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VentureBeat

Scener raises $2.1 million for virtual theater parties that ease social isolation

Scener has raised $2.1 million for its co-watching virtual theater platform, which lets people watch movies together remotely. The Seattle company has experienced massive growth since the onset of the pandemic, with almost half a million active Chrome installs and over 13.5 million viewer minutes per week. During the COVID-19 crisis, Scener has rolled out support for bigger co-watching parties, which will allow viewers to watch synchronously with a live host, or a live group, over video chat. A webcam is required for video chat, and headphones are recommended. You can also engage in video, audio, and text chat. Scener said the money would help it scale from a co-watching tool to a global community platform. It will enable creators to curate, host, and share watch parties for up to a million audience participants. As an example, a comedian could give a continuous monologue as everyone in the audience watches in real time. “We’ve been seeing an uptake around the world,” Joe Braidwood, chief operating officer at Scener, said in an interview with VentureBeat. Seattle-based SeaChange led the funding round, with participation from Real Networks CEO Rob Glaser’s Glaser Investments, Jason Calacanis’ The Syndicate and Launch, the comedy commentary company RiffTrax, and angel investors such as RiffTrax CEO David Martin and technology executive Sriram Krishnan. Above: You can video chat with your friends while watching movies on Scener. Image Credit: Scener Scener will use the funding to accelerate product development for its social platform and further develop its events and community…Continue readingScener raises $2.1 million for virtual theater parties that ease social isolation

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Wired

Fish Form Social Networks—and They’re Actually Good

Characterizing such subtle dynamics is a departure from how ecologists typically model ecosystems, tending to write off in-the-moment decision-making as inconsequential to long timescales. “Under this convention, we tend to treat wild animals as kind of dumb,” Gil says. “We’re really kind of bucking tradition. And we found that this convention could be way off.” Using the data they’ve gathered from the reef, Gil and his colleagues have created mathematical simulations—highly accurate video games, really—to show how these seemingly inconsequential interactions in fact have serious consequences for the health of the reef over long timescales. “You can play with that ecosystem like you would a game,” Gil says. “You can impose different human-driven pressures on it, and you can see how it responds. These ecosystem models are incredibly valuable, because they allow us to understand how these gigantic, complex ecosystems grow and change over really long timescales, from decades to centuries, even millennia.” The results are at once troubling and promising. In their simulations, the researchers found that it’s not just the magnitude of a threat like overfishing that damages a reef ecosystem, but the rate. When people remove fish, they’re removing an invaluable controller of the algae that can get out of hand, blanketing corals and killing them. “But we’re also removing the social influence that those fish had on the other fish in their social network,” Gil says. “And so those fish are then left with less information about when it’s safe to go out and eat and…Continue readingFish Form Social Networks—and They’re Actually Good

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Mashable

Netflix trailer for ‘Vampires vs. the Bronx’ looks like hectic fun with a social conscience

Vampires vs. the Bronx is on its way to Netflix, and it looks every bit as fun as the title suggests. With strong echoes of Attack the Block and Get Out, Osmany Rodriguez’s film mixes horror with social commentary as local kids are forced to defend their neighborhood in the Bronx from invading vampires and gentrification. “You all know how this starts,” says one of the main characters, shortly after they’ve seen that the local courthouse is being changed into a modern apartment block. “White people with canvas bags? That’s always the first sign.” Soon after the vampires (who are also real estate workers) have arrived, and the kids are grabbing any weapons they can — and enlisting the help of The Kid Mero, who stars fittingly in the movie as a Bodega owner — to wage war against the monsters. “We are going to wipe you out like the vermin you are,” says a vampire at one point in the trailer. But it looks like they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Vampires vs. the Bronx drops on Netflix Oct. 2. Source linkContinue readingNetflix trailer for ‘Vampires vs. the Bronx’ looks like hectic fun with a social conscience

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VentureBeat

The tech sector can — and must — disrupt social inequity

As scores of headlines expose systemic racial injustice and COVID-19 thrusts organizations even deeper into digital transformation, it’s clear that we’ve arrived at the corner where technology and social equity meet. But it’s a far cry from a friendly encounter – more like a bad collision. Recently, we’ve seen news of Facebook’s unacceptably imbalanced workforce and some organizations are even rolling back longstanding inclusion programs, including Google. There’s just no way around it: Tech is still playing an active role in perpetuating some of the challenges we face around social equity. If we don’t make changes from the top down, the industry will not only miss the mark on recruiting diversified talent but will also continue to function like an exclusive club, playing an adverse role in our society and reinforcing system inequities. Eventually, products and services will fail to meet the greater needs of society. Innovation will be stunted. The good news is that this troubling dynamic can be mitigated – even reversed. After all, the tech sector prides itself on being a legion of determined disruptors, right? Recognize your organization’s role and take action In recent years, forward-thinking business leaders have spent countless hours trying to drive home the value proposition of diversity and inclusion to partners and investors. I believe we’ve reached the point where those sitting in the board room generally understand that being silent is no longer an option. However, some business leaders are hesitant to take a stance beyond diversity mission statements and supportive social media content. While these are great first steps, we need to do more than just talk about it.…Continue readingThe tech sector can — and must — disrupt social inequity

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VentureBeat

After boycotts, advertisers and social media giants agree on steps to curb hate speech

(Reuters) — Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have agreed on first steps to curb harmful content online, big advertisers announced on Wednesday, following boycotts of social media platforms accused of tolerating hate speech. Under the deal, announced by the World Federation of Advertisers, common definitions would be adopted for forms of harmful content such as hate speech and bullying, and platforms would adopt harmonized reporting standards. The deal comes less than six weeks before a polarizing U.S. presidential election. Three months ago, major advertisers boycotted Facebook in the wake of anti-racism demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd, an American Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis. Advertisers have complained for years that big social media companies do too little to prevent ads from appearing alongside hate speech, fake news, and other harmful content. Big tech companies have begun taking steps to fend off calls for more regulation. The platforms agreed to have some practices reviewed by external auditors and to give advertisers more control over what content is displayed alongside their ads. “This is a significant milestone in the journey to rebuild trust online,” said Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media at Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers. “Whilst change doesn’t happen overnight, today marks an important step in the right direction.” Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president for Global Marketing Solutions, said the agreement “has aligned the industry on the brand safety floor and suitability framework, giving us all a unified language to move forward…Continue readingAfter boycotts, advertisers and social media giants agree on steps to curb hate speech

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VentureBeat

Stardust Social Casino is a bet on enticing players with Las Vegas history

When Boyd Gaming launched Stardust Social Casino recently on iOS and Android, it was one more entry in a crowded social casino game market. But the Stardust casino played a significant role in Las Vegas history, and the company is betting that allure will attract folks to the virtual casino. The game is the beginning of a digital strategy for a brick-and-mortar gambling company that isn’t having an easy time during the pandemic. It’s been in the works for a couple of years, and so far Boyd Gaming is finding that a lot of people recognize the Stardust name, either out of a sense of nostalgia or curiosity about the casino’s famous history. It’s one more example of how games could help out companies that can’t operate in the physical realm but may be able to satisfy customers on the digital side. It also applies the retro trend, which is popular with console gamers, to the social casino game market. And it does that with an online game that makes people nostalgic about the Stardust Hotel or the other Boyd Gaming casino properties that most people can no longer visit in person because of the pandemic. “We started looking for what we would call our online presence and our brand,” said Boyd Gaming’s Blake Rampmaier in an interview with GamesBeat. “We were a bit surprised at how vibrant the Stardust brand still is across various age ranges. It stirs a lot of positive emotions and, quite frankly, a lot of…Continue readingStardust Social Casino is a bet on enticing players with Las Vegas history

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Wired

Democracy Will Only Work If the Social Media Giants Grow Up

Last weekend, the president of the United States urged Americans to vote twice in the upcoming election. This brazen—and illegal—suggestion spread quickly across social media and once again underscored the unprecedented risks of this election season: the Covid-19 pandemic, an onslaught of disinformation, and online echo chambers stoking vitriol that could turn to violence. With more Americans than ever working, going to school, and gathering online, social media platforms have an urgent responsibility to step up in order to ensure the integrity of this election. So far, they haven’t done nearly enough. As a former chair of the Federal Elections Commission, this is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. During my tenure I made the changing role of technology in our elections a major focus. I know there’s a road map to protect our elections. Unfortunately, the FEC does not even have a quorum currently, and therefore cannot take action on this. Quorum or no quorum, the FEC has been discussing online advertising for five years and failed to regulate the industry in any way. Protecting the 2020 election requires social media companies to act now. WIRED OPINION ABOUT Ann Ravel is the former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the Digital Deception project director at MapLight. She is a Democratic candidate for the California State Senate. To be sure, companies across Silicon Valley have taken some important steps. Facebook’s Voting Information Center, Twitter’s expansion of its civic integrity policy, and YouTube’s crackdown on videos using…Continue readingDemocracy Will Only Work If the Social Media Giants Grow Up

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VentureBeat

John Carmack says he’s ‘kind of embarrassed’ over Facebook’s social VR during pandemic

Facebook Reality Labs consulting CTO John Carmack says he’s “kind of embarrassed” about Facebook’s social VR offerings on Oculus headsets over the course of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In his talk at Facebook Connect on Wednesday, Carmack touched on the problems Facebook had experienced keeping the Oculus Quest headset in stock this year, even before the pandemic began. But going a step further, he also expressed disappointment at the company’s lack of social apps that could have helped friends and family meet in VR while they couldn’t see each other in real life. “But worse, all of our social experiences were basically killed or deprecated,” Carmack began. “We had Rooms, Spaces, co-watching, and all those are gone. Venues has been in maintenance mode for this entire time. So we made this huge bet on Horizon, and we’ve had all these people working on it, and you’re seeing some of the fruits of that finally with the Venues 2.0 now. “But basically, we weren’t ready.” As Carmack alluded to, Facebook’s previous social VR efforts like Oculus Rooms, which let users meet up to watch TV and play board games; or Spaces, an app that saw Facebook friends meet up to hang out, are gone. Facebook Horizon was revealed at last year’s Oculus Connect with a promise of a spring 2020 beta, but it is only now just rolling out to a limited number of users. “We had all this effort going into it,” Carmack continued. “We had let the previous products more or…Continue readingJohn Carmack says he’s ‘kind of embarrassed’ over Facebook’s social VR during pandemic

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Wired

The Nintendo 3DS’ Surprisingly Social Legacy

I tell this story a lot: I didn’t have much of a life before the Nintendo 3DS. It happened a year after I moved to New York. Aside from my housemates and a couple of over-friendly acquaintances, I didn’t know a lot of people, and certainly none who’d play video games with me. It was a sunny fall day in 2014 when Nintendo released its free demo for Super Smash Bros. 4 on the handheld 3DS system. The competitive fighting game’s launch, a month from then, was slated to be my highlight of the year. I’d celebrated every Smash launch before it. Unconscionable snack foods, hours of screaming in basements packed with friends and friends-of-friends left back in prior homes. As Smash 4’s launch approached, I prayed for a good online versus mode. I loved the demo, but sitting alone in bed, I quickly became bored of pummeling Smash 4’s CPUs. I packed my pearl-pink 3DS into a backpack and walked over to the nearest coffee shop. On the back patio, I sipped too-strong cold brew and practiced Zelda’s aerial combos. I was absorbed, not noticing the people around me, and hoping that, in a space better suited to ostentatious reading and Tinder dates, nobody would notice me. I looked up briefly between sips of coffee. Just people. Then, I noticed them: three Nintendo 3DSes, all at one table, and all running the Smash 4 demo. Whoa. I walked over to the table and introduced myself, a little too loudly.…Continue readingThe Nintendo 3DS’ Surprisingly Social Legacy

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Wired

How to Break Out of Your Social Media Echo Chamber

Many people love social media because their feeds are a safe space to share pictures of celebrities who #stayhome wearing masks, discuss the Black Lives Matter protests, and strategize to solve climate change. And many people love social media because their feeds are a safe pace to share pictures of celebrities #tricked into wearing masks, discuss the Black Lives Matter rioters, and strategize to stop the climate change hoax. It’s a tale of two feeds, because thanks to confirmation bias and powerful proprietary algorithms, social media platforms ensure we only get a single side of every story. Even though most Americans continue to describe themselves as holding balanced views, we still naturally gravitate toward certain content online. Over time, algorithms turn slight preferences into a polarized environment in which only the loudest voices and most extreme opinions on either side can break through the noise. What Is Confirmation Bias? Confirmation bias is the natural human tendency to seek, interpret, and remember new information in accordance with preexisting beliefs. Consider it our brains’ default setting. Just by going through life, humans discover all sorts of information through focused research, general experience, and wild hunches—and it feels especially good to our brains when what we learn matches what we already expected. Also called “myside bias,” confirmation bias is an innate, universal trait that shows up across cultures. It’s a part of all of us, although once we acknowledge its presence we can take steps to diminish the hold it has on our…Continue readingHow to Break Out of Your Social Media Echo Chamber