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Momo Challenge – Be Smarter

Only you can stop viral hoaxes

Last week, I was warned by the school principal about the dangers of the “Momo Challenge”. It had not been reported by reputable news outlets and had already been debunked by some. Still, schools, police departments, and well-meaning adults worldwide were sucked into the fake news vortex and shared their fears with their friends online.

Context:

Yes, parents must monitor their kids’ online activities. Yes, an image of this very sculpture appeared in an otherwise benign Minecraft video, triggering several nights of bedtime fears right here at home. Yes, there are many ways kids can get themselves in trouble through what they share and whom they engage with, online.

But the Momo Challenge, clearly defined as violence and self-harm inspired by this character who was alleged to have infiltrated WhatsApp, YouTube, etc, is a hoax. Full stop.

 

These fears began last fall when images of the sculpture by the Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso began circulating online. The hoax gained much more momentum earlier this month.

The ‘Momo Challenge’: A sinister threat to young people or an urban myth?

 

Hoaxes like this exist only to the degree we give them life, so why was it so successful?

Fear.

We often fear things we don’t understand. For many well-intentioned adults, social media, and particularly WhatsApp, is a black box.

Media illiteracy.

Smaller news organizations, desperate for eyeballs, often lead with blood and fear. Many people read only the headlines. They then share foolish stories, uncritically.

Media literacy has never been more important. The success of fringe media and comments sections everywhere prove its non-existence.

Kids, and the virtue signaling mob that surrounds them.

We all want them protected, of course. But what sets this hoax apart from some others is the opportunity to virtue signal.

While Tide Pods were eaten, and condoms being snorted, by, per the urban myth, large numbers of teens, this one was coming for your elementary school children. Alerting your friends to this scourge makes you better than everyone else, a better parent. Schools sharing this demonstrably fake news must have made administrators feel better.

Worse still, many defended the decision to spread this misinformation, even after the hoax was debunked. Parents pivoted to the broader risks social media and communications platforms can present. While true, this obfuscates the point of the matter at hand. Our Superintendent defended the department’s sharing of it by suggesting it was best to “err on the side of caution.” That’s too low a standard for me. We must seek the truth before we can assess risks and how to mitigate them.

 

How we can do better.

Social media is full of scams and hoaxes. Some are benign “free vacation” offers seeking likes, followers, and your data. Trust me – you’re not going to win a Disney vacation by liking and sharing, not even if you type “done”. Fake news hoaxes, as has been well-documented in recent years, are widespread and pernicious. They don’t point to specific harms, but they are meant to inflame and divide.

We can do better. Thinking persons must do their part.

  1. Don’t spread misinformation. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re not the problem. Still, use Google or Snopes for a quick fact check before you share.
  2. Fight fear and misinformation with cold hard facts.

Here’s an excellent take on this topic: Don’t fall for it: a parent’s guide to protecting your kids from online hoaxes

 

You and your kids have never been safer. Take a breath and check the facts. Let’s do better next time.

 

Latest: ‘Momo Challenge’ Sculpture Has Been Destroyed

Anomaly Detection in Video & Image Classification

We’re seeing and doing all sorts of interesting work in the image domain. Recent blog posts, white papers, and roundtables capture some of this work, such as image segmentation and classification to video highlights. But an Image area of broad interest that, to this point, we’ve but scratched the surface of is Video-based Anomaly Detection. It’s a challenging data science problem, in part due to the velocity of data streams and missing data, but has wide-ranging solution applicability.

In-store monitoring of customer movements and behavior.

Motion sensing, the antecedent to Video-based Anomaly Detection, isn’t new and there is a multitude of commercial solutions in that area. Anomaly Detection is something different and it opens the door to new, more advanced applications and more robust deployments. Part of the distinction between the two stems from “sensing” what’s usual behavior and what’s different.

Anomaly Detection

Walkers in the park look “normal”. The bicyclist is the anomaly. 

 

Anomaly detection requires the ability to understand a motion “baseline” and to trigger notifications based on deviations from that baseline. Having this ability offers the opportunity to deploy AI-monitored cameras in many more real-world situations across a wide range of security use cases, smart city monitoring, and more, wherein movements and behaviors can be tracked and measured with higher accuracy and at a much larger scale than ever before.

With 500 million video cameras in the world tracking these movements, a new approach is required to deal with this mountain of data. For this reason, Deep Learning and advances in edge computing are enabling a paradigm shift from video recording and human watchers toward AI monitoring. Many systems will have humans “in the loop,” with people being alerted to anomalies. But others won’t. For example, in the near future, smart cities will automatically respond to heavy traffic conditions with adjustments to the timing of stoplights, and they’ll do so routinely without human intervention.

Human in the Loop

Human in the loop.

As on many AI fronts, this is an exciting time and the opportunities are numerous. Stay tuned for more from Doctrina.ai, and let’s talk about your ideas on Video-based Anomaly Detection or AI more broadly.

Programmatic Video Highlights

AI Video Classification

For many years, and with rapidly accelerating levels of targeting sophistication, marketers have been tailoring their messaging to our tastes. Leveraging our data and capitalizing upon our shopping behaviors, they have successfully delivered finely-tuned, personalized messaging.

Consumers are curating their media ever more by the day. We’re buying smaller cable bundles, cutting cords, and buying OTT services a la carte. At the same time, we’re watching more and more short-form video. Video media is tilting toward snack-size bites and, of course, on demand.

Cable has been in decline for years and the effects are now hitting ESPN, once the mainstay of a cable package. Even live sports programming, long considered must see and even bulletproof by media executives, has seen declining viewership.

 

So what’s to be done?

To thrive, and perhaps merely to survive, content owners must adapt. Leagues and networks have come a long way toward embracing a “TV Everywhere” distribution model despite the obnoxious gates at every turn. But that’s not enough and the sports leagues know it.

While there are many reasons for declining viewership and low engagement among younger audiences, length of games and broadcasts are a significant factor. The leagues recognize that games are too long. The NBA has made some changes that will speed up the action and the NFL is also considering shortening games to avoid losing viewership. MLB has long been tinkering in the same vein. These changes are small, incremental, and of little consequence to the declining number of viewers.

Most sporting events are characterized by long stretches of calm, less interesting play that is occasionally accented by higher intensity action. Consider for a moment how much actual action there is in a typical football or baseball game. Intuitively, most sports fans know that the bulk of the three-hour event is consumed by the time between plays and pitches. Still, it’s shocking to see the numbers from the Wall Street Journal, which point out that there are only 11 minutes of action in a typical football game and a mere 18 minutes in a typical baseball game.

 

A transformational opportunity

There is so much more they can do. Recent advances in neural network technology have enabled an array of features to be extracted from streaming video. The applications are broad and the impacts significant. In this sports media context, the opportunity is nothing short of transformational.

Computers can now be trained to programmatically classify the action in the underlying video. With intelligence around what happens where in the game video, the productization opportunities are endless. Fans could catch all of the action, or whatever plays and players are most important to them, in just a few minutes. With a large indexed database of sports media content, the leagues could present near unlimited content personalization to fans.

Want to see David Ortiz’s last ten home runs? Done.

Want to see Tom Brady’s last ten TD passes? You’re welcome.

Robust features like these will drive engagement and revenue. With this level of control, fans are more likely to subscribe to premium offerings, offering predictable recurring revenue that will outpace advertising in the long run.

Computer-driven, personalized content is going to happen. It’s going to be amazing, and we are one step closer to getting there.

Mark Zuckerberg, Global Editor-in-Chief

 

Mark Zuckerberg, Global Editor-in-Chief

Not a hot take:  Facebook is a media company

 

Not just a “social” media company. Simply put, they’re the world’s biggest media company.

What about Google?  Not a media company.

But Google Plus?  Irrelevant.  Google News?  Curated differently, and far less — professional media only, promoted based on preferences and relevance.

 

So why Facebook?  Curation.

The day Facebook started curating our feeds is the day it became a media company. I’m not complaining or even suggesting there’s an alternative. Whatever the underlying exact metrics that govern our feeds, they are critical to our use of the platform and FB would be a noisy shit-show without these smart, useful measures.

The fact that these decisions are being made by computers and on the fly doesn’t absolve Facebook of editorial responsibility. The algorithms report to the engineers and the engineers to Mark. So now, as has been the case for a while but was forcefully exposed this fall, he’s got significant editorial responsibility.

Facebook stands alone in its reach, relevance, and responsibility. Mark Zuckerberg is now the world’s Editor-in-Chief.

Think that’s hyperbole? Not with 1.8B MAUs. Not with a market cap over $300B. And not when you’re the founding CEO who is the face of and wield significant shareholder voting control over, the company.

This isn’t simply about fake news, or silos, confirmation bias bubbles and the like. It’s much bigger than what’s trending, how, and why. As the world’s preeminent news organization, Facebook is going to have to figure out all of this and more.

This is a huge, complicated problem. Balancing their business objectives and this enormous responsibility will be difficult, but it’s in their interest, and their customers’ interests, to make the necessary investments in this area. Fortunately, they have billions in cash and many smart people on the team.

 

So Mark — years ago, you probably did imagine yourself in Bill Gates’ shoes. You’ve done that. Awesome. Congrats. Now welcome to a whole new level of responsibility you may never have considered.

Best of luck. The fourth estate may depend on it.