Facebook’s cloud gaming service hits iOS devices as a web app

Facebook has become the latest company to offer a cloud gaming service on iOS, only once again you won't access it through the App Store. Starting today, you can visit the Facebook Gaming website to add a Progressive Web App (PWA) that acts as a shortcut to the service on your iPhone or iPad. To do so, visit the platform's website and tap the "Add to Home Screen" option from the Safari share sheet.

It's not an elegant solution, but it's the same one employed by Amazon and Microsoft. When Apple tweaked its guidelines last September to allow for cloud gaming clients on iOS, it said games offered in a streaming service had to be individually downloaded from the App Store. That's a requirement both Microsoft and Facebook said was not congruent with how every other platform treats cloud gaming services.

"We've come to the same conclusion as others: web apps are the only option for streaming cloud games on iOS at the moment," Vivek Sharma, Facebook's vice-president of gaming, told The Verge of today's launch. "As many have pointed out, Apple's policy to 'allow' cloud games on the App Store doesn't allow for much at all. Apple's requirement for each cloud game to have its own page, go through review and appear in search listings defeats the purpose of cloud gaming."

The process of adding the web app is complicated enough that Facebook includes a short how-to when you first visit its Gaming website on Safari. You also have to know to navigate to the company's website in the first place. The reason for that is the App Store guidelines prohibit developers from using their applications to direct individuals to websites that feature alternative payment systems to those offered by Apple, and you pay for the in-game purchases offered in Facebook Gaming titles through Facebook's Pay platform.

Facebook finally blocks ‘vaccines kill’ hashtag

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted fresh scrutiny of social media's response to the anti-vaccine movement. But, even in the face of criticism from the White House, a new report claims Facebook is still failing to delete even the most incendiary misinformation. As recently as last week, posts containing the hashtag #VaccinesKill were still active on the social network, according to CNN

It was only until the news publication warned the company of the lapse that it blocked the posts behind a message that read Facebook is "keeping our community safe." To make matters worse, the same hashtag was banned by Facebook-owned Instagram almost two years prior. That action followed Facebook's pledge to crack down on vaccine falsehoods, including bogus claims that they cause autism and other diseases, in the midst of a measles outbreak in New York.

This time round, the threat is even greater. With the world still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cases of the Delta virus rising in the US, Facebook's latest slip-up will only draw more concern from policymakers. Just days ago, President Biden lambasted the company and other social networks by suggesting their failures were debilitating the vaccination drive. “They’re killing people,” Biden said.

In its defense, Facebook has previously noted that it's taking down more erroneous anti-vaccine information than ever before. In October, it banned ads encouraging people to avoid getting vaccinated, following that with a wider clamp down on anti-vaccine claims. 

The company told CNN that it did not take action against the #VaccinesKill hashtag in the past as it did not meet its threshold. Facebook explained that it determines whether a hashtag violates its policies by looking at numerous factors, including the type and spread of content it is appearing in. "Now, the #vaccineskill hashtag on Facebook violates our policies against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines and we've blocked it from search," the spokesperson said.

At the same time, users are finding new ways to bypass the social network's misinformation rules. In May, some people began weaponizing Facebook's custom profile frames to display false vaccine claims, forcing it to take them down.

Twitter starts testing Reddit-like downvote button on iOS

Some Twitter users on iOS might see a new button that looks like Reddit's downvote button in people's replies. That's part of the social network's latest experimental feature designed to give it more insight on what kind of replies users find relevant in a conversation. According to Twitter Support's announcement, the goal is to be able to gather enough data, so the platform can work on ways to surface more relevant responses. In long threads, for instance, the best replies don't always show up immediately and might be buried underneath tons of other people's tweets.

The random testers who get the feature might see different versions of it. Some may see upvote and downvote buttons, while others might only see a downvote button right next to Twitter's heart/like option. A third version will show testers thumbs up and down buttons instead. The number of downvotes a reply gets will not be visible to the public, and users' downvotes will be visible to them alone. Meanwhile, upvotes will show up as likes. 

At the moment, votes won't change the order of responses similar to how Reddit buries replies that get a ton of downvotes. As Twitter User Researcher Cody Elam explains in a series of tweets, the experiment's purpose isn't to shame users, but to give "people the power to privately voice their opinion on the quality of replies" and to give the company a "more nuanced feedback." He added: "We’re hoping to learn more about the quality of replies that people vote on and if voting is a feature that people find valuable."

This isn't the first time Twitter started testing the Reddit-like feature. A few months ago, the social network started experimenting with Facebook-style emoji reactions that also included upvote and downvote buttons. 

YouTube’s Super Thanks tipping feature rolls out to more beta users

For years, YouTube streamers have used third-party plugins to allow their fans to donate to them. Starting this week, however, YouTube is taking a step toward making that functionality something that’s built into the platform. While it’s still in beta, the company says its new “Super Thanks” feature is rolling out to “thousands” of additional creators in 68 countries. By the end of the year, it plans to make it available to everyone in the YouTube Partner Program.

When you decide to give your favorite creator a Super Thanks, you’ll have four options before you. The amounts will vary by market, but in the US you can donate $2, $5, $10 or $50 at one time. Once you complete the payment process, you’ll see an animated GIF of balloons float across your screen, and YouTube will highlight your comment, as well as the amount of money you sent. As with the other monetization tools YouTube offers to streamers, including Super Chat and Super Stickers, the company will take a 30 percent cut of all donations.

Adding more ways for creators to earn money is important for YouTube, even if it’s one the company is late to offer. Long gone are the days where it's the only video platform of note. The company faces competition from Twitch, TikTok and others, particularly as those platforms look for ways to keep their most prolific creators invested in making content only for their respective apps.

YouTube’s Super Thanks tipping feature rolls out to more beta users

For years, YouTube streamers have used third-party plugins to allow their fans to donate to them. Starting this week, however, YouTube is taking a step toward making that functionality something that’s built into the platform. While it’s still in beta, the company says its new “Super Thanks” feature is rolling out to “thousands” of additional creators in 68 countries. By the end of the year, it plans to make it available to everyone in the YouTube Partner Program.

When you decide to give your favorite creator a Super Thanks, you’ll have four options before you. The amounts will vary by market, but in the US you can donate $2, $5, $10 or $50 at one time. Once you complete the payment process, you’ll see an animated GIF of balloons float across your screen, and YouTube will highlight your comment, as well as the amount of money you sent. As with the other monetization tools YouTube offers to streamers, including Super Chat and Super Stickers, the company will take a 30 percent cut of all donations.

Adding more ways for creators to earn money is important for YouTube, even if it’s one the company is late to offer. Long gone are the days where it's the only video platform of note. The company faces competition from Twitch, TikTok and others, particularly as those platforms look for ways to keep their most prolific creators invested in making content only for their respective apps.

Facebook rejects Biden claim it’s ‘killing people’ with COVID-19 misinformation

Facebook isn't exactly enthusiastic about President Biden's claim that it and other social networks are "killing people" by allowing COVID-19 misinformation to spread. The social media firm posted a refutation of the allegations, using data to suggest that something other than Facebook was responsible for a slowdown in vaccination rates and a rise in cases.

The company noted that vaccine acceptance in user polling had risen from 70 percent in January 2021 to as high as 85 percent in July, and that cultural group disparities had declined "considerably" over the same period. This was ahead of Biden's goal of getting 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July — to Facebook, this was a sign the company was "not the reason" the US fell short of that target.

Facebook added that Canada and the UK had higher vaccination percentages despite using the social network about as much as their American counterparts. There's "more than Facebook" to the US results, the company said. It also pointed to its efforts to both promote accurate claims and fight falsehoods, including the use of misinformation labels, reduced exposure and takedowns. 

The internet giant didn't attempt to find an alternate explanation for US troubles. Some observers have pointed to a possible link between political affiliation and vaccination rates, but Facebook didn't even hint at this in its refutal.

It's not a flawless argument. Facebook is trying to draw a link between its polling data and the entire US, which doesn't make for a neat and tidy comparison. The company also hasn't shared estimates of how much COVID-19 misinformation slips through the cracks. The social site has a strong incentive to downplay its possible contribution to the problem given past complaints that it hasn't done enough to stop misinformation campaigns. 

At the same time, the data shifts the attention back to the Biden administration — it may need to provide more substantial data if it's going to show that health misinformation on social networks like Facebook is a major threat, as the US Surgeon General recently said. If nothing else, it suggests the answer is a complicated one regardless of how much Facebook is responsible.

Biden: Facebook and other platforms are ‘killing people’ with vaccine misinformation

Joe Biden said that Facebook and other social media platforms are “killing people” by allowing misinformation about COVID-19 to spread on their platforms.

Biden’s comments came in response to a reporter who asked the president what his message to “platforms like Facebook” was regarding misinformation about COVID-19. “They’re killing people,” Biden said. “I mean they’re really — look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”

His remarks, one day after the Surgeon general issued an unusual health advisory on the dangers of vaccine misinformation, comes amid mounting pressure for Facebook and other platforms to do more to address misinformation about the coronavirus vaccines. But Facebook has come under particular scrutiny due to its size, and spotty history with countering vaccine falsehoods.

A widely cited reported from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that much of the vaccine misinformation that spreads online can be linked to just 12 individuals — many of whom remain active on Facebook despite the company’s attempts to crack down on vaccine misinformation in recent months. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update 7/16/2021 5:17pm ET: A Facebook spokesperson responded with this statement: "We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts. The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period."

Why Facebook’s betting $1 billion on creators

Last month, Instagram held its first-ever Creator Week, a virtual event the company described as “a life-changing three days with new feature news and celeb drop-ins.” One of those drop-ins was CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who made a brief appearance to share a message with creators.

“I think that any good vision of the future has to involve a lot more people being able to make a living by expressing their creativity and by doing things they want to do, rather than things they have to — and having the tools and the economy around them to support their work is critical,” he said. “Our goal is to be the best platform for creators like you to make a living.”

This week, Zuckerberg went even farther, announcing that Facebook plans to invest $1 billion in creators by the end of 2022. The investment will fund bonus programs, creator funds and other monetization programs to boost all stripes of creators on its platform.

That Facebook is funneling so much money and resources toward creators is indicative of not just the opportunity the company sees, but how much ground it has to make up.

For years, Facebook simply didn’t do much for creators. While Instagram has long had its own influencer community, the company has at times tried to limit their reach. Instagram’s founders were reportedly uncomfortable with the rise of influencers, and introduced an algorithmic feed to ensure users would see more posts from friends and family than brands and businesses.

While YouTube has offered monetization features for more than a decade, Instagram didn’t offer any kind of revenue sharing feature until last year. And many creators often felt at odds with Instagram. The company’s ever-changing algorithm fueled suspicions that it “shadowbans” or otherwise penalizes users who post too much or about the “wrong” topics.

“Facebook has been late to the game in terms of supporting the creative community in a meaningful way,” says Qianna Smith Bruneteau, founder of the American Influencer Council, a trade group representing the creator industry.

But Facebook is now trying to reverse those perceptions. For the past year, the company has been steadily churning out new tools for creators to make money. Since last May alone, the company has introduced a dizzying number of money-making features.

On Instagram, creators can now make money from commercials in IGTV or open their own shops. They can sell badges and products in live streams. On Facebook, they can host paid virtual events, promote fan subscriptions, or sell in-app gifts in live streams or audio rooms. Soon, they’ll be able to start paid newsletters, earn affiliate commission from products their followers buy and participate in a branded content marketplace. The company is also launching several new bonus programs that will pay creators for signing up for IGTV ads, creating Reels or meeting live-streaming milestones.

Creators can earn bonuses for meeting certain goals.
Facebook

Zuckerberg and other top executives now regularly speak about creators and the opportunity they represent. The company is so eager to win over the creator community it’s promised it won’t take a cut of their earnings until 2023.

Li Jin, founder of Atelier Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in the creator economy, says surging interest in creators is because the industry has gotten so big it’s no longer something platforms can afford to ignore.

“I think for a long time there was no need to separately think of creators as a distinct segment that was in need of specialized features or funds,” Jin says. “I think what changed is the realization that … these creators’ content is driving a disproportionate amount of activity and engagement on the platforms.”

That Facebook is late to the creator economy also means the company is facing an incredible amount of competition. TikTok, which has a reputation for a creator-friendly algorithm, just passed 3 billion downloads, the first non-Facebook owned app to do so, according to analytics company Sensor Tower. Users of TikTok, and its Chinese counterpart Duoyin, together spent more than a half billion dollars in the app during the second quarter of 2021, alone. In the United States in 2020, TikTok was significantly ahead of Facebook and Instagram in user engagement, according to App Annie.

TikTok is outpacing Facebook in time spent per user.
App Annie

Meanwhile Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and other platforms are also pouring money into new initiatives for creators. “There's a limited number of creators and everyone is in competition for them,” Jin says.

Facebook has offered various explanations for its sudden interest in creators. Zuckerberg has said he wants to help more people “make a living” off Facebook’s services. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri recently said the company was responding to “the shift in power from institutions to individuals across industries.”

It’s also a major opportunity to shift Facebook’s business away from ads. Though Facebook has promised it won’t take a cut of creators’ earnings for more than a year, that will eventually change (the company hasn’t said what its cut will be, only that it will be “less” than Apple’s 30-percent commission).

Creators could also provide a massive boost to the company’s push into shopping. Commerce has also been a major focus for the social network, which has already crammed shopping features into nearly every corner of Instagram, and Zuckerberg has said he intends to create “a full-featured commerce platform” across Facebook’s services.

What’s less clear is just how much creators will be willing to buy-in to Facebook’s vision. While a $1 billion investment will almost certainly fuel more interest in the platform, it’s not clear if it will prompt the kind of content Facebook might be hoping for. Instagram’s Reels, for example, was meant to be the company’s chief TikTok competitor. Yet the company has at times had to push creators to post original content there.

And concerns about Facebook’s algorithms remain, says Bruneteau. “The algorithm should be favorable to creators like it is on TikTok,” she says. “You have these instant influencers on TikTok, who have been able to grow million-plus followings in less than a year. However those same instant influencers who have those accounts have a tendency to have less followers on Instagram.”

There are signs that Facebook might be willing to address these concerns. Mosseri recently raised eyebrows when he said that Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing app, and that the company was working one ways to insert more recommended content in users’ feeds in order to compete with TikTok.

But even with a kinder algorithm, both Bruneteau and Jin caution that creators should be cautious in throwing too many resources into Facebook or any one platform.

“When creators are building their processes on top of these like centralized platforms, they're actually creating more value for the underlying platform than they're able to create for themselves,” Jin says. “At the end of the day you're strengthening Facebook's dominance because the more content you put there, the more it attracts consumer users and the more that translates into Facebook revenue and Facebook's network effects.”

Facebook’s BlenderBot chat AI no longer has the mental capacity of a goldfish

Last April, Facebook’s AI research lab (FAIR) announced and released as open source its BlenderBot social chat app. While the neophyte AI immediately proved far less prone to racist outbursts than previous attempts, BlenderBot was not without its shortcomings. For one, the system had the recollection capacity of a goldfish — any subject or data point the AI wasn’t initially trained simply didn’t exist in its online reality, as evidenced by the OG BB’s continued insistence that Tom Brady still plays for the New England Patriots. For another, due to its limited knowledge of current events, the system had a strong tendency to hallucinate knowledge, like a digital Dunning-Kruger effect. But the advancements BlenderBot 2.0 displays, which FAIR debuted on Friday, should make the AI far more sociable, knowledgeable, and capable.

While BlenderBot 1.0 could only maintain its memory for a single discussion, its successor can remember topics of conversation over the course of multiple talks that can take days, weeks or even months to complete thanks to the implementation of a long-term memory module. What’s more, the AI can actively update its knowledge base by searching the internet for the latest news and details on any subject that the user wishes to speak about.

“BlenderBot 2 queries the Bing API for search results based on a generated search query, and conditions its response on the top few results,” Kurt Shuster, Research Engineer at Facebook AI, told Engadget. “We rely on Bing to provide high quality search results.” As such, BlenderBot 2.0 is now capable of speaking coherently about breaking news and new media, not just the data it was trained upon.

how blenderbot 2.0 works
FAIR

“BlenderBot 2 is limited only by what a powerful search engine can provide,” Jason Weston, Research Scientist at Facebook AI, added. So for example, if you are more interested in learning about Tom Yewcic (the Patriot’s combo QB/Punter from the 1962 season) than you are about Tom Brady, BB 2.0 has you covered. It’s the same with more scholarly subjects, like photosynthesis or redox reactions, Weston continued. So long as the information is available on the web, “there is no reason BlenderBot 2 cannot discuss this.”

By actively searching the internet for information, BlenderBot 2.0 can also reduce the instances in which it hallucinates knowledge. “Providing the system with more commonsense reasoning will allow BlenderBot to make sure it does not confuse subtle concepts,” Weston explained, “such as a movie director versus a producer or a pitching coach versus a hitting coach.”

the crown
FAIR

The only wrinkle really occurs when discussing non-english based media, such as Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. “It is reasonable to conclude Bing will surface information about it and BlenderBot 2 can use that information accordingly,” he said. “We currently focus on english-based search results, so non-english references may not be fully covered.” The system will, however, recognize that Demon Slayer is of interest to you and will be more likely to bring up manga-centric subjects in future discussions.

FAIR has taken multiple steps to ensure that BlenderBot does not become the next Tay. “BlenderBot 2 does not learn directly from user input, as Tay did,” Shuster said. “We have taken extensive safety steps to ensure that BlenderBot 2 can handle adversarial users. Specifically, we employ both baked-in and two-stage techniques. BlenderBot 2 can detect itself if the incoming context will result in an offensive response, and additional safety layers where a safety classifier can detect if either the user input or the bot's output is offensive. Each handles the response appropriately.”

And while the system is currently focused on chewing its way through the English language corpus, FAIR does see BlenderBot does eventually extend to other languages as well. “While not in our immediate plans, the goal of our team is to build a superhuman conversationalist,” Shuster said. “This kind of agent requires multilingual understanding.”

Recent internal benchmarking processes found that BlenderBot 2.0 outperformed its predecessor by 17 percent in its engagingness score and 55 percent in its use of previous conversation sessions according to human evaluators, per a Friday blog from FAIR. What’s more, BlenderBot's rate of knowledge hallucinations dropped from 9 percent (!) in BB 1.0 down to just 3 percent in the current iteration.

Looking ahead, “humans interacting with AI systems via discourse is the future of AI,” Weston asserted, “and ensuring that humans have an engaging, informative experience is critical to that future. BlenderBot 2 combines the engagingness of BlenderBot 1.0 with the knowledge capabilities of a system with access to the entire internet, so ostensibly we are on the right track.”

Twitter is finally rolling out auto-captions for voice tweets

Twitter rolled out voice tweets over a year ago now and has taken a lot of heat for the lack of accessibility features. Now, it's finally rolling out automatically generated captions that appear when you click on the "CC" button. The new feature is only available on iOS, as voice tweets have yet to arrive on Android. 

Captions are available in English, Japanese, Portuguese, Turkish, Arabic, Hindi, French, Indonesian, korean and Italian. They will only appear on new voice tweets, as they need to be generated when the tweet is created, Twitter told The Verge

When voice tweets were first being tested last June, critics immediately pointed out that they should have had captions from the start as required in the US by Federal Law. Twitter then admitted that it didn't have a dedicated accessibility team and relied on employees to donate additional time for those features. Since then, however, the company has launched teams dedicated to accessibility. The company originally promised to add automated captions by early 2021, but that date obviously slipped a bit. 

Twitter promised to improve and expand the service across its products. “Though it’s still early and we know it won’t be perfect at first, it’s one of many steps we’re taking to expand and strengthen accessibility across our service, and we look forward to continuing our journey to create a truly inclusive service," said Twitter's global accessibility head Gurpreet Kaur.