August 28th, 2014

Need-to-know: summer tech rundown


billgates_icebucket-900x450Catching up on the news as you head back into the classroom? Here’s what you need to know about the biggest tech milestones from the past few months.

A wildly popular viral fundraiser took the Internet by storm, raising $80 million for ALS awareness and research. It began when former BC athlete Peter Frates challenged his friends and family to donate to the ALS Association or pour a bucket of ice water over their head, film it, and post it to social media. Between June 1 and Aug. 17, 2.4 million people posted their videos on Facebook, and the challenge has now reached nearly every country in the world, with major public figures and celebrities joining in.

Facebook ≠ happiness
Facebook revealed this summer that it changed users’ news feeds to study the effect of news feed content on people’s emotions. In January 2012, Facebook altered what 700,000 users saw, showing mostly-negative posts to some and positive posts to others. The study, which Facebook and Cornell co-researched, aimed to find if emotions could spread between people without in-person contact. The company found that people who saw positive images normally created happier posts and vice versa. Meanwhile, another study showed that the more college-aged adults used Facebook, the worse they felt.

Sponsored content makes millions for Buzzfeed 
Buzzfeed announced $50 million in new funding, which it will use to expand its reporting staff as well as produce more in-house videos. The online giant considers itself primarily a technology company and has been a major player in the changing relationship between media organizations and advertisers. Its business model relies on sponsored articles, which are paid for by an advertiser but appear in Buzzfeed’s style. Other high-profile organizations like the New York Times have recently featured sponsored content in the wake of Buzzfeed’s popularity.

Net neutrality vs. Internet free speech
A rule by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was overturned, potentially affecting free speech on the Internet. “Net neutrality” is an FCC rule that Internet providers cannot sell better service to some companies than others. But a court overturned that rule, putting the issue up for debate until they issue a new decision at the end of 2014. Some people have raised the concern that without net neutrality, independent sites and small businesses, who cannot pay for faster service to Internet users, will suffer.

Twitter cracks down on terrorists
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a Sunni extremist group that the U.S. has deemed a terrorist organization, promoted its message on social media this summer, particularly with video and images showing the execution of American journalist James Foley. YouTube and Twitter have since removed the images and Twitter has cracked down on the group recently by deleting accounts that belong to members. Experts have said that terrorists frequently use social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members, and a report by the Wilson Center this year called Twitter terrorists’ favorite platform. Some have criticized the move as an attack on free speech, but others say an upside is that it makes it harder for terrorists to share propaganda.

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