Study Links Social Media to Depression, Loneliness

University of Pennsylvania researchers say that for the first time they have linked social media use to increases in depression and loneliness.

The idea that social media is anything but social when it comes to mental health has been talked about for years, but not many studies have managed to actually link the two.

To do that, Penn researchers, led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, designed a study that focused on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The results were published in the November issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

How study worked

The study was conducted with 143 participants, who before they began, completed a mood survey and sent along photos of their battery screens, showing how often they were using their phones to access social media.

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid,” Hunt said. That term, ecologically valid, means that the research attempts to mimic real life.

The study divided the participants into two groups: The first group was allowed to maintain their normal social media habits. The other, the control group, was restricted to 10 minutes per day on each of the three platforms: Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The restrictions were put in place for three weeks and then the participants returned and were tested for outcomes such as fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety, depression and loneliness.

​Results of study

The results showed a very clear link between social media use and increased levels of depression and loneliness.

“Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness,” Hunt said. “These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

She calls her findings the “grand irony” of social media.

What is it about social media that’s just so depressing?

Hunt says that it’s two major things. The first is that social media invites what Hunt calls “downward social comparison.” When you’re online, it can sometimes seem that “everyone else is cooler and having more fun and included in more things and you’re left out,” she said. And that’s just generally demoralizing.

The second factor is a bit more nuanced. 

“Time is a zero-sum game,” Hunt told VOA. “Every minute you spend online is a minute you are not doing your work or not meeting a friend for dinner or having a deep conversation with your roommate.”

And these real life activities are the ones that can bolster self-esteem and self worth, Hunt said.

What to learn

So what’s the takeaway?

People are on their devices, and that’s not going to change, she said. But as in life, a bit of moderation goes a long way. 

“In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life,” she added.

Hunt pointed out a few caveats to the study. First, it was done exclusively with 18- to 22-year-olds, and it is unclear if the depressing effects of social media will cross generational lines to older or younger people, Hunt said. But she expects her results should generalize at least for people through the age of 30.

Hunt says she is now beginning a study to gauge the emotional impact of dating apps.


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For Autistic Kids, Robots Can Be Social, Learning Study Buddy

Robots have been put to work assembling cars in factories, answering questions at conventions and hotel lobbies, moving packages in warehouses, and more. Now, a team at the University of Southern California is studying how well robots work with autistic children, to offer personalized support and learning. Faith Lapidus reports.


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Google Reforms Sexual Misconduct Rules

Google is promising to be more forceful and open about its handling of sexual misconduct cases, a week after high-paid engineers and others walked out in protest over its male-dominated culture.

CEO Sundar Pichai spelled out the concessions in an email sent Thursday to Google employees. The note of contrition came a week after the tech giant’s workers left their cubicles in dozens of offices around the world to protest management’s treatment of top executives and other male workers accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct involving men. The protest’s organizers estimated about 17,000 workers participated in the walkout .

“Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared,” Pichai wrote in his email. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.” Pichai’s email was obtained by The Associated Press.

Google bowed to one of the protesters’ main demands by dropping mandatory arbitration of all sexual misconduct cases. That will now be optional under the new policies. It mirrors a change made by ride-hailing service Uber after the complaints of its women employees prompted an internal investigation concluding its rank had been poisoned by rampant sexual harassment

Google will also provide more details about sexual misconduct cases in internal reports available to all employees. The breakdowns will include the number of cases that were substantiated within various company departments and list the types of punishment imposed, including firings, pay cuts and mandated counseling.

The company is also stepping up its training aimed at preventing misconduct, requiring all employees to go through the process annually instead of every other year. Those who fall behind in their training, including top executives, will be dinged in their annual performance reviews, leaving a blemish that could lower their pay and make it more difficult to get promoted.

The reforms are the latest fallout from a broader societal backlash against men’s exploitation of their women subordinates in business, entertainment and politics — a movement that has spawned the “MeToo” hashtag as a sign of unity and a call for change.

Google got caught in the crosshairs two weeks ago after The New York Times detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google’s Android software, Andy Rubin. The newspaper said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations were credible. Rubin has denied the allegations.

Like its Silicon Valley peers, Google has already openly acknowledged that its workforce is too heavily concentrated with white and Asian men, especially in the highest paying executive and computer programming jobs. Women account for 31 percent of Google’s employees worldwide, and it’s lower for leadership roles.

Critics believe that gender imbalance as created a “brogammer” culture akin to a college fraternity house that treats women as sex objects. As part of its ongoing efforts, Google will now require at least one woman or a non-Asian ethnic minority to be included on the list of candidates for executive jobs.

Google isn’t addressing another one of the protesters’ grievance because it believes it doesn’t have merit. The protesters demanded that women be paid the same as men for doing similar work, something that Google has steadfastly maintained that it has been doing for years.


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Bullied Online? Speak Out, Says Britain’s Princess Beatrice 

Bullied herself online, Britain’s Princess Beatrice is determined to ensure other girls are equipped to deal with internet abuse and get the best from the digital world. 

Beatrice — who as the eldest daughter of Prince Andrew and his former wife, the Duchess of York, is eighth in line to the British throne — said her bullying, about her weight and her appearance, were very public and could not be ignored. 

But she said other girls faced this in private and needed to be encouraged to speak out and to know where to get support, which prompted her to get involved in campaigns against cyber bullying. 

A recent study by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center found about 60 percent of U.S. teens had been bullied or harassed online, with girls more likely to be the targets of online rumor-spreading or nonconsensual explicit messages. 

“You’d like to say don’t pay attention to it … but the best advice is to talk about it,” Beatrice, 30, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during an interview on Wednesday at the Web Summit, Europe’s largest annual technology conference. 

“Being a young girl, but now being 30 and a woman working full time in technology, I feel very grateful for those experiences. But at that time it was very challenging.” 

Beatrice, who works at the U.S.-based software company Afiniti, co-founded the Big Change Charitable Trust with a group of friends, including two of Richard Branson’s children, in 2010 to support young people who also grew up in the public eye. 

Campaign

She also last year joined the anti-bullying campaign “Be Cool Be Nice” along with other celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne, which included a book. 

“There are lots of people who are ready to help and I want to make sure young people feel they have the places to go to talk about it,” said Beatrice, adding that teachers and parents also had a role to play. 

Beatrice said her bullying was so public that she could not hide from it, but her mother, Sarah Ferguson, was a great source of support. 

One of the most public attacks on the princess was at the 2011 wedding of her cousin Prince William when her fascinator sparked a barrage of media attention. A month later she auctioned the hat for charity for 81,000 pounds ($106,500). 

Her mother, who divorced Prince Andrew in 1996, had to get used to unrelenting ribbing by Britain’s royal-obsessed media. 

“She has been through a lot,” said Beatrice, whose younger sister, Eugenie, married at Windsor Castle last month. 

“When you see role models who are continually put in very challenging situations and can support you … [then] some of the tools that I have had from her I would like to share.” 

Beatrice said mobile technology should be a force for good for girls in developed and developing countries, presenting new opportunities in terms of education, careers and health. 

“Social media and the pressures that these young people now face is a new phenomenon … and if I can do more to give young people the tools [to cope], that is my mission,” she said. 

“I would say to young girls: You are not alone. Keep going.” 


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Facebook: More than 100 Accounts Blocked Prior to US Midterms

Facebook says it has blocked more than 100 accounts with potential ties to a so-called Russian “troll farm” that may have sought to interfere with Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections.

The social media giant said in a statement Wednesday that it had blocked the Facebook and Instagram accounts ahead of the vote. Facebook said it made the move after a tip from law enforcement officials.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a statement that the accounts were blocked late Monday over suspicions they were “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services.” Among those accounts blocked were 85 Instagram accounts and 30 Facebook pages, most of which were in French or Russian languages. The Instagram accounts were mostly English-language, Facebook said.

Investigators say the accounts may be linked to a group known as the Internet Research Agency, which is based in St. Petersburg, Russia. In February, a federal grand jury indicted the group over allegations of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Gleicher called the recent discovery “a timely reminder that these bad actors won’t give up — and why it is so important we work with the U.S. government and other technology companies to stay ahead.”

Before Gleicher’s statement, the Internet Research Agency said in a statement that it was responsible for the accounts, although that has not been verified.

In its statement, the organization said, “Citizens of the United States of America! Your intelligence agencies are powerless. Despite all their efforts, we have thousands of accounts registered on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit spreading political propaganda.” The message was written in capital letters.

The statement also included a list of accounts to which the organization was supposedly attached.

In April, Facebook closed some 270 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency. Facebook also recently banned 82 accounts linked to Iran, that were posting politically charged memes.


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Facebook, Google Tools Reveal New Political Ad Tactics

Public databases that shine a light on online political ads – launched by Facebook and Google before Tuesday’s U.S. elections – offer the public the first broad view of how quickly the companies yank advertisements that break their rules.

The databases also provided campaigns unprecedented insight into opponents’ online marketing, enabling them to capitalize on weaknesses, political strategists told Reuters.

Facebook and Google, owned by Alphabet, introduced the databases this year to give details on some political ads bought on their services, a response to U.S. prosecutors’ allegations that Russian agents who deceptively interfered in the 2016 election purchased ads from the companies.

Russia denies the charges. American security experts said the Russians changed tactics this year.

Reuters found that Facebook and Google took down 436 ads from May through October related to 34 U.S. House of Representatives contests declared competitive last month by RealClearPolitics, which tracks political opinion polls.

Of the 258 removed ads with start and end dates, ads remained on Google an average of eight days and Facebook 15 days, according to data Reuters collected from the databases.

Based on ranges in the databases, the 436 ads were displayed up to 20.5 million times and cost up to $582,000, amounting to a fraction of the millions of dollars spent online in those races.

Asked for comment, Google said it is committed to bringing greater transparency to political ads. Facebook said the database is a way the company is held accountable, “even if it means our mistakes are on display.”

In some cases, the companies’ automated scans did not identify banned material such as hateful speech or images of poor quality before ads went live.

Ads that are OK when scanned may also become noncompliant if they link to a website that later breaks down.

Google’s database covers $54 million in spending by U.S. campaigns since May and Facebook $354 million, according to their databases.

Facebook’s figure is larger partly because its database includes ads not only from federal races but also for state contests, national issues and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The databases generally do not say why a particular ad was removed, and only Facebook shows copies of yanked ads.

The American Conservative Union political organization, which had 136 ads removed through Sunday on Facebook, said some commercials contained a brief shot of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a decapitated head meant to portray U.S. President Donald Trump.

Removing the bloody image resolved the violation for sensational content, and the organization said it had no qualms about Facebook’s screening.

Some removals were errors. The Environmental Defense Action Fund said Facebook’s automated review wrongly misclassified one of its ads as promoting tobacco.

Ryan Morgan, whose political consulting firm Veracity Media arranged attack ads for a U.S. House race in Iowa, said Google barred those mentioning “white supremacy” until his team could explain the ads advocated against the racist belief.

Five campaign strategists told Reuters they adjusted advertising tactics in recent weeks based on what the databases revealed about opponents’ spending on ads and which genders, age groups and states saw the messages.

Ohio digital consultant Kevin Bingle said his team reviewed opponents on Facebook’s database daily to take advantage of gaps in their strategy.

Morgan said his team tripled its online ad budget to $600,000 for a San Francisco affordable housing tax after Facebook’s database showed the other side’s ads were reaching non-Californians.

That political intelligence “let us know that digital was a place we could run up the score,” he said.


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VR Project Highlights Social Media Policing

Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, social media platforms have become the digital public squares where we convene. Police gather on these sites too, in order to prevent and investigate criminal activity. But the clues found within social media postings aren’t always conclusive. Tina Trinh explains.


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Floating Solar Panels Buoy Access to Clean Energy in Asia

When the worst floods in a century swept through India’s southern Kerala state in August, they killed more than 480 people and left behind more than $5 billion in damage.

But one thing survived unscathed: India’s first floating solar panels, on one of the country’s largest water reservoirs.

As India grapples with wilder weather, surging demand for power and a goal to nearly quintuple the use of solar energy in just four years, “we are very much excited about floating solar,” said Shailesh K. Mishra, director of power systems at the government Solar Energy Corporation of India.

India is planning new large-scale installations of the technology on hydropower reservoirs and other water bodies in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand states, and in the Lakshadweep islands, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The cost is coming almost to the same level as ground solar, and then it will go (forward) very fast,” he predicted.

As countries move to swiftly scale up solar power, to meet growing demand for energy and to try to curb climate change, floating solar panels – installed on reservoirs or along coastal areas – are fast gaining popularity, particularly in Asia, experts say.

The panels – now in place from China to the Maldives to Britain – get around some of the biggest problems facing traditional solar farms, particularly a lack of available land, said Oliver Knight, a senior energy specialist with the World Bank.

“The water body is already there – you don’t need to go out and find it,” he said in a telephone interview.

And siting solar arrays on water – most cover up to 10 percent of a reservoir – can cut evaporation as well, a significant benefit in water-short places, Knight said.

Pakistan’s new government, for instance, is talking about using floating solar panels on water reservoirs near Karachi and Hyderabad, both to provide much-needed power and to curb water losses as climate change brings hotter temperatures and more evaporation, he said.

Solar arrays on hydropower dams also can take advantage of existing power transmission lines, and excess solar can be used to pump water, effectively storing it as hydropower potential.

Big Potential

China currently has the most of the 1.1 gigawatts of floating solar generating capacity now installed, according to the World Bank.

But the technology’s potential is much bigger – about 400 gigawatts, or about as much generating capacity as all the solar photovoltaic panels installed in the world through 2017, the bank said.

“If you covered 1 percent of manmade water bodies, you’re already looking at 400 gigawatts,” Knight said. “That’s very significant.”

Growing use of the technology has raised fears that it could block sun into reservoirs, affecting wildlife and ecosystems, or that electrical systems might not stand up to a watery environment – particularly in salty coastal waters.

But backers say that while environmental concerns need to be better studied, the relatively small amount of surface area covered by the panels – at least at the moment – doesn’t appear to create significant problems.

“People worried what will happen to fish, to water quality,” said India’s Mishra. “Now all that attention has gone.”

What may be more challenging is keeping panels working – and free of colonizing sea creatures – in corrosively salty coastal installations, which account for a relatively small percentage of total projects so far, noted Thomas Reindl of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore.

He said he expects the technology will draw more investment “when durability and reliability has been proven in real world installations.”

Currently floating solar arrays cost about 18 percent more than traditional solar photovoltaic arrays, Knight said – but that cost is often offset by other lower costs.

“In many places one has to pay for land, for resettlement of people or preparing and leveling land and building roads,” he said. With floating solar, “you avoid quite a bit of that.”

Solar panels used on water, which cools them, also can produce about 5 percent more electricity, he said.

Mishra said that while, in his view, India has sufficient land for traditional solar installations, much of it is in remote areas inhospitable to agriculture, including deserts.

Putting solar panels on water, by comparison, cuts transmission costs by moving power generation closer to the people who need the energy, he said.

He said India already makes the solar panels it needs, and is now setting up manufacturing for the floats and anchors needed for floating solar systems.

When that capacity is in place, “then the cost will automatically come down,” he predicted.


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Young Women Build Kyrgyzstan’s First Satellite 

Reaching for the stars will no longer be impossible for girls and young women in Kyrgyzstan, who aim to build and launch the country’s first satellite before 2020. 

A dozen budding female scientists have been tinkering with computers, 3-D printers and soldering irons since March to build a CubeSat, which U.S. space agency NASA describes as being the smallest and cheapest satellite used for space exploration. 

“I feel very proud that it’s going to be the first satellite of the country. I’m doing this program because I want to empower other girls,” student Kyzzhibek Batyrkanova, 23, said during a Skype interview from the capital, Bishkek. “Your gender doesn’t have to determine what you have to do in this life.” 

It is a rare path for any Kyrgyz, let alone a woman, given that nearly two-thirds of the people in the mountainous Central Asian country live in rural areas, and the economy relies on farming, according to the United Nations. 

Women make up less than 10 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s graduates in science, technology, engineering, math, construction and manufacturing graduates, the U.N. Development Program says. 

‘Not very common’

“Some girls don’t have the courage to pursue such studies because it’s not very common in our country, and the majority of parents discourage their daughters from pursuing this,” said Alina Anisimova, 19, who is leading the satellite project. 

“I wish that in the future, people will not consider it so surprising to see young women who do welding or who are involved in engineering,” said the computer programmer. 

She is one of the young women, aged 17 to 24, working on the project, which was started by Kloop Media, a local media group, after a chance meeting with senior NASA staff Alexander MacDonald, who suggested the ambitious idea. 

According to Kloop’s crowdfunding page for the project, the construction and launch of Kyrgyzstan’s first CubeSat will cost up to $150,000. The final stages of the build will be made in partnership with a Lithuanian company. 

“[Building a satellite] can serve as a powerful social and political signal,” MacDonald told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. He said it could send important messages about “who is able to participate and build the future.” 

Even though the number of women in STEM has increased in recent years, they still account for only about 30 percent of the world’s researchers, the U.N cultural agency UNESCO says. 

Marriage expected

 

Aidana Aidarbekova, a 19-year-old student participating in the project, said girls and women in her country are expected to marry instead of pursuing careers. 

“There are a lot of people who don’t believe that girls are capable of doing anything else but cleaning and cooking and giving birth to children,” said Aidarbekova. 

Nearly one in 10 girls in Kyrgyzstan is married off before age 18, according to global charity Girls Not Brides, even though bride kidnapping was outlawed in 2013. 

Aidarbekova said she hopes the space project will inspire girls in her country and beyond. 

“We are doing this program because we want to prove that girls can actually do it,” she said. “ … Maybe our project will give hope to girls all around the world.” 


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Women in Tech Call on Global Summit for Greater Roles

Women leaders in technology called at one of the sector’s largest global conferences for more to be done to drive equality in the male-dominated industry now hit by the #MeToo debate. 

The ninth Web Summit comes amid growing concerns about sexism in the tech world, with thousands of Google employees walking out last week to protest the company’s response to sexual misconduct and workplace inequality. 

In a poll of 1,000 women in tech by the Web Summit, given exclusively to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, 47 percent said the gender ratio in leadership had not improved in the past year. Only 17 percent said it was better. 

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said it was crucial to have more women in the sector. 

“We can’t accomplish what we need if women [aren’t involved] in tech,” Jackson, who was part of President Barack Obama’s administration, told the Web Summit in Lisbon. 

About 70,000 people from 170 nations were at the conference, where the number of women attendees has risen to about 45 percent from 25 percent in 2013, helped by discounting tickets, according to organizers. They did not have earlier figures. 

Talking about expertise

“This year a lot of the talks on our stages are touching on the [number of women in the sector],” Anna O’Hare, head of content at Web Summit, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But rather than women just talking about this, they are talking about the areas in which they are experts in tech.” 

The tech sector has long come under scrutiny for inequality and its “bro-gamer” type of culture, referring to men who play video games. 

Global organizations, including the United Nations and the European Commission, have spoken out about under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 

A 2016 report by the global consultancy McKinsey found women made up 37 percent of entry-level roles in technology but only 25 percent reached senior management roles and 15 percent made executive level. 

The poll of women at the Web Summit found eight of every 10 women felt confident and respected in their roles, but they were divided when asked if they were treated the same as men, with 60 percent saying they were under more pressure to prove themselves. 

Thirty-seven percent worried that women were offered leadership roles only to fill quotas. 

While half of the women polled said their companies were doing enough to ensure equality, nearly 60 percent said governments were not active enough to address the imbalance. 

Several tech company representatives have told the Web Summit of attempts to boost equality, with moves such as training staff in unconscious bias, deleting gender from CVs, ensuring that all short lists have women and improving maternity rights. 

Better results

Gillian Tans, chief executive at the online travel agent Booking.com, said it had been proven that companies with “more women in management positions actually perform better.” 

This comes after organizers of the Google protest and other staff said the company’s executives, like leaders at dozens of companies affected by the #MeToo movement, were slow to address structural issues such as unchecked power of male bosses. 

Google’s head of philanthropy, Jacquelline Fuller, said she joined the walkout last week, admitting more needs to be done. 

“We need to do a better job at creating a safe and inclusive workplace,” she said. “We need more women in tech.” 


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