We’re looking at cyberbullying the wrong way

It has been declared that Twitter has an abuse problem. Whether it was the Milo and Leslie Jones fiasco, the scathing BuzzFeed article or the unveiling of the platform’s own Quality Filter, many are blue in the face from yelling at the platform.

However, blaming Twitter is a narrow-minded argument and a misunderstanding of the true problem at hand. By no means is Twitter faultless, as there is certainly room to grow by solidifying a stance between free speech and censorship. This is a difficult process that platforms such as Facebook and YouTube have gone through before, and still are experiencing. No network is immune, and no one has discovered the perfect balance, even if it existed.

Twitter did not give birth to cyberbullying, nor will they abolish it. Online abuse is omnipresent and not exclusive to one platform over another. It’s a behavior that starts with a mentality, not a platform. Attacking Twitter for its policing or lack thereof does not attack the root of the problem. Even if Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow, online harassment will not expire.

A bully is a bully and a troll is a troll, no matter where you go online. For as long as online mass communication has existed, from the early days of AOL chat rooms, online bullying has existed. So, in order to effectively address the issue of cyberbullying, one must not only question the environments that yield such behaviors, but examine how and why the behavior exists in the first place.

The ability to hide behind not only a screen, and often an unidentifiable name or avatar, unquestionably leaves online harassment to prevail. Whether one’s absolutely anonymous or not, the reduction of faceless communication disallows immediate, raw or physical reactions and consequences.

Infamously stated, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” While the comic was originally printed in The New Yorker in July 1993, the claim never rang more true than it does today. You are faceless online. While publications recently touted a study that found “trolls are even more hostile when they’re using their real names,” the support in favor of the counter argument “anonymity promotes online bullying” is far more prevalent, substantial and logical.

With this in mind, one possible counteraction to Twitter’s predicament would be to restore the faces from faceless communication. When verification and accountability exists, it can be presumed that harmful behaviors such as abuse and trolling will curb. However, is this a step in the right direction?

Twitter’s problem is very real indeed, but the implications and possible solutions for this platform are apart of a much larger discussion pertaining to all human-connected developments. Going forward, we need to ask which directions we’d first like to head in. As Jonathan Zittrain, the co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, states in Werner Herzog’s film Lo and Behold, “We can design systems that are really anonymous or that are utterly identifiable down to the person, and it’s time for us to think about what contexts we’d want to support what.”

In a context like Twitter’s, do we favor identifiable and culpable communication or anonymous and immune expression… even if that enables trolling and bullying?

While promoting his latest film, Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog claimed, “The internet is not good or evil, or dark or light-hearted, it’s humans.” This resonates quite well with Twitter. What we end up imagining, producing and enabling online ultimately materializes the reflection of the human collection.

So at the end of the day when we point at a platform like Twitter, which many believe should be held responsible for cyberbullying, were accusing inherently innocent defendants. In reality, we should be pointing at ourselves.

Featured Image: themosse/Getty Images

We’re looking at cyberbullying the wrong way
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The hopes and headaches of Snapchat’s glasses

Snapchat is the only company cool enough to possibly dismantle the Google Glass stigma. Awkward, useless, and a threat to privacy are how many think of computers you wear on your face. Can Snapchat show off the masterful marketing and smooth execution required to produce a product that won’t die on stores shelves or in a desk drawer?

To quickly recount the basics, a video of Snapchat’s new camcorder sunglasses leaked last night. Business Insider reported it, so the company rushed out the news with a Wall Street Journal piece that was planned for Monday.

Snapchat is renaming its corporate self to Snap Inc, and launching its $130 Spectacles this fall in limited release. They’ll be one-size-fits all in black, teal, or coral colors. Spectacles let you tap the glasses’ rim to instantly record 10 seconds of video, three taps to record a maximum of 30 seconds, with a light on the front alerting people you’re recording.

The video is captured with an 115-degree wide view lens in a circular format that can be watched full-screen on a phone in any orientation. The video is stored on the device and can be wirelessly offloaded to a phone over Wifi or Bluetooth so users can edit and share via Snapchat later. Spectacles’ battery should last a day, and you can get up to four full recharges from the portable charging case.

But the real questions are whether people will want or need Spectacles when they already have a camera phone, how Snap Inc can avoid them becoming geeky or creepy, and how they might change the future of the startup and how we capture social media.


Spectacles and their charging case. via Business Insider

Here we’ll explore the pitfalls and potential glory facing Snap Inc’s Spectacles.


Do We Need A Second Camera? – Everyone already carries remarkably powerful cameras in their pockets. The biggest challenge for Specs will be defeating the status quo: taking photos and videos with your phone. Hold your iPhone or Android up in front of your face with one hand, and the experience might be similar enough to Specs to make them unneccessary.


If you have Snapchat on your phone, do you need Spectacles? via Business Insider

Snap Inc will have to prove how different and awesome the 115-degree, circular, first-person format is. That might require getting Specs into the hands of some talented creators before a wider release.

snap-circularSpecs have to nail more than footage of skateboarding and playing with kids. They will have to show versatility, and might need some Specs-only animated lenses, filters, or other image embellishments to differentiate them enough from the super-engineered cameras in our iPhones.

Spectacles raise the larger question of whether cameras are so important that sometimes we’ll want a dedicated non-professional capture device even if we have to remember to carry it around and charge it. Or whether the convenience and power of our always-with-us smartphone cameras do a good enough job already.

Hands Are More Agile Than Heads – Try shooting video at a crowded concert from eye-level instead of thrusting your phone in the air, and you’ll quickly appreciate having your camera in your nimble hands, not strapped to your head. Getting the best angle often requires some maneuvering that’s much easier with your arms involved.

Footage from Specs could come out shaky and jerky unless Snapchat can work in some auto-stabilization magic. Otherwise the videos they make could be dizzying or too hectic to watch.

scobleReSPECtability – Google Glass got handed to geeky developers and techies first, who quickly associated the device with awkward social behavior and an “I’m better than you because I’m from the future” attitude. The infamous Scoble shower Glass photo still haunts the wearable industry.

Reversing this stigma will require Snap Inc to carefully manage first impressions to make Spectacles aspirational, not deplorable. Unfortunately the “trying to be artful” portraits of Snap CEO Evan Spiegel wearing them are already establishing a slightly pretentious aura.


Snap Inc CEO Evan Spiegel makes Spectacles seem a bit prtentious in this photo by Karl Lagerfield for WSJ

Private Eyes, They’re Watching You – Snap was smart to make it obvious when Spectacles are recording with a big warning light. But after “Are your recording me!?!” scuffles in bars and businesses putting up “No Google Glass” signs, people are sure to be a little uneasy.

We’re used to someone having to raise and aim their camera or phone at us before they’re able to record us, which gives us time to modify our behavior or turn away. Knowing that Spectacles could start shooting with a quick touch, even with the warning light, could make people uncomfortable being around anyone wearing them.

Snap will have to find some way to communicate polite practices for how to use Specs before someone crosses the line and ignites controversy.


Live Life, Don’t Just Record It – Better cameras, network connections, and social networks have led to an explosion of lifecasting, led by Snapchat Stories (and copied by Instagram Stories). But they pose a risk to the way we experience our greatest moments.

When something special happens, today most people bust out their phones rather than bask in the moment. Fans in the front row destroy their chance to connect with their rock star heroes by thrusting a phone between them. Then, people divorce themselves from the action while they stare down, editing their content with filters and captions before sharing.


Spectacles let you live life rather than stare at your phone

Snapchat’s recently launched Memories feature fights the second part of that sequence by letting you save what you record so you can edit and share later when you have some downtime. Spectacles could fix the first, removing the foreign object of the phone from the capture process. There’s still a device in the way, but at least it’s translucent, so you see the world directly while recording an identical view.

Spectacles could actualize the metaphor of creating a window into each other’s lives, instead of watching our own lives unfold on a screen.

The Camera Company – Building the camera itself rather than just the software gives Snap Inc a tighter grip on the experience. It could include hardware that wouldn’t fit in a phone. It can experiment more dramatically with how people record. And it provides deeper ownership of the data that comes out, which will be tucked in Snapchat Memories.

Even if video ads remain Snap’s core way to earn money, diversifying beyond video ads could boost confidence in the startup’s expected IPO. Snapchat could earn $200 million if it can get just one percent of its daily users to buy them. The more of their stack a company owns, the more it can control its destiny. If Facebook is the News Feed, and Google is search, Snapchat wants to be the camera.


Augmented Reality – Spectacles v1 only record the world around you, but future iterations could enhance it. Eventually, perhaps they could automatically give everyone a mustache, highlight your friends in a crowded room, let you watch other people’s Spectacles content like you were seeing through their eyes, or host a developer platform with untold applications.

Snapchat’s selfie lenses were the first delivery of AR to the masses, and the company has been staffing up with experts who could build the next wave of augmentation. Perhaps they’ll add voice control or other IoT integrations in the future.

Scenes We’ve Never Seen – What’s it like to walk down the red carpet? We’ve seen plenty of footage following a celebrity, but Spectacles could let us be the center of attention with fans and paparazzi fawning around us. We might get to see a concert from the singer’s eyes, or walk to runway as a fashion model

Though Snapchat has always been for teens, parents might love the ability to hold their baby with both hands while recording. GoPro built the idiot-proof adventure camera, but Snap could build one for saving everyday joys.


An Aspirational Device

The marketing of Spectacles is an enormous opportunity for Snap Inc, but one fraught with peril. Initial perceptions could make or break Specs, and perhaps define how fast or slow we’ll adopt other types of head-worn computers.


The most sensible strategy might mimic that of the acquirer Snapchat spurned. Facebook became an international hit in part because people desperately wanted to join what was seen as an exclusive, elite club.

Each stage of Facebook’s rollout expanded it a rung down the social hierarchy. This way the next demographic to get it always idolized the last. Harvard, then elite US colleges, other American colleges, international colleges, high schools, and eventually everyone. It’s the opposite of how Google bungled roll outs of Google Glass (weird developers first) and Google+ (geographically and socially unclustered tech elite first).

Snapchat might be best putting Spectacles on the faces of aspirational figures first — widely respected yet hip celebrities. If the first content coming out of Spectacles include the perspective of stars from classy movie premiers, epic concerts, raucous parties, and stunning sporting events, it could cement the idea that people you want to be wear them.

Similarly, Snapchat might only want to distribute the original pairs of Specs through some kind of trusted network of influencers. And when it sells them publicly, it might be best to start in cultural capitals like LA and NYC, where the world already looks for what’s cool.


Spectacles need to feel aspirational. via Business Insider

Spectacles are a gadget that won’t be judged by their specs, but by whether they can change human behavior. Cramming new ways to act into our society will always be tougher than packing processing power into a chip. Overwriting the disgust instilled by Google Glass will take all of Spiegel’s skills.

We might assume that one day, eyewear computers will shrink and strengthen to the point they become commonplace. But maybe Snap Inc has the stylish reputation and daredevil ambition to make that day come much sooner.

The hopes and headaches of Snapchat’s glasses
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Taking a swing for the Grammys with the new Lip Sync Battle app

The art of the lip sync has had a profound impact on the state of our…ok no, but dammit is lip synching fun.

For those of you locked in a Faraday cage, pretending to sing has become all the rage these days. You have Michelle Obama doing it for Carpool Karaoke, Tim Cook using it to open up events, and of course the ever entertaining LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen using it as a platform for the Spike series, Lip Sync Battle. On the show, celebrities battle each other by pretending to sing songs with dramatic effect. With a new app, anyone can now jam out in battles with their friends.

Lip Sync Battle LibraryIt’s quite hard to go wrong with such a fun starting point, and for the most part, the app’s creator Wurrly doesn’t let us down. Upon opening the app and selecting create, users are presented with a list of genres including pop, rock, rap, country, classics, and latin. There are also themed categories like love songs and a special section for tracks coming from prior Lip Sync Battles. Once you pick a song, the next step is to get to work recording.

Rather than just straight recording on top of an audio track like in Dubsmash, songs are accompanied with lyrics to make it possible to record in one take. Users can also select a number of accessories that serve a similar purpose as lenses in Snapchat. You can go for a crazy glasses vibe, a cat ears look, and even a full flower child outfit. Lenses Lip Sync Battle

Wurrly did most of the development of the accessories and facial tracking in house. The groundwork has already been laid alongside another company called Facio to do emotional recognition. This means that in the future, tattoos, masks and other accessories will be able to alter their appearance based on your emotional state. If you’re singing a sad verse in a ballad, a mask could animate differently than during the power hook of a pop song.

“Our intention was really to create a world of fun,” said Nadine Levitt, CEO of Wurrly.

At the end of filming your epic production, there is a list of post processing effects you can choose from to put the final touches on a battle. This includes things like confetti intros, lights and pyro effects.

Apps that license songs often struggle to build up and maintain a healthy and attractive music catalog. Levitt cites a relationship with Universal Music Group as one of the key factors that helped to get the licensing process off the ground. The starting library is diverse and even includes a number of country songs that haven’t garnered much attention on the show itself. Levitt sees the app as a way to continue to build the Lip Sync Battle community.

To generate revenue, Wurrly will be offering specialty items to its community at a price. This could include limited addition effects and masks. Because the app has such a strong relationship with a real world show generating new content every week, Lip Sync Battle can also benefit by leveraging promotional content to boost fan engagement.

The early version of the app works pretty smoothly although one drawback is that creations are tied to the app itself. You can share them for battles and link videos on social media, but they ultimately pull you back into the app. Synching between lyrics and music was also an issue in a few instances. Lyrics for the Eminem and Rihanna track Love the Way You Lie seemed oddly timed, and in one case, the lyrics for the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit Free Bird were incorrect. These were all relatively minor quips and will hopefully be fixed by the time heavy traffic starts battling.

If you’re not already into the craze, the premise of lip syncing may seem about as odd as watching American Idol on mute while listening to the track on Spotify. However, there is something special about a nonjudgemental space where you can truly step away and not care about anything other than having fun with your friends. I spent about an hour after 5pm on a Friday making the gem below in the TechCrunch offices. I can’t completely say there was no office judgement, but as promised, it surely was a world of fun.

Taking a swing for the Grammys with the new Lip Sync Battle app
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Messaging app Telegram adds selfie masks, DIY GIFs

With what looks to be an eye on Snapchat’s selfie-loving fanbase, messaging platform Telegram has beefed up its in-app photo editor in what it dubs an “entertainment-heavy update” — including an option that lets users customize selfies by adding cartoon masks that automatically align on their faces. Snapchat of course has a lenses feature for transforming users’ selfies.

The Telegram feature is far less sophisticated than Snapchat’s lenses; more ‘selfie augmentation’ than full facial transformation, given it only works with photos (not video). And is really just another sticker set that can be added to photos you’ve already snapped. But the popularity of stickers on messaging platforms should not be underestimated.

Masks can be applied via Telegram’s photo editor by tapping on the pen to edit the photo you’ve selected to send and then the envelope to bring up mask sets.

Users are also able to create custom masks and upload them to the platform by using the /newmasks command and Telegram’s @stickers bot. (Users receiving photos with masks will also be able to see which sets the masks came from.)

For now, there’s a range of cartoonish masks created by Telegram for users to choose from — such as animal faces, silly glasses, comedy beards, hats, wigs etc, along with other cartoonish props to drop into photos, such as stars, hearts, more cute animals, bubble-lettered captions and so on. Existing Telegram stickers can also be added in to photos.

Also in this visually themed update Telegram now lets users create custom GIFs to send in their chats by recording a video and then tapping a new mute button to turn it into a looping GIF. GIFs can also be augmented with the usual emoji, text, colored scribbles etc.

The startup demos the DIY GIF feature showing founder Pavel Durov videoing himself pulling an expression akin to a smirking smilie.

Telegram DIY GIFs

It notes that any DIY GIFs a user creates are saved to the app’s GIF section — “so that you can quickly react to anything with a set of your own prerecorded GIF-emotions”.

Also added in this update: a trending stickers tab — likely as a way to help with sticker discovery. Visuals may be more universally understood than text, but finding the perfect sticker among countless pouts, smirks and side-eyes can be as time-consuming as searching for le mot juste.

Telegram is not breaking out any updated user metrics at this point, with Durov telling TechCrunch it’s keeping its powder dry for big yearly reveals on that front.

The startup held a glitzy party at MWC in Barcelona last February, trumpeting 100M monthly active users. At the time it also said it was adding 350,000 new users each day, with some 15BN messages generated daily. (For some comparative context, Snapchat, announced 100M daily active users back in March.)

Messaging app Telegram adds selfie masks, DIY GIFs
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