow him to fully express his creativity, because of the control they exert in their search for commercial success.

 Why social media and the internet are vital for Filipino indie bandsSo he ended his partnership with Universal and approached the backup session musicians who had been playing live with him, explaining that he wanted to form a solid band whose music would stand out from the mainstream.

Jensen and the Flips was born. Gomez wanted the band to be in total control of its style and its future. Image wise, they decided they wanted the group to be easily recognisable by always performing in button-down shirts and ties. Musically, they wanted to deliver a unique blend of indie pop and Motown soul.

It was a successful formula. In 2012, Jensen and The Flips was signed by Yellow Room Music, a local indie record label. In 2014, Gomez’s personal popularity was given a boost when Universal Records released one of his previously recorded solo albums, called Umpisa, which had been stuck in limbo for years following his departure from the label.

Jensen and the Flips released their debut album Honeymoon in 2015. It was distributed by MCA Records and the band inched its way into the mainstream.

“You need to be resourceful and have connections with the right people,” says Gomez.

The band is now fairly well known in Metro Manila, particularly around Makati and Quezon City. Gomez says the band has been playing gigs at local high schools in these areas, and demand for the band’s retro sound is high among Manila’s youth.

Jensen and the Flips – which has earned a reputation for its energetic stage performances – once performed 23 gigs in a single month, Gomez recalls. The band’s songs have more than 170,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Gomez says that social media and streaming services have been a big help for Jensen and the Flips in building a fan base. The band routinely updates its Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud and other channels to pull in new listeners. Social media also helps them connect to important people in the industry, Gomez says.

Like Autotelic, live gigs account for most of the band’s income, while digital streaming media serves to build its image and help reach new audiences. Gomez describes the band’s internet presence as its “calling card”.

When they are not making music, band members have other activities to juggle. Lead vocalist Gomez produces for other artists. Guitarist Samuel Valenia and bassist Choi Padilla usually jam with their other band, The Espasouls. Percussionist Fitz Manto has a day job as an audio engineer at Yellow Room Music recording studio. Miggy Concepcion, who plays keyboard, organises a union for composers, called Phalanx Score.

The popularity of digital streaming media gave indie artists in the Philippines the chance to stand their ground against the might of the mainstream pop industry. But despite the many ways to build a following online, the musicians have to remain inventive to make ends meet.

This Social Network Thinks It’s Solved The Internet’s Harassment Problem

But a new social networking app called Huddle claims to be a truly safe digital space. When you join the app, you either must enter your phone number or log in through Facebook so Huddle can verify you’re a real person (Huddle claims your information is never shared). Once you choose a username, you can join support groups and post personal videos to the groups that others can reply to. The idea is that once you join a group, you become an engaged member, giving others support when they need it and knowing you can ask for help and be heard. Three months after the app’s launch, there are 100 groups focused on topics like depression, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, infidelity problems, drug addiction, and asexuality.

So how did this young startup convince thousands of users to share their most personal struggles, fears, and triumphs–without, they claim, any instances of harassment yet?

[Image: Huddle]

It starts with video. Most online therapeutic forums and social networks are primarily text and chat-based, but Huddle’s cofounders, developer Tyler Faux and designer Dan Blackman–both veterans of Tumblr–wanted to create an experience that was as close to an in-person peer support group as possible. Blackman, who grew up with an alcoholic father, was familiar with how much face time in a support-group context could help. “Text is a really good medium for a lot of things, but you don’t get a sense of who’s behind the keyboard,” Faux says.

Instead, they landed on video. Thanks to Snapchat, video is becoming a dominant way of communicating between friends, especially for young people. Huddle uses an interface that will be familiar to Snapchat users, where you swipe to get to the next video–but the videos don’t disappear when they’re done playing. Instead, each video continues to play on a loop until you swipe to the next one, allowing you to take any time you need to digest and respond to the person’s story. Below each video, there’s a place to write or record a reply, as well as a way to directly message the video poster. You can also send a wave of support. I posted a very short video, and was thrilled to see that almost immediately a few people supported me and one person commented positively–an entirely different kind of experience than a Facebook notification that x number of people have liked your post. Anyone who signs up for the app can look through the content, comment, and upload videos to any group.

The cofounders believe that people are less likely to bully others if they have to say hurtful things out loud, to a camera. “It’s hard to point a camera at your face and be a troll,” Faux says. (Still, since videos go out to an entire group of people, that might not be the way a bully would use the app–instead, there’s plenty of space to harass people in the comments, just like elsewhere on the internet.)

To get around the problem of how intimidating it can be to record a video of yourself talking about your struggles–and sharing it with strangers on the internet–the cofounders alit on a clever UX trick: a pixelation feature that lets users decide what amount of pixelation they want on their video, from utterly unrecognizable to crystal clear. The veil of anonymity is under the user’s control. The feature is designed to make users comfortable and give them the agency to decide how much they want to hide their identity. But the idea isn’t to be totally anonymous. Your voice remains your voice–ensuring you still sound like a real person, even if you don’t look like one.

Can too much social media usage harm young adults’ mental health?

Animoji Karaoke Takes Over Social Media Following iPhone X Launch

An animated cat, fox, pig, and chicken singing Bohemian Rhapsody is the epitome of a new social media phenomenon dubbed Animoji Karaoke.

Over the past week, both reviewers and customers lucky enough to have the device in their hands have shared fun, humorous videos of Animoji in action, ranging from goofy voiceovers to full-out music videos.

Animoji, for those unaware, are custom animated characters that use your voice and mirror your facial expressions captured by the iPhone X’s new TrueDepth camera system. You can even record yourself as a Pile of Poo.

Creator: Mia Harrison
iPhone X users can create Animoji recordings up to 10 seconds long in the Messages app, but the internet discovered that iOS 11’s new screen recording feature allows for much lengthier clips. Enter Animoji Karaoke.

The idea was conceived by technology reporter Harry McCracken, who decided it might be fun to lip-sync a song and have an Animoji character mimic his performance. From there, similar videos have spread on social media.

To create your own Animoji Karaoke, play a song loudly enough for it to be picked up by the iPhone X’s microphone while lip-syncing. After messaging the Animoji, tap on it, and tap on the iOS share sheet to save it as a video.

A few people have gone a few steps further by stitching together multiple Animoji clips and editing in some other post-production effects.

Animoji might end up being a gimmicky feature that fades over the coming months, but for now, Apple is certainly benefitting from a wave of free viral marketing. If you see a singing fox in your timeline, now you know why.

NIH establishes new research in social epigenomics to address health disparities

News Release

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grant program to break new ground in genomics and health disparities research.

The National Institutes of Health will award 10 grants to support social epigenomics research in health disparities. This investigator-initiated research is being funded as part of the Social Epigenomics Research Focused on Minority Health and Health Disparities research program, which seeks to support research to better understand the drivers of health disparities. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, will commit $26.2 million over five years, subject to available funds, for nine awards. An additional award under this initiative will be funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – also part of NIH.

Social epigenomics is the study of how social experiences affect the genes and our biology. Our experiences do not alter the genetic code itself; however, social experiences may bring about changes in the various molecules that interact with DNA, determining which genes are switched on or off. Recent studies suggest that social stressors may affect health status through epigenomic modifications of various biological pathways.

Living in disadvantaged neighborhoods with exposure to chemical stressors, violence, discrimination, residential segregation and psychosocial stress, and limited access to healthy foods, can affect a person’s ability to stay healthy – becoming barriers to health.

“We are on the cusp of unprecedented research where we are bringing together different fields of science: social science and epigenetics, to help elucidate how social factors affect biology in health disparity populations,” said NIMHD Director Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.

Research geared toward understanding how epigenomic changes are influenced by social experiences may lead to a better understanding of mechanisms and pathways that may ultimately affect minority health and health disparities.

By identifying epigenetic modifications prior to the onset of disease, it may be possible to tailor interventions to prevent chronic conditions or diseases later in life which may result in better approaches to disease prevention, and early diagnosis, with the end goal of reducing health disparities.

The award recipients are:

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Epigenetic Mediation of Adverse Social Context on Stress Response, Socioemotional Development, and Health in a Population-based Study of Minority and Low SES Children and Adolescents
Colter Mitchell, Ph.D.
1R01MD011716-01 — Researchers will examine whether DNA methylation mediates the effects of adverse social experiences, such as poverty, harsh parenting, family instability and neighborhood disorganization, on biological processes related to stress response and stress-responsive behaviors in children and adolescents.

University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
Epigenomic Predictors of PTSD and Traumatic Stress in an African American Cohort
Monica Uddin, Ph.D.
1R01MD011728-01  — Researchers will characterize genome wide patterns of leukocyte DNA methylation in African American participants in the Detroit Neighborhood Health Study, a population-based study of mental disorders among adult Detroit residents. Analyzing glucocorticoid receptor regulatory network genes, they will test the effects of social adversity on DNA methylation levels.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Race/Ethnicity, DNA Methylation, and Disparities in Cardiovascular Mortality: NHANES 1999-2002
Belinda L. Needham
1R01MD011721-01 — Researchers will study whether differences in DNA methylation between African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and non-Hispanic Whites helps explain why mortality rates for cardiovascular disease are higher among African Americans and how socially-patterned risk factors become physically embodied.

University of Florida, Gainesville
Epigenetic Mechanisms of Emotional/Behavioral Health Among Impoverished African American Youth 
Darlene A. Kertes, Ph.D.
1R01MD011727-01 — Researchers will investigate whether environmental stressors, such as racial discrimination and exposure to violence, are associated with DNA methylation and telomere length among low-income, urban minority youth, which can help inform biological mediators of stress effects on emotional/behavioral health.

University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Influence of Prenatal Psychosocial Stressors on Maternal and Fetal Circulating miRNAs
Carrie Breton, Sc.D.
1R01MD011698-01  — Researchers will evaluate whether psychosocial stressors in the maternal environment impact the pattern of expression of maternal and fetal microRNA (miRNA) from low SES Hispanic women and whether the expression of these miRNA can impact critical newborn and early life health outcomes indicative of future health trajectory.

North Carolina State University, Raleigh
Social Adversities, Epigenetics, and the Obesity Epidemic
Cathrine Hoyo, Ph.D.
1R01MD011746-01 —  Researchers will explore mechanisms by which social adversity confers risk for obesity in youth among Blacks, Hispanics and Whites and unravel the pathways by which mothers’ prenatal stress may alter DNA methylation and influence early development, growth trajectories and childhood obesity.

University of Pittsburgh
Exposure to Violence, Epigenetic Variation, and Asthma in Puerto Rican Children
Juan Carlos Celedon M.D., Dr.PH
1R01MD011764-01  — Researchers will determine how exposure to violence leads to increased risk of asthma and asthma morbidity through altered methylation of genes regulating behavioral, autonomic, neuroendocrine and immunologic responses to stress in Puerto Rican children.

Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, Duarte, California (NCI-funded)
Epigenetic Damage in Women Living in LA Food Desert Zip Codes Victoria Seewaldt, M.D.
1R01CA220693-01 —Researchers will explore in young Women-of-Color (African-American and Latina/Hispanic-American) living in food-desert zip codes in Los Angeles, whether insulin-resistance promotes epigenetic damage and triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) risk.

North Carolina Central University, Kannapolis
Molecular Determinants of Social Factors in Prostate Cance
1R01MD012767-01 — Deepak Kumar, Ph.D.
Researchers will analyze circulating microRNAs and stress hormone levels in African American prostate cancer patients living in the Washington D.C., metropolitan area, at different levels of socioeconomic status (SES) and social stress to understand the epigenetic mechanisms modified by social stress that may cause prostate cancer health disparities.

Northwestern University
Understanding Socioeconomic Disparities in Perinatal Risk: The Role of Epigenetic and Transcriptional Regulation in the Placent
1R01MD011749-01 — Gregory Evan Miller, Ph.D.
Researchers will determine the extent to which socioeconomic/psychosocial conditions affect prenatal DNA methylation, miRNA expression, mRNA expression and inflammation, and influence preterm birth and small for gestational age among low SES women.

NIMHD is one of NIH’s 27 Institutes and Centers. It leads scientific research to improve minority health and eliminate health disparities by conducting and supporting research; planning, reviewing, coordinating, and evaluating all minority health and health disparities research at NIH; promoting and supporting the training of a diverse research workforce; translating and disseminating research information; and fostering collaborations and partnerships. For more information about NIMHD, visit

About the National Cancer Institute (NCI): NCI leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH’s efforts to dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at or call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health®


Chinese Internet Regulators Target Social Media Use

48ef2_BN-VW141_377KM_M_20171030092316 Chinese Internet Regulators Target Social Media Use

Instant-messaging apps, video streaming and other new content platforms in China will face closer scrutiny under new rules issued by the country’s internet regulators.

In a statement Monday, the Cyberspace Administration of China said messaging apps and other new forms of information dissemination can be used to engage in illegal behavior. The administration said that operators of such platforms will soon be required to conduct extensive reviews to ensure they aren’t used to spread illegal content.

The agency said the new technologies “can be used by criminals to spread illegal information and undertake criminal activity, harming the lawful interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations,” in a statement announcing the rules.

In a separate announcement, the regulator introduced new rules governing “internet content managers”—code for online censors—that require them to undergo 40 hours of government training over a period of three years to ensure that they are promoting socialist values. Both policies go into force on Dec. 1.

While governments in the West have wrestled with how to regulate the internet in an era of so-called fake news and political upheavals blamed in part on social media, China’s ruling Communist Party is marching ahead with measures designed to clampdown on activity in cyberspace that it deems threatening.

The latest rules, announced a week after the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress concluded, give further legal weight to a longstanding government effort to enlist the country’s tech companies in managing the country’s 700 million internet users.

Under the measures announced Monday, regulators said companies will be required to submit reports to local authorities on the measures they have put in place to prevent dissemination of prohibited content, and subject themselves to security assessments by the provincial or municipal arm of the CAC. Companies that haven’t put such security measures in place won’t be able to operate, it warned.

They also moved to standardize recruitment and training of the armies of online censors companies employ to work alongside machines that scan and filter content. In addition to government training, companies themselves are required to provide 10 hours of instruction every year in Marxist news values.

The announcements follow a flurry of regulations since the country implemented a sweeping cybersecurity law in June. Chinese regulators ordered three popular internet platforms, including


, to stop streaming political videos in June. In September, the government slapped operators of online platforms with the maximum fines allowed under the new law for allowing users to spread fake news, pornography and other forms of banned content.

That same month, the internet regulator issued rules that required companies providing group-chat services to verify the identities of users who set up groups and establish “credit” systems that govern who can join and run groups. It also said group owners would be held legally responsible for content posted in the chats.

The government has also broadened the list of online services that require users to register with their real names, and tightened control over the use of software tools that businesses and individuals use to circumvent the country’s internet filters.

Write to Liza Lin at and Josh Chin at

An Evidence-Based Path Forward To Advance Social Determinants Of Health Data

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HCI event emphasizes health benefits of social interactions

A new campus initiative aims to make students’ and faculty members’ social lives a priority for their health.

UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative launched Engage Well at a La Kretz Garden Pavilion event Tuesday to promote healthy social relationships and interaction. Engage Well is an area of focus, or pod, for providing projects, resources and events emphasizing the need for students to create and maintain social relationships and interactions for their physical health. About 50 people attended the event.

Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost of HCI, said the idea for the Engage Well pod came from research studies on how social relationships can impact physical health, such as increasing life expectancy.

Ted Robles, an associate professor of psychology and an Engage Well pod leader, said his research is focused on the impact social relationships have on physical health. He said healthy social relationships should be a public health priority at UCLA.

“Things like smoking and obesity are really important factors in one’s health,” Robles said. “And the effect of social relationships is equally as important.”

Social connections apply to other HCI pods, such as Eat Well and Move Well, which promote healthy nutrition and fitness options for students, Robles added. Future program ideas for Engage Well will also come from the students and faculty, he said.

Slusser said the event was held in conjunction with HCI’s celebration of National Food Day with the Eat Well pod.

“We purposely chose … to launch (today) … because food and social connections are intertwined,” said.

Slusser said UCLA student focus groups in an HCI-led research study said they thought food was a way to build community and positivity in a stressful college environment. For example, she added students in an HCI teaching kitchen program, which promotes healthy eating and cooking skills, felt more socially connected with their peers when learning to cook alongside them.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a visiting professor from Brigham Young University and guest speaker at the event who researches social relationships and health, said scientific research has shown the importance of socializing.

“Social connections are seen as something only for emotional well-being,” she said. “But data suggests they have a powerful impact on our physical health, such as risk for diseases and even premature death.”

Social isolation is a growing health epidemic and can be as physically detrimental as smoking cigarettes, she added.

To find ideas for projects and resources combating social isolation, Slusser said Engage Well will host monthly meetings open to all students and faculty to discuss ways to improve and add to the initiative.

Rachel Tsao, a second-year psychobiology student who attended the event, said she thinks the Engage Well pod is a good addition to HCI because it takes a more holistic approach to well-being, rather than focusing on isolated aspects of health.

“It’s important to be healthy not only in your own mind and body, but in your relationships with others and knowing your social responsibilities,” she said.

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SOCIAL SECURITY: How did they do it without computers?

More than 85 percent of American homes have some sort of computer. Millions of people rely on computers daily to access, formulate, and store information. People use computers for everything from sharing family pictures to shopping to banking and paying bills. But, we haven’t always been able to count on the convenience of the computer to make our lives easier.

Welsh health secretary ‘open to social care tax’

2a1dd__98112997_elderlycare_bbc Welsh health secretary 'open to social care tax'

Image caption

Some aged 65 and over receive help with social care costs but others pay for it in full

A social care levy could be funded via the Welsh Government’s new tax-varying powers, with Wales’ health secretary saying he is “open to the idea”.

Vaughan Gething said the current system “isn’t going to offer the quality and dignity of care that all of us want” as more live into old age.

The levy is one of four possible new taxes outlined by the Welsh Government.

Some people aged 65 and over receive help towards their care costs but others pay the full amount.

One of the four ideas is to be proposed to the UK government and Parliament, who would have to give final approval.

Mr Gething told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Wales programme he was “generally open to the idea” of the Welsh Government using powers available to it “to fund social care in Wales”.

He said that “the time to do this gets more urgent every year”.

Image caption

Vaughan Gething said all parties needed to engage in a debate about how to fund social care

“As we have more people retiring, more people living longer, so we should have a debate about how to use our powers,” the health secretary said.

The latest research suggests that by 2025 there could be nearly three million people over the age of 65 needing care in England and Wales – a 25% increase since 2015.

The Health Foundation last year estimated pressures on social care in Wales would rise by about 4.1% a year over the next 15 years due to population changes, the nature of complex and chronic conditions and rising costs.

Social care covers everything from help in an individual’s home for tasks such as washing and dressing, to round-the-clock help in a care home.

Mr Gething said that all political parties, as well as members of the public, needed to engage in a debate about how to fund social care in the future, considering the additional burden it will place on the Welsh Government’s budget.

“Almost all of us will live to old age. More of us are doing so. Our current system isn’t going to offer the quality and dignity of care that all of us want,” he said.

Use of Internet and social media at workplace

With the proliferation of Internet in general and social media in particular, living without the hand-held device called ‘SMARTphone’ might make us look very DUMB.

The rapid development in information and communication technology (ICT) has brought the world together, as one unit, could not have been imagined towards the end of 20th century.

Physical distances are relative. You just need to knock on the doors of the virtual domain of who you wish to connect with using any of the myriad any social media platforms that are ready to become your communication vehicle. The ease of use and the inexpensive nature of the media give the it a huge advantage.

Having said that, there are many concerns that have arisen and are growing with the rapid expansion of the social media phenomenon in the society.

While it is so ‘cool’ to share your profile with the world and get likes and comments from one and all, the fact is that you have laid bare a lot more information about yourself than you need to. Unfortunately, in the bargain, you have opened a window, or maybe a door, for unscrupulous people to peek in or enter your life in ways that could be potentially damaging for you. This is true for individuals and organisations alike.


Internet/Social Media access at workplace


With millions of people accessing social media on their smartphones and tablets, at any given time, it is obvious that people are accessing these from their workplaces, too. This is an extremely contentious issue. There have been surveys, debates, statistics that advocate the good, bad, and the ugly of the practise of accessing social media access at the workplace.

Some of the problems that organisations see in allowing a free Internet flow within the organisation are:

Reduction in employee productivity: Many surveys have been conducted to assess the impact of the social media behaviour of employees in the workplace, and almost all have returned with startling result that about two-thirds of the workforce uses social media platforms for personal purposes during their office hours. The impact of this behaviour is loss of employee productivity valued at billions of dollars

High risk of malware attack: An open network increases the risk of hackers planting malicious software, which could have catastrophic results like the stealing of critical information, the crippling of complete networks, wiping out and disabling all the computers within the network, leading to huge losses

Risk of Spoiling Employee Relations: Instances of cyber bullying, sending negative messages to one another, or spreading wrong and harmful rumours about colleagues through social media could create disharmony between team members and result in teamwork going astray and projects getting delayed. Social media platforms could well become a means of employees extracting personal vendettas.

Company image and confidentiality: A disgruntled ex-employee or a careless employee may tweet about, post or update company’s internal and confidential information. This could have the far-reaching impact on the company’s reputation and status in corporate circles or within the industry.

Wastage of company time and resources: Allowing employees to use company time and resources for their personal tasks and entertainment amounts to non-productive use of valuable assets.

Many companies, in the initial days, started by banning access to Internet for employees, however, with the advent of smartphones and inexpensive data, such measures have become futile. Moreover, social media is a highly potent marketing tool, which is increasingly becoming an integral part of the marketing communication plan of many companies.

Companies are now taking a more pragmatic view of the subject and implementing well-thought-out Internet and social media policies that aim to control the possible damaging effects while maximising the benefits that social media can deliver.


Employees’ Responsibilities


While management has the responsibility of drafting the organisations’ operational policies, including the Internet and social media policy and ensuring its proper implementation, employees, too, have certain responsibilities towards the organisation.

Sense of belonging: When you join an organisation with a sense of belonging and work in the interest of the organisation;

Follow policies and guidelines: Employees must make efforts to understand the company’s vision and mission and get thoroughly acquainted with and follow the policies and guidelines in effect.

Work-related vs personal: Employees are given certain roles and responsibilities to perform and are paid for doing so. During the hours that they are at work, it would be unethical and unfair to carry out personal work using company resources, e.g. using the office computer, network, and bandwidth to engage with family and friends; using Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Ambassadorship: Employees must consider themselves the ambassadors of the organisation they work for and behave accordingly when in public view. Any careless action like posting an irresponsible statement against the company or inadvertent disclosure of internal information on a public platform could lead to unimaginable disaster for the employees as well as the company for which they work.

In the present landscape, where new technology developments are taking place by the hour and people are ever willing to adopt these new developments, it would be naive of the employers to ignore the influence – positive and negative – of this fast-changing environment and not have appropriate policies to address the impact.

At the same time, the employees, too, need to be completely aware of the regulations and policies that are in force at the workplace, and more important, be aware of their own responsibilities towards their employers and co-workers and ensure that their actions are directed towards the interests of the organisation for which they work for which and keep their personal tasks for after office hours.

– Ashish Jhingran is a Jamaica-based management and marcom practitioner and senior consultant with Synapse Communications. He has more than 25 years of experience with international companies, spanning several countries across the world. Send feedback to

Mining Of Social Media By DHS — Another Hit To Public Health

There’s a new federal sneak attack on public health.

Engadget brought a chilling, expansive Department of Homeland Security policy to my attention. Beginning October 18, the euphemistically-named “Modified Privacy Act System of Records” went into effect. An expansion of previous policies, this enables DHS to collect and store “social-media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results” in the permanent files of all immigrants—including permanent residents and naturalized citizens. DHS stores this information indefinitely, planning on transferring it to the National Archives.

Jonathan McIntosh

Surveillance society

This is a chilling invasion of privacy and likely subject to abuse, as when the current regime demanded to know identities, e-mail and IP addresses of everyone who signed an anti-Trump petition.

What is not widely recognized is that many of us who use social media will be caught up in this dragnet for two reasons. First, the policy will also allow collection of “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements,” and inquiries or complaints from members of the general public, according to the Federal Register. So it is not “just” immigrants who are affected (not that that would be acceptable), but likely everyone who has ever associated in any way on social media with an immigrant.

If you have communication with an immigrant—even by a “like” on a social media, you will likely be caught up in this web. Same if you are listed in an on-line phone directory—which also often lists past housemates or “associates.”

Violet Blue further warns, “A close read of the document shows that finding out what is in one’s file will be incredibly difficult, and correcting any bad info nigh impossible.” Remember problems people have had with the “No Fly” list? There’s no reason to believe DHS would be responsive to fixing further problems they create.

This sweep of social media data will likely drive people underground and complicate public health efforts. Social media is increasingly used to help in public health surveillance and messaging.

Use of Social Media and health

As of 2009, 39% of adults used social media such as Facebook for health information and 61% did on-line searches for health info. Facebook and YouTube can provide information for users who prefer or need low literacy resources. More and more patient advocacy groups like PatientsLikeMe share stories and experiences of disease and treatments. This becomes far more disturbing with recent revelations of how Facebook allowed micro-targeting of users to provide advertisements and disseminate misinformation to specific groups of people and to foment racial divisions.

Social Media and epidemiology

Social media is an invaluable tool used for public health epidemiology. It can be used for monitoring the beginning of flu season, for example, by monitoring searches for “cold” remedies and Google Flu Trends. Linking key words and location information from the user’s IP (Internet Protocol) address localizes the data. Harvesting Twitter key words, for example, can forecast the incidence of disease. HealthMap and Pro-Med mail are both invaluable in monitoring diseases and communicating their findings. Similarly, the GeoSentinel project and Emerging Infections Network provide surveillance for travel related illnesses and new cases during outbreaks.

CrowdRescue epitomizes the value of social media in emergency situations, with their volunteers who monitor Twitter and online news for people in trouble and direct first responders more efficiently. Similarly, during natural disasters and public health emergencies, social media can be used to pinpoint specific supply needs.

Social media has also been important in identifying outbreaks and relaying information during such situations, as with SARS. Interestingly, it has also been described as allowing “democratization of public health knowledge thus preventing government suppression of health emergencies.” On the other hand, identifying “fake news” is more difficult with certain monied interests focused on disinformation campaigns.

Social media also been used to assess people’s level of understanding and reactions to specific messaging. Isaac Chun-Hai Fung expands on these uses in a review for the WHO.

But on a darker note:

As the Electronic Freedom Foundation notes,

“Individuals’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association —particularly for naturalized citizens and lawful permanent residents—are chilled by the government collecting information about them.”

Collecting such data also enables mapping their social networks and tracking people’s movements.

This is not an idle concern. In February, the Department of Justice demanded information on about 6,000 individuals who “liked” an anti-Donald Trump Facebook page. It looks months of wrangling against a gag order for Facebook to even be allowed to tell the account holders of the demands. The warrant’s demands included all private messages, friend lists, status updates, comments, and other personal information, and “all searches performed by the users, groups or networks joined, and all data and information that has been deleted by the user.”

A recent article about Tinder further shows the breadth of some of the data mining possible through our use of apps. At this point, the focus appears to be targeted advertising. One can readily imagine more nefarious uses.

Putting this into a public health context, it is not hard to envision that the Feds mining social media data would drive groups underground—be it gays, who Trump said Pence wanted to hang, or people with sexually transmitted diseases or any woman who has sought care at Planned Parenthood, let alone had an abortion. I remember the early HIV/AIDS epidemic days, when I wouldn’t even test patients through our hospital, fearing a confidentiality breach that would cost them their jobs, homes or lives. This misguided authoritarianism will drive us back to those days, if allowed to continue.

It’s unclear how we can best defend against this growing threat of authoritarianism besides legal challenges, attempts to reclaim voting rights and verified voting and undoing gerrymandering. What other suggestions do you have?

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