Categories
AI

Facebook removes ‘deepfake’ of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy

On Wednesday, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, removed a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issuing a statement that he never made, asking Ukrainians to “lay down arms.”

The deepfake appears to have been first broadcasted on a Ukrainian news website for TV24 after an alleged hack, as first reported by Sky News on Wednesday. The video shows an edited Zelenskyy speaking behind a podium declaring that Ukraine has “decided to return Donbas” to Russia and that his nation’s war efforts had failed.

In the video, Zelenskyy’s head is comically larger than in real life and is more pixelated than his surrounding body. The fake voice is much deeper than his real voice as well.

Meta’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, put out a tweet thread on Wednesday announcing that the video had been removed from the company’s platforms. “Earlier today, our teams identified and removed a deepfake video claiming to show President Zelensky issuing a statement he never did. It appeared on a reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the internet,” Gleicher said.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian government issued a statement warning soldiers and civilians to take pause when they encounter videos of Zelenskyy online, especially if he announces a surrender to Russian invasion. In the statement, the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications said that the Russian government would likely use deepfakes to convince Ukrainians to surrender.

“Videos made through such technologies are almost impossible to distinguish from the real ones. Be aware – this is a fake! His goal is to disorient, sow panic, disbelieve citizens and incite our troops to retreat,” the statement said. “Rest assured – Ukraine will not capitulate!”

After the deepfake started to circulate across the internet, Zelenskyy posted a video to his official Instagram account debunking the video. “As for the latest childish provocation with advice to lay down arms, I only advise that the troops of the Russian Federation lay down their arms and return home,” he said. “We are at home and defending Ukraine.”

Facebook banned deepfakes and other manipulated videos from its platforms in 2020 ahead of the US presidential election. The policy includes content created by artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms that could “likely mislead” users.



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Categories
Computing

How to set your Facebook Feed to show most recent posts

Facebook’s Feed recommendations aren’t always helpful. The Feed is designed to recommend content you’d most likely want to see, and it’s based on your Facebook activity, your connections, and the level of engagement a given post receives. It’s also worth noting that Facebook is reportedly planning on changing up Feed’s recommendations.

But not every Facebook user cares about seeing the most popular posts or about Facebook’s attempts to understand what you’d like to see. Sometimes, you just want to keep it simple and see the latest posts that have been shared. If that’s you, it’s important to know that you’re not just stuck with Facebook’s Feed algorithm. You can sort your Feed to show its most recent posts — and we can show you how.

Note: While you can sort your Feed to show the most recent posts, Facebook has said that “Feed will eventually return to its default setting.” So, it’s likely that you’ll need to enable it again in the future.

How to view your Facebook Feed chronologically: Desktop/web method

If you use Facebook on the web via your PC, the process for setting up your Feed to be viewed chronologically (the most recent posts) is simple enough. Here’s what to do:.

Step 1: Open up your favorite web browser on your PC and go to Facebook.com. Once you’re there, log into your account if you haven’t already.

Step 2: Once you’re logged in, the first thing you should see is your Feed. To sort your Feed posts to show the most recent ones, navigate to the left side menu and select the Most recent option from that menu.

Now your Feed is sorted to show you the most recent posts first. The top of your Feed should say “Most Recent.”

If you want to go back to sorting your Feed posts by Facebook’s recommendations (Top Posts), click on the blue Back to top posts link.


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Step 3: Note: If you don’t see the Most recent option near the top of the left side menu, don’t worry. You should still be able to access it by selecting the See more option from that same menu. Then, after the menu expands, the Most recent option should appear. You may need to scroll down the left side menu to see it.

How to view your Facebook Feed chronologically: Mobile app method

First, a little background: Facebook’s official guide to how to set your Feed to show the most recent posts appears to be outdated (at least for Android devices). But, since Facebook’s current guides for Android and iOS are fairly similar to each other, we can kind of assume that the following newer instructions we’ve written and tested (based on an Android device) will also be similarly applicable to iOS devices.

Here’s how to chronologically view your Facebook feed on the mobile app.

Step 1: Open the Facebook app on your mobile device. Your app should default to showing you the Home feed, which will display all the Top Posts but not necessarily the most recent ones.

Selecting the Feeds tab icon in the Facebook mobile app for Android.

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Step 2: To see the most recent posts, tap on the icon at the top of your screen that looks like a rectangle with a clock in front of it. This is the Feeds tab.

The Feeds tab has its own subsections that you can select to further narrow down your newly chronologically-sorted feed: All, Favorites, Friends, Groups, and Pages. The Feeds tab will automatically default to All, which will show all your Feed’s posts chronologically, and the All tab seems to be the only one that remains reliably chronological.

Selecting the All section of the Feeds tab in the Facebook mobile app for Android.

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Step 3: Here’s another way to access the Feeds tab in the mobile app: Open the mobile app. Tap on the three-horizontal lines Menu icon. Then, under All shortcuts, select Feeds.

Accessing the Feeds tab from the Menu option in the Facebook mobile app for Android.

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Editors’ Choice




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Categories
AI

Facebook says its AI mislabeling a video of Black men as “primates” was “unacceptable”

Facebook is apologizing for an incident where its AI mislabeled a video of Black men with a “primates” label, calling it an “unacceptable error” that it was examining to prevent it from happening again. As reported by the New York Times, users who watched a June 27th video posted by the UK tabloid Daily Mail received an auto-prompt asking whether they wanted to “keep seeing videos about Primates.”

Facebook disabled the entire topic recommendation feature as soon as it realized what was happening, a spokesperson said in an email to The Verge on Saturday.

“This was clearly an unacceptable error,” the spokesperson said. The company is investigating the cause to prevent the behavior from happening again, the spokesperson added. “As we have said, while we have made improvements to our AI we know it’s not perfect and we have more progress to make. We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations.”

The incident is just the latest example of artificial intelligence tools showing gender or racial bias, with facial recognition tools shown to have a particular problem of misidentifying people of color. In 2015, Google apologized after its Photos app tagged photos of Black people as “gorillas.” Last year, Facebook said it was studying whether its algorithms trained using AI—including those of Instagram, which Facebook owns— were racially biased.

In April, the US Federal Trade Commission warned that AI tools that have demonstrated “troubling” racial and gender biases may be in violation of consumer protection laws if they’re used decision-making for credit, housing or employment. “Hold yourself accountable— or be ready for the FTC to do it for you,” FTC privacy attorney Elisa Jillson wrote in a post on the agency’s website.

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Categories
AI

Facebook disputes report that its AI can’t detect hate speech or violence consistently

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen wrote in blog post Sunday that the prevalence of hate speech on the platform had dropped by 50 percent over the past three years, and that “a narrative that the technology we use to fight hate speech is inadequate and that we deliberately misrepresent our progress” was false.

“We don’t want to see hate on our platform, nor do our users or advertisers, and we are transparent about our work to remove it,” Rosen wrote. “What these documents demonstrate is that our integrity work is a multi-year journey. While we will never be perfect, our teams continually work to develop our systems, identify issues and build solutions.”

The post appeared to be in response to a Sunday article in the Wall Street Journal, which said the Facebook employees tasked with keeping offensive content off the platform don’t believe the company is able to reliably screen for it.

The WSJ report states that internal documents show that two years ago, Facebook reduced the time that human reviewers focused on hate speech complaints, and made other adjustments that reduced the number of complaints. That in turn helped create the appearance that Facebook’s artificial intelligence had been more successful in enforcing the company’s rules than it actually was, according to the WSJ.

A team of Facebook employees found in March that the company’s automated systems were removing posts which generated between 3 and 5 percent of the views of hate speech on the social platform, and less than 1 percent of all content that was in violation of its rules against violence and incitement, the WSJ reported.

But Rosen argued that focusing on content removals alone was “the wrong way to look at how we fight hate speech.” He says the technology to remove hate speech is just one method Facebook uses to fight it. “We need to be confident that something is hate speech before we remove it,” Rosen said.

Instead, he said, the company believes focusing on the prevalence of hate speech people actually see on the platform and how it reduces it using various tools is a more important measure. He claimed that for every 10,000 views of a piece of content on Facebook, there were five views of hate speech. “Prevalence tells us what violating content people see because we missed it,” Rosen wrote. “It’s how we most objectively evaluate our progress, as it provides the most complete picture.”

But the internal documents obtained by the WSJ showed some significant pieces of content were able to evade Facebook’s detection, including videos of car crashes that showed people with graphic injuries, and violent threats against trans children.

The WSJ has produced a series of reports about Facebook based on internal documents provided by whistleblower Frances Haugen. She testified before Congress that the company was aware of the negative impact its Instagram platform could have on teenagers. Facebook has disputed the reporting based on the internal documents.

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Categories
AI

Facebook is shutting down its Face Recognition tagging program

Meta (formerly known as Facebook) is discontinuing Facebook’s Face Recognition feature following a lengthy privacy battle. Meta says the change will roll out in the coming weeks. As part of it, the company will stop using facial recognition algorithms to tag people in photographs and videos, and it will delete the facial recognition templates that it uses for identification.

Meta artificial intelligence VP Jerome Pesenti calls the change part of a “company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products.” The move follows a lawsuit that accused Facebook’s tagging tech of violating Illinois’ biometric privacy law, leading to a $650 million settlement in February. Facebook previously restricted facial recognition to an opt-in feature in 2019.

“Looking ahead, we still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool,” writes Pesenti in a blog post, citing possibilities like face-based identity verification. “But the many specific instances where facial recognition can be helpful need to be weighed against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole.” Pesenti notes that regulators haven’t settled on comprehensive privacy regulation for facial recognition. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

Pesenti says more than one-third of Facebook’s daily active users had opted into Face Recognition scanning, and over a billion face recognition profiles will be deleted as part of the upcoming change. As part of the change, Facebook’s automated alt-text system for blind users will no longer name people when it’s analyzing and summarizing media, and it will no longer suggest people to tag in photographs or automatically notify users when they appear in photos and videos posted by others.

Facebook’s decision won’t stop independent companies like Clearview AI — which built huge image databases by scraping photos from social networks, including Facebook — from using facial recognition algorithms trained with that data. US law enforcement agencies (alongside other government divisions) work with Clearview AI and other companies for facial recognition-powered surveillance. State or national privacy laws would be needed to restrict the technology’s use more broadly.

By shutting down a feature it’s used for years, Meta is hoping to bolster user confidence in its privacy protections as it prepares a rollout of potentially privacy-compromising virtual and augmented reality technology. The company launched a pair of camera-equipped smart glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban earlier this year, and it’s gradually launching 3D virtual worlds on its Meta VR headset platform. All these efforts will require a level of trust from users and regulators, and giving up Facebook auto-tagging — especially after a legal challenge to the program — is a straightforward way to bolster it.

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Categories
Game

Facebook Gaming streamers and viewers can play ‘Pac-Man’ together

is about to become more interactive. Two features are rolling out today that should help creators and their fans seamlessly play games together, and give viewers other ways to get involved with streams.

Play With Streamer is self-explanatory. There will be a button on livestreams that lets viewers play Pac-Man Community (a version of Pac-Man developed in partnership with Genvid and Bandai Namco) with streamers and other community members. Pac-Man Community includes a four-player co-op mode, a mobile-optimized maze creator, rankings and community challenges.

Facebook Interactives, meanwhile, are interactive layers viewers will see on top of livestreams. When Pac-Man Community‘s Watch Mode is enabled, they can help or hamper an AI-controlled Pac-Man or the ghosts through the in-game video player. Facebook says these features form some of the first steps of its vision for the metaverse.

Other platforms have long had ways for players to interact directly with streams. On Twitch, viewers can control and by entering commands in the chat. There are also extensions that let viewers the streamer is playing by, for instance, granting them extra items or even instantly killing their character. With Stadia’s , viewers can play with a streamer who’s broadcasting their gameplay on YouTube, as long as they also own the game and have .

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Categories
Security

How to recover when your Facebook account is hacked

Hopefully, the day will never come when you find your Facebook account has been hacked or taken over. It is an awful feeling, and I feel for you, for the world of hurt that you will experience in time and perhaps money to return your account to your rightful control.

Let me take you through the recovery process. Afterward, I’ll provide some proactive security pointers you can follow to prevent this awful moment from happening, or at least reduce the chances that it will.

Three ways you can lose control of your Facebook account

There are actually three different possible scenarios.

Scenario 1. You let a family member or friend “borrow” your Facebook account on your computer or phone. They proceed to consume content, post messages as you, or befriend random people. This happened to a friend of mine, who had a grandchild staying at her home for a week. The girl left town and left a mess behind on my friend’s Facebook account. “She didn’t post anything to my account, but I had odd friend requests that I had to clean up. I decided to just quit using my account.” This is more of a nuisance than a hack, but still annoying.

Remedy: First, use Facebook’s security page to check and see where else your account is already logged in.

This list should also remind you of all of the devices that you have used Facebook on in the past. I took this screenshot after I found (and then removed) an older Windows laptop that I hadn’t used in years on the list. You’ll also see an entry for my iPhone that is located somewhere in Indiana. I haven’t visited that state in years, so sometimes the geo-location algorithms are a bit wonky. Even if your account isn’t hacked, it is helpful to routinely check this screen to make sure you haven’t enabled a login by mistake.

If you don’t recognize (or don’t use) any of the devices on this list, click on the three vertical dots on the right and force those machines to log out of your account. Next, change your password to something unique. Also, remember in the future to sign out of Facebook (and Messenger) before you loan your device to anyone.

Scenario 2. Someone uses your photo and name and sets up a new account. Then they proceed to try to recruit your FB friends to their account.

Remedy: There isn’t much you can do about it, other than tell people you are still you and to ignore the imposter. This should be a warning when you receive a friend request from someone you think you have already befriended, or someone you haven’t communicated with in years. A word to the wise: send them an email or text asking if the request is genuine.

Scenario 3. The doomsday scenario. Someone guesses your account password and proceeds to lock you out of your account. This situation is the most dire, and fixing this will depend on what else you have linked to your Facebook account and how determined you are to get it back.

This happened to Elizabeth, a book author. She ended up working with two different friends who were IT professionals and a lawyer over the course of four months. She had two complicating factors that made recovering her account difficult.

First, she used Facebook ads to promote her books, so she had connected her login to her credit cards. This resulted in the hacker charging her card with their own ads to try to lure other victims to compromise themselves.

The second complication was that she was using her pen name and a random birthday date for her account. During the recovery process, Facebook asks that you scan your ID to verify who you are. When she told me this, I became concerned for myself. For years I prided myself on using January 1 as my Facebook “birthday.” Now she was telling me that I was setting myself up for trouble if someone hacked my account.

She eventually got her password reset, but almost immediately the hacker reset and took over her account again. “I tried to get someone at Facebook to help me, but I couldn’t get anyone on the phone,” she told me. Before the pandemic, the company had a special phone hotline for industry insiders, “but this was discontinued,” she said. She had more success blocking the credit card charges by phoning her bank. “I was trying to be a step ahead of the hacker, and losing sleep. My whole life was put on hold as I tried to deal with the situation. I got no work done for months. I ended up changing my passwords on more than 30 different accounts.”

Possible remedies: if you find yourself in this last situation, you have three basic choices:

1. Now would be a good time to leave Facebook. The trouble is, you have someone who is pretending to be you, and could leverage your identity into criminal and uncomfortable situations. Not to mention that they could try to leverage bank accounts that are linked to your account or open up credit cards in your name. (More on that in a moment.)

2. Try to reinstate your account on your own, using Facebook’s own obscure and oftentimes contradictory steps. That is the way most people I know have tried. However, you will find out very quickly that there is no easy way to do this. You have to communicate with Facebook support through someone else’s account, which seems somewhat contradictory, so hopefully your spouse or friend is willing to lend a hand. (Don’t be tempted to set up a second account, because that could result in both of your accounts eventually being canceled.) Then you have to choose one of several options (finding an unauthorized post, an account that uses your own name and/or photos) and enter the rabbit hole to recover your account.

If you use Facebook as a means to log into other internet services, you will have to disconnect these links — otherwise a hacker can then compromise these other accounts. If, like Elizabeth, you have connected your credit card or other financial accounts, you will have to contact these institutions and get these charges rescinded. Start by trying to use Facebook from other devices you have previously used: perhaps the hacker hasn’t automatically logged you out.

3. Use a third-party recovery service, such as Hacked.com. This will cost you $249, but the company will be persistent and if they can’t help you, they will refund your fee. You also get a year’s digital protection plan included that normally sells separately for $99. If you have a complex situation like Elizabeth (connected finances, non-matching birthday), I recommend using this path.

But make sure you aren’t employing some random hacker who might be taking your money and doing nothing else. I spoke to Hacked.com founder Jonas Borchgrevink, who outlined the various sequences of steps that his staffers try in a recent Washington Post article. And he confirmed that if you are using a different name from what is shown on your ID, it is almost impossible to recover your account.

Proactive security measures

If you haven’t been hacked (yet) and are getting somewhat uncomfortable reading this, here are some steps to take to secure your Facebook account, or to at least reduce your pain points if it does happen. Start by doing at least one of them today, and make sure you take care of all of the items as soon as possible.

1. Set up additional login security on your Facebook account. Facebook offers you a set of confusing choices, but the one that I recommend is to use a two-factor authenticator app such as Google Authenticator. (You can start at this Facebook page.)

Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) uses an Android or iOS smartphone app as part of the login process. After you supply your username and password, Facebook asks you to type in a series of six numbers that are generated by the app. These numbers change every minute, so you need your phone nearby when you log in. If you want extra credit, take the time to enable this second factor method on your other accounts, including any banks and credit card companies that support this method (sadly, too few do).

Elizabeth was using a less secure method for her second factor: sending the six numbers as a text message to her phone. You can read more about why this isn’t my preference.

2. Check to see if you have any payment methods configured on Facebook. While preparing for this article, I was surprised to find my PayPal address linked to my Facebook account — and I thought I was being careful about my Facebook security. There are two places to check. First, there is the page that shows if you have set up any credit cards to make direct payments to individuals or causes, called Facebook Pay. Go to this other link to remove any ad payment methods. If you are running any ad campaigns on your business, you will have to stop them first.

3. Remove connected apps and websites. If you have signed on to third-party apps using your Facebook credentials, now is the time to review and remove them (you can find the appropriate page here). The same is true with removing any business integrations. You take a small hit in not being able to automatically log into these other services, but you also protect yourself if your account has been compromised.

If you have a Facebook business page, you should have at least two people who have admin rights to this page. (Go to Page Settings > Page Roles.) If your business account is hacked and you are the sole admin, it will be next to impossible to get it recovered. This contact should also have second factor authentication turned on.

4. Check your account’s email contacts (using this Facebook page). You should have at least a second contact email (or more) that Facebook can use to send you notifications in case your main email address becomes compromised. Of course, use different passwords with these different email accounts.

I know, this seems like a lot of work, and there are a lot of places in the Facebook settings pages that you will have to visit and pay attention to. And chances are, the links provided above might not work in the future, as Facebook likes to make changes to its settings.

If these activities to make yourself more secure haven’t gotten you frustrated, you might want to continue improving your security. I recommend either the Jumbo smartphone app for iOS and Android, or Avast One (available on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android). Either can help walk you through the numerous steps to secure your Google, Twitter, and other accounts.

Parting words of wisdom

Think before you click. If you get a message from what looks like a social media company saying that your account has been compromised, don’t follow any links or call any phone numbers in the message. This could be a lure from a hacker. Instead, navigate to the site or use its own app directly.

Be aware of things that seem unusual. Keep an eye out for messages you didn’t send, posts you didn’t create, or purchases you didn’t make. These could be tells that someone has guessed your password or compromised your account. If you are lucky, it might be an errant teen using one of your computers.

As Elizabeth told me, “Being hacked is like getting a digital tattoo — everyone can see the after-effects of your poor choices.”

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Categories
Security

Facebook took down a fake Swiss scientist account that was part of an international misinfo campaign

Buried deep within Facebook’s November report on Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior is a tale of international intrigue that seems more like a Netflix drama than an attempted disinformation campaign (although the way Netflix mines social media for ideas these days, maybe stay tuned). On July 24th, a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards claimed on Facebook and Twitter that the US was pressuring World Health Organization (WHO) scientists studying the origins of COVID-19.

His claims spread quickly on social media, as such claims are wont to do, and within a week’s time, the Global Times and People’s Daily, two state-run Chinese media outlets, were denouncing Wilson Edwards’ claims as “intimidation” by the US. Wilson Edwards created his Facebook account two days after China refused to accept a plan by the WHO for a second phase study into the origins of the coronavirus.

Have you guessed the plot twist yet? Turns out, according to the Swiss Embassy in Beijing, that there is no such Swiss citizen by the name Wilson Edwards. “If you exist, we would like to meet you! But it is more likely that this is a fake news, and we call on the Chinese press and netizens to take down the posts,” the embassy tweeted from its official account on August 10th.

Facebook investigated and removed the Wilson Edwards account the same day the Swiss embassy tweeted. Ben Nimmo, global IO threat intel lead (excellent title for our drama) at Facebook parent company Meta, writes that the Wilson Edwards account was part of a misinformation campaign that originated in China.

Faked profile picture of one of the fake accounts Meta says liked the post by “Wilson Edwards”
Photo: Meta

“In essence, this campaign was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona,” Nimmo says. Meta’s investigation found that nearly the entire initial spread of the Wilson Edwards story on Facebook was inauthentic: “the work of a multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation,” which brought together hundreds of fake accounts as well as some authentic accounts that belonged to employees of “Chinese state infrastructure companies across four continents.”

Only a handful of real people engaged with Wilson Edwards, Meta says, despite the 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Facebook pages, four Facebook groups, and 86 Instagram accounts that the company has removed as part of its investigation. The scammers spent less than $5,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads as part of the campaign and used VPNs to conceal the accounts’ origins.

“This is consistent with what we’ve seen in our research of covert influence operations over the past four years: we haven’t seen successful IO campaigns built on fake engagement tactics,” Nimmo says. “Unlike elaborate fictitious personas that put work into building authentic communities to influence them, the content liked by these crude fake accounts would typically be only seen by their ‘fake friends.’” (And we all know what happens to sham friends.)

The cluster of fake accounts that Meta connected to the Wilson Edwards scheme, along with some people associated with information security firm Silence in China, apparently has made (unsuccessfully, Meta says) other attempts at influence operations that were “typically small-scale and of negligible impact.”

It’s not the most exciting end to our story, but at least Wilson Edwards won’t try to catfish any other international health organizations. Now, if we could just get someone to rein in the tenacious people who keep calling about the car warranty I didn’t know I had…



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Categories
Game

Move Over, Twitch: Facebook Gaming is Steadily on the Rise

The world of video games and game streaming exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuck inside and far away from friends, many gamers made new acquaintances in streamers and their communities, joining together virtually as the outside world remained dangerous. Others began their streaming career from their bedrooms, hoping to find a way to pass the time, make a little money, and play the games they love for an audience.

This boom resulted in an explosion in the growth for streaming platforms. The biggest streaming platform, Twitch, raked in money as viewers subscribed to their favorite personalities and an increasing number of streamers started their own channels.

At the same time, Twitch was dogged with a variety of accusations and problems ranging from insufficient moderation to the proliferation of hate raids and other targeted attacks on minority streamers to a lack of backend tools for all streamers. These issues prompted third-party companies to come up with solutions to issues it seemed Twitch was not committed to solving. During the resulting boycott, titled “A Day Away From Twitch,” streamers and viewers alike began looking for alternate platforms to build their communities and interact with fans.

Enter Facebook Gaming. Though Facebook’s homemade streaming platform has been around since 2018, it’s received a recent boost in both viewership and hours streamed due to the pandemic and the widespread fallout at Twitch. While Facebook Gaming is undoubtedly growing in size and scope, can it hold a candle to established streaming titans like Twitch and YouTube Gaming and carve out its own niche in a crowded industry? The answer is yes — with an asterisk.

By the numbers

Last month, third-party software maker Streamlabs and data analytics company Stream Hatchet released a report detailing viewership and streaming data from Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming for the third quarter of 2021. One of the biggest takeaways is that the total amount of hours watched on Facebook Gaming was higher than the total amount of hours watched on YouTube Gamin, Viewers watched 1.29 billion hours of live content on Facebook Gaming versus 1.13 billion hours of live content on YouTube Gaming. Note that this only accounts for livestreams and does not include other video viewership on either platform.

Twitch still holds the crown with a total of 5.79 billion hours watched in the third quarter, though it’s interesting to note that this number fell from 6.51 billion hours watched in the second quarter. Facebook Gaming was the only platform of the three that increased in total hours watched during the third quarter. It represents a staggering amount of live content across all platforms.

On the streaming end, more hours were streamed on Facebook Gaming during  the third quarter of 2021 than on YouTube Gaming. Creators streamed 17.1 million hours of content on Facebook Gaming, while only 8.4 million hours were streamed on YouTube Gaming (Twitch sits at 222.9 million hours streamed). Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet also reported that the number of hours streamed on Twitch during the third quarter fell by the largest percentage in the platform’s history. While Facebook Gaming’s amount of hours streamed in the third quarter was less than in the second quarter, the company still saw a year-over-year increase in hours streamed compared to the third quarter of 2020.

It’s worth noting that Facebook Gaming had a sharp drop in unique channels streaming in 2021, from 1.538 million in the first quarter to 440,000 in the third quarter, likely due in part to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

As these numbers stand, Facebook Gaming has 13.8% of the streaming market share between the three companies in terms of hours watched and 6.9% of the market share for hours streamed. While that seems like a pittance next to Twitch’s lion’s share of the market, it’s important to note the trends in data. The fact that Facebook Gaming overtook YouTube Gaming in both hours watched and hours streamed, combined with Twitch’s losses in some areas, could mark the beginning of a new era for the platform.

In an email interview, Amanda Jefson, director of product at Facebook Gaming, told Digital Trends that the platform is “looking at sustained growth in the number of channels” despite the decrease noted above. Though it’s hard to go toe-to-toe with Twitch right now, it seems that Facebook Gaming is playing the long game, which could help both streamers and viewers over time.

Features for the discerning

Since its launch, Facebook Gaming has released a variety of quality of life and monetization features to develop the platform further. Last month, Facebook Gaming announced co-streaming, which allows streamers to stream with one another and lets viewers choose which stream they want to view. Twitch has a similar feature, but only Partners, defined as content creators with large followings and individual contracts with the company, can use it. Facebook Gaming has also introduced other features and programs, like the ability to use certain background music in streams without having to worry about copyright issues, a frequent complaint on Twitch.

Facebook is also expanding its commitment to diversity with the Black Gaming Creator Program, an effort to “help fund the next generation of Black gaming creators and provide mentorship, training, and early access to new products and features,” according to Jefson. The spirit of Facebook Gaming is “a welcoming space where anyone can play, watch, or connect around their favorite games,” she added.

Most notably, Facebook Gaming has created a variety of mental health workshops that give its content creators access to counselors and therapists, as well as resources and additional assistance when needed. “They’ve … put together wellness events to talk about the pressures of the industry and how to take care your mental health while navigating this career,” said Facebook Gaming streamer Michael “The Fierce Diva” Reynolds in an email interview.

A content creator co-streaming on Facebook Gaming.

Facebook has been in the news for a while after the release of a bombshell report concerning internal company knowledge that its platforms promote unhealthy atmospheres for teenagers and young people. While the company grapples with the ramifications of the report, Facebook Gaming at least appears to be trying to help its creators on the mental health front.

The company also has immunity in one area that has plagued Twitch for several months now: Hate raids. Part of the issue with hate raids on Twitch was that spammers and malicious users could make as many accounts as they wanted to under different usernames, allowing them to jump back onto the platform after one account was banned. These users frequently remained anonymous because of Twitch’s username system. On Facebook Gaming, viewers chat and interact with their real names because the platform’s logins are synonymous with those of Facebook, which requires the use of a first and last name. This makes it more difficult for spammers and hate raiders to harass content creators. If they can’t hide behind anonymous accounts and usernames, they’re less likely to rain hate on an unsuspecting streamer.

While these changes and high points are ostensibly meant to help both streamers and viewers, increasing viewership and streaming on the platform will ultimately make Facebook significantly more money. Though Facebook Gaming has pledged to give streamers 100% of the revenue from subscriptions — Twitch only gives a percentage — and announced a $1 billion “commitment” to creators, the ultimate goal is undoubtedly to make the platform more attractive to streamers and viewers and therefore increase ad revenue for the company. It’s also notable that many of these Facebook announcements are coming on the heels of widespread negative press and boycotts around Twitch, as well as the departure of several of the streaming giant’s biggest personalities.

Laser focus

The sense I got from speaking with Jefson and Reynolds was that Facebook Gaming is aiming to be a one-stop shop for everything that content creators want to do: Play games, engage with their community, and build a social media following. Rather than having to direct viewers to a Discord server for chatting or a social media page for curated content, Facebook Gaming streamers can interact directly with their followers and post recorded content on Fan Groups.

“My favorite part of Facebook Gaming is that social media is embedded into the foundation of everyone’s page,” said Reynolds. “I think this ultimately allows those that use the platform to connect with their audience more meaningfully.”

“Streamer Fan Groups allow for a community to connect and talk with each other and stay engaged before and after streams …,” adds Jefson.

Content creators laugh together at Facebook Gaming's PLAYLOUD event.

Facebook Gaming is also popular in countries outside of the U.S., including Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico. It’s noted in the Streamlabs report that only one of the top 10 Facebook Gaming content creators by follower count speaks primarily English. According to Indian finance website Moneycontrol, over 207 million Indian users, or about 15% of the country’s population, watched “live gaming videos on Facebook” during the third quarter of 2021. While Facebook is simply one of many social networks used in the U.S., to many other countries, it’s an essential method of communication and information sharing. Tying Facebook Gaming to an already successful social network is one of the ways that Facebook Gaming has been able to grow its platform.

As a result, Facebook Gaming’s most popular titles are a little different than Twitch’s and YouTube Gaming’s. Facebook Gaming allows content creators to easily stream mobile games from their phones or tablets, which leads to generally higher popularity for mobile-only titles on Facebook’s platform than on competitors’. Games that have found success outside of the U.S. are also more popular on Facebook Gaming than they are elsewhere, which speaks to a truly international audience with a broad range of interests, rather than the usual North American- and European-centric streaming focus.

Is Facebook Gaming a viable alternative to Twitch and YouTube Gaming? Yes, if you have specific aims and goals for your stream. If you’re sick of the restrictions and lack of moderation that Twitch has thrown onto the shoulders of its content creators, you’ll no doubt be attracted to Facebook Gaming’s more deliberate commitment to its streamers. The company also offers more transparent pay schemes and a variety of other features that Twitch and YouTube Gaming could do well to implement. If you primarily stream mobile titles and are bilingual or are aiming for an international audience, Facebook Gaming seems like great place to start.

At the same time, it’s not clear whether streaming as a whole will be able to regain the soaring heights of popularity that the industry reached during the worst of the pandemic. Content creation has become a busy, crowded field — it’s no longer possible to simply stream yourself playing Call of Duty and instantly make money. Knowing this, it will be interesting to see what streaming companies and platforms do in the future if unique accounts continue to wane and the hype dies down just a little bit.

Will companies like Facebook Gaming be able to retain their commitment, both financial and otherwise, to streamers if the field doesn’t maintain its glamour in the future? It’s unclear. For now, though, the streaming waters are warm, so you may as well swim.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
AI

Facebook battles the challenges of tactile sensing

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Facebook this morning announced ReSkin, an open source touch-sensing synthetic “skin” created by researchers at the company in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University. Leveraging machine learning and magnetic sensing, ReSkin is designed to offer an inexpensive, versatile, durable, and replaceable solution for long-term use, employing an unsupervised learning algorithm to help auto-calibrate the sensor.

Alongside ReSkin, and perhaps timed in effort to distract from exposes detailing its internal turbulence, Facebook also today outlined its broader progress in developing hardware, simulators, libraries, benchmarks, and datasets for touch sensing, which the company says form the foundation for AI systems that can understand and interact through touch.

“We typically think of touch as a way to convey warmth and care, but it’s also a key sensing modality for perceiving the world around us,” Facebook research scientist Roberto Calandra and hardware engineer Mike Lambeta said in a blog post. “Touching provides us with information not discernible through any other sense, for example about the temperature of a matter, its texture and weight, and even, sometimes, its state.”

History of touch

Tactile sensing is an emerging field in robotics that aims to understand and replicate human-level touch in the physical world. The goal is to make robots more efficient, safer, and gentler by enabling them to learn from — and use — touch on their own, in environments from homes to factory floors.

Facebook has been developing tactile sensors for the past several years, largely focused on the task of robotic grasping. In 2020, researchers at the company detailed Digit, a high-resolution, low-cost, compact tactile sensor designed to be mountable on multi-fingered robot hands.

Facebook Digit

Above: An exploded view of Facebook’s Digit sensor.

Image Credit: Facebook

Digit has a plastic body with an enclosure that’s conducive to both 3D printing and injection molding. Three RGB LEDs provide illumination over the elastomer gel surface, which was custom-designed using a silicon-and-acrylic manufacture process that ostensibly balances ruggedness with sensitivity. A camera and the gel are mounted to the body using “press fit” connections so that any component (e.g., the elastomer) can be swapped out, and the housing is replaceable to allow for different lens focal lengths.

Facebook Digit

Above: Facebook’s Digit sensor mounted to a robotic hand.

Image Credit: Facebook

In experiments, the team used it to enable a robotic hand to hold and manipulate a glass marble between the thumb and middle finger. In the course of 50 trials, the hand dropped the marble about 25% of the time. However, the researchers attribute this to inaccuracies and noisy data as opposed to flaws in Digit’s design.

The manufacturing files for Digit’s plastics enclosure, gel, and electronics were open-sourced on GitHub last June, as well as the firmware binary for programming. And Facebook today announced that it will commercially manufacture Digit in partnership with MIT spinout GelSight.

ReSkin

According to Facebook researcher manager Abhinav Gupta and postdoctoral research fellow Tess Hellebrekers, the goal behind ReSkin is to provide a source of contact data that could be helpful in advancing AI across a range of touch-based tasks, like object classification. AI models with tactile sensing skills developed through the use of ReSkin could potentially work in health care settings or grasp soft objects, Gupta and Hellebrekers say. And because ReSkin can be integrated with other sensors to collect visual, sound, and touch data and create multimodal datasets, ReSkin could also help build more physically realistic models of the world than was previously possible.

Facebook ReSkin

Above: Facebook’s ReSkin sensor used to measure tactile forces.

Image Credit: Facebook

“Our sense of touch helps us navigate the world around us. With it, we can gather information about objects — such as whether they’re light or heavy, soft or hard, and stable or unstable — that we use to accomplish everyday tasks from putting on our shoes to preparing a meal,” Gupta and Hellebrekers, who contributed to the ReSkin project, said in a blog post. “AI today effectively incorporates senses like vision and sound, but touch remains an ongoing challenge. That’s in part due to limited access to tactile sensing data in the wild. As a result, AI researchers hoping to incorporate touch into their models struggle to exploit richness and redundancy from touch sensing the way people do.”

ReSkin — a deformable elastomer with embedded magnetic particles — is even less expensive, costing under $6 each per unit for a 100-unit manufacturing run compared with Digit’s $15 for a 1,000-unit run. It’s 2 millimeters to 3 millimeters thick versus Digit’s 18 millimeters and can be used for more than 50,000 interactions, Gupta and Hellebrekers say, which make ReSkin ideal for form factors from robot hands and tactile gloves to arm sleeves and even dog shoes.

“ReSkin can also provide high-frequency three-axis tactile signals for fast manipulation tasks like slipping, throwing, catching, and clapping. And when it wears out, it can be easily stripped off and replaced with a new one,” they explained in the blog post.

Overcoming challenges

Neither Digit nor ReSkin are the first touch-sensitive sensors of their kind, it’s worth noting. Others include OmniTact and GelFlex, a robotic gripper out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory with nuanced, humanlike senses in the form of LEDs and two cameras. The National University of Singapore has also developed touch-sensing robotic “skin” using a prototype chip from Intel.

But “soft skins,” as they’re called, have historically proven difficult to mass-manufacture due to variations that occur while using them. Each sensor has to go through a calibration routine to determine its individual response. Adding to the challenge, the materials change over time — and differently, depending on how they’re used — meaning that the calibration must also adapt to these changes on its own.

ReSkin overcomes these hurdles by removing the need for an electrical connection between the soft materials and measurement electronics. The sensor’s magnetic signals rely on proximity — the electronics only need to be nearby, not connected. Beyond this, ReSkin taps a mapping function trained on data from multiple sources to make it more generalizable and “robust” than traditional mapping functions. And the sensor uses an unsupervised model to fine-tune automatically — and continuously — using small amounts of unlabeled data.

Facebook ReSkin

With unsupervised learning, an algorithm is subjected to “unknown” data for which no previously defined categories or labels exist. That’s as opposed to “supervised” learning, where an algorithm is trained on input data annotated for a particular output until they can detect the underlying relationships. Unsupervised machine learning systems like those running on ReSkin must teach themselves to classify the unlabeled data, processing the data to learn not from annotations but from the data’s inherent structure.

“Instead of providing ground-truth force labels, we can use relative positions of unlabeled data to help fine-tune the sensor’s calibration. For example, we know that out of three contact points, the two that are physically closer to each other will have a more similar tactile signal,” Gupta and Hellebrekers explained. “Taken together, ReSkin opens up a diverse range of versatile, scalable, and inexpensive tactile sensation modules that aren’t possible with existing systems. Existing camera-based tactile sensors require a minimum distance between the surface and the camera resulting in much bulkier designs. By comparison, ReSkin can be incorporated as a layer over both human and robot hands and arms.”

Real-world applications

To demonstrate ReSkin’s usefulness, Facebook researchers conducted several experiments showing that it can be applied for in-hand manipulation, contact localization, and other force measurement tasks. For example, Facebook researchers used ReSkin to track the magnitude and direction of applied force during a dog’s resting, walking, and running by placing it and a circuit board inside the sole of a dog shoe.

“Our research into generalizable tactile sensing led to today’s ReSkin, which is low-cost, compact, and long-lasting. With skin that’s as easy to replace as peeling and putting on a new bandage, it can be used immediately, and our learned models perform strongly on new skins out of the box. It’s a powerful tool that will help researchers build AI models that will power abroad diversity of applications,” Gupta and Hellebrekers wrote.

Simulation, dataset, and benchmarks

To support hardware like Digit and ReSkin, Facebook this summer open-sourced Tacto and PyTouch, a library for the PyTorch machine learning framework. Tacto is a simulator for vision-based tactile sensors, while PyTouch is a collection of machine learning models and functionality for touch sensing.

Tacto can render touch readings at hundreds of frames per second and can be configured to simulate different sensors, including Facebook’s own Digit. As Calandra and Lambeta point out, simulators play an important role in prototyping, debugging, and benchmarking robotics because they allow for testing without the need to perform costly experiments. “In addition to the benefit of being able to run faster experiments in simulation, challenges with getting the right hardware as well as reducing wear and tear on hardware surfaces in tactile sensing make simulations even more important with touch sensing,” they said.

As for PyTouch, it provides basic capabilities for sensors such as detecting touch and slip, and estimating object pose. The plan is to integrate it with real-world sensors and Tacto to enable validation of models as well as “Sim2Real” capabilities — the ability to transfer concepts trained in simulation to real-world applications. Facebook also envisions PyTouch letting the robotics community use models dedicated to touch sensing “as a service,” where researchers can connect a sensor, download a pre-trained model, and use it as a building block in their application.

Facebook PyTouch

“We are … currently studying Sim2Real transfer for training PyTouch models in simulation and deploying them on real sensors as a way to quickly collect data sets and train models,” Calandra and Lambeta said. “Collecting large-scale data sets containing large amounts of data can happen in minutes in simulation, whereas collecting data with a real sensor requires time and a person to physically probe objects. Finally, we plan to explore Real2Sim methods to better tune the simulator from real-world data.”

There’s a laundry list of blockers to overcome in tactile sensing, including hardware limitations, a lack of understanding of which touch features are used for particular tasks, and an absence of widely accepted benchmark tests. But it’s Facebook’s assertion that improvements in touch sensing, however incremental, can help advance AI and enable researchers to build robots with enhanced functionalities.

In a small step toward this, the company has released the design, documentation, code, and base model for ReSkin to help researchers use the sensor without having to collect or train their own datasets.

“It can also unlock possibilities in AR/VR, as well as lead to innovations in industrial, medical, and agricultural robotics,” Calandra and Lambeta said. “We’re working toward a future where every single robot may come equipped with touch sensing capabilities.”

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Repost: Original Source and Author Link