Tag Archives: Facebook

Make Your Virtual Thanksgiving Fun

By Tracey Dowdy

With the recent surge in COVID cases, many of us are heeding the CDC’s warning regarding holiday gatherings and opting for a virtual Thanksgiving with those we love. Though sharing a meal via a video conference is something few of us could have anticipated this time last year, there are still ways to make your holiday memorable in all the best ways. 

First, choose the platform you’re going to connect through. Zoom has lifted its 40 minute limit on free accounts from midnight ET on Nov. 26 through 6 a.m. ET on Nov. 27 so your dad doesn’t get cut off in the middle of his classic “Thanksgiving of ‘82” story. Other platforms like Skype Meet NowGoogle MeetJitsiFacebook, and WhatsApp all offer free video conferencing, with differing levels of service and features. Take some time over the next day or two and determine which features are most important for your crew. 

Platforms like BrightfulBoard Game Arena, and Tabletopia allow you to play hundreds of new and old games online. Plus, many of your favorite board games are available as apps for your iOS or Android device, and several have online multiplayer modes so you can play while voice or video chatting with your family and friends. ZoomJam created sociable face-to-face games to play with family and friends through video chat, with a dozen games to choose from. And, if all seems to be going well and you’re looking to ruin everything, Hasbro allows users to play their most popular games, including Monopoly, through their site. A few years back, they set up a hotline for players to call and settle those savage Monopoly disputes – here’s hoping it makes a comeback this year. 

As with all video conference calls, be mindful of what’s in the background. There’s been countless horrifying or hilarious – depending on who you ask – stories of video conferencing fails since we all started working from home back in March. Remind everyone when the camera is live and when your mic is on. If you want to keep your mother in law from judging your housekeeping even from out of state, consider downloading or selecting a custom background for your video chat. Of course, Zoom offers its own selection, and Apple’s FaceTime will allow you to chat as your memoji avatar. 

Apps like Teleparty (formerly Netflix party), Amazon Prime Watch Party, and Hulu Watch Party allow you to watch a movie together, all from the safety and comfort of your own home. Most require a subscription, so keep that in mind as you choose a platform. Make Use Of has a more comprehensive list of options. Watch2Gether not only offers video options, but it also allows you to listen to music, do karaoke, or even “go shopping” so you can still hit those Black Friday sales together. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Photo Book Deals In Time for the Holidays 

By Tracey Dowdy

Remember the fun of flipping through family albums reminiscing over holidays and parties, or laughing over bad haircuts and questionable fashion choices? Sure, you can scroll through photos online thanks to cloud-based storage like Google Photos, Livedrive, or Amazon Photos. Still, there’s something transformative about physically holding an album in your hands.

The one good thing to come out of the coronavirus lockdown is when many of us have added back into our schedule, so there’s no time like the present to get those photos organized and into a photo book.  

Probably the best known is Shutterfly, a site that does everything from photobooks to wallpaper. It offers free, unlimited storage and will never delete your photos, so you have plenty of time to sort through all those years of photos. You can choose from templates, or use Simple Path, a tool that automatically lays out your photos but allows you to rearrange, decorate, and add captions to customize your book. Pre-tax, an 8- by 11-inch 20-page hardcover photo book costs about $40 before shipping and tax, but they almost always have a sale or coupon available, so look for deals before you order. 

Suppose you’re looking for more design choices. In that case, Snapfish offers dozens of templates and themes like Moments with Mom, Grad Nostalgia, Family Farmhouse, Summer Snapshots that extends through their catalog of products – think aprons, mugs, calendars, photo tiles – so it’s easy to create a unique and themed gift. You can add photos manually, and if you’re unhappy with your design, it’s easy to swap out the background or theme. The price is similar to Shutterfly, with an 8- by 11-inch hardcover 20-page photo book for $40. And, like Shutterfly, they continuously run deals, so be on the lookout for special offers. 

Walmart may not be the first name to come into your mind when you think of high-quality photo books, but you may be pleasantly surprised. Their site allows you to upload digital photos from your computer, social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Dropbox, or Google Photos, but there are fewer editing options than Snapfish or Shutterfly. They allow you to add stickers, but customization is limited compared to other sites. 

Google Photos is the most stripped-down choice on this list with a minimalist, plain white background with the option to caption your photos. Google will format a book based on your uploaded albums, or you can customize it by choosing an album you already made. If you want a more creative look, Google Photos has editing options within its app that allows you to add filters. A 9×9 photo book costs $20 before shipping, and each additional page costs 65 cents. If you’re looking for something less expensive, a softcover 7×7 book costs $10, and it’s 35 cents for each additional page.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Turn Off Political Ads in Your Facebook Feed

By Tracey Dowdy

Did you know there’s a presidential election coming up in just a few weeks? How could you not? Everywhere you look, there are ads, campaign signs, and reminders to register to vote. 

Most of us don’t need a reminder, and I, for one, am done with the relentlessly combative tone of this particular election season. Thankfully, there are ways to block some of the content coming at you on social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. 

Facebook, who also owns Instagram, now allows users to turn off all political ads on both sites and apps ahead of the November 3 election. 

It’s all part of Facebook’s efforts to encourage voting, including its goal of helping 4 million people register, the largest voting information effort in US history. Their new voter center gives individuals information about how and when to vote, voter registration, voting by mail and early voting, and information on their efforts to prevent election interference

Both apps allow users to block all electoral or political ads from candidates, anything regarding social issues, and Super PACs or other organizations with the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them from showing up in your feed.  

You have two options if you want to turn off political ads on Facebook and Instagram. 

Here’s how.

Facebook:

  • Go to Settings & Privacy > Settings > Ads > Ad Preferences. 
  • Tap Ad Topics > Social issues, elections, or politics.
  • Tap See fewer ads about this topic. 

If you scroll past a political ad in your feed, there should be a tag that says Confirmed Organization in the top-right corner of the ad. When you click on that tag, a window will pop up at the bottom of the screen. From here, choose from three options: Who paid for this ad? Why am I seeing this? See fewer ads about this topic. 

A new window will open. Tap to confirm that you want to see fewer ads about social issues, elections, and politics in the future.

Instagram

Go to your account settings. Select Ad topics and then See fewer ads about social issues, elections, and politics. 

Alternatively, if you see a political ad in your feed, tap where it says Paid for by and then select See fewer ads like this. 

Currently, these options are available only in the US, but Facebook has plans to roll out the same features to countries where they can exercise enforcement on ads about social issues, elections, and politics.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Parents’ Guide to Facebook’s Messenger Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Facebook introduced its free video calling and messaging app Messenger Kids with the tag, “Made for Kids. Controlled by Parents.” Targeted at kids under 13, Messenger Kids is designed to be a bridge between child-friendly devices like Leap Pads and full access to social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, or TikTok.

Kids still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, they can create one through their parent or guardian’s account. Once the account has been authenticated by a parent, kids – with a parent’s help and or supervision – can set up a mini-profile with their name (it can be a nickname) and photo (it can be a photo of anything). Kids can use the app either on their device or on yours, but remember: if you give them your phone, they’ll have access to all the photos and videos on your device. Parents can choose whether to add the child’s gender and birth date. Once the profile is complete, parents can approve any friend requests through the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app. Messenger Kids is interoperable within Facebook’s Messenger app, so parents don’t have to download the Kids app.

To further protect their privacy, Messenger Kids users can’t be found through Facebook search, so if a child wants to chat with a friend, their parent must first friend that child’s parent, then choose to approve the friend request.

When users open Messenger Kids, they’ll see a color-customizable home screen with tiles representing their existing chat threads and all approved contacts. The interface is user friendly, making it easy for kids to jump into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. They can also block and unblock their parent-approved contacts. Good news parents – there are no in-app purchases to worry about. 

The app offers loads of kid-friendly creative tools, like fidget spinners, dinosaur AR masks, carefully curated gifs (native to the app – no external third party sites), and crayon-style stickers. “Video calls become so much more playful with AR,” says Marcus. 

Facebook won’t monetize Messenger Kids, but will automatically migrate kids to regular accounts when they turn 13. Nor will they be collecting data to remain in compliance with Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) law. The app also includes a reporting interface written specifically for kids so they can flag anything suspicious to a dedicated support team working 24/7.

Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus says, “When you think about things at scale that we do to get people to care more about Messenger, this is one that addresses a real need for parents. But the side effect will be that they use Messenger more and create family groups.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Create Your Facebook Avatar 

By Tracey Dowdy

Earlier this month, Facebook released its Bitmoji-like avatars. This new feature allows users to make a cartoon-style character with features similar to your own. You can customize your avatar with a variety of faces, hairstyles, and clothes. You can even use them as stickers 

You’ll then be able to use the avatar when you comment on a Facebook post, in your stories, as your profile picture, and when you use Facebook Messenger. As a bonus, you can use them as stickers on Snapchat, Twitter, Mail, and on Instagram. 

“So much of our interactions these days are taking place online, which is why it’s more important than ever to be able to express yourself personally on Facebook,” said Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook App. “We’re excited to bring this new form of self-expression to more people around the world…With so many emotions and expressions to choose from, avatars let you to react and engage more authentically with family and friends across the app. “

To create your avatar, follow these steps: 

  • Open the Facebook app on your phone and tap the menu (three stacked lines) On iPhone it’s in the lower right corner, the upper right corner for Android.
  • Scroll down to “See More.”
  • Select Avatars > Next  > Get Started.
  • Choose your skin tone, then tap Next. 
  • Choose a Short, Medium or Long hairstyle for your avatar, then tap the Color icon.
  • Next, choose your Face icon to select your face’s shape, complexion, and lines or wrinkles. 
  • When you’re done, tap the Eye icon. Select your eye shape, color, and lash length. Tap the Eyebrows icon and select your brow shape and color, and add glasses. 
  • Select your nose shape and then choose the shape and color of your lips and any facial hair. 
  • Finally, select your body shape, an outfit that’s similar to your style, and then add your accessories. 
  • Once you’re happy with your choices, tap the checkmark in the upper right corner. Tap Next > Done.

Any time you want to, access your avatar, tap the smiley face icon in the “Write a comment” section. 

Have fun! 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to use Facebook’s Free New Video Chat Option

By Tracey Dowdy

Never one to let the competition get too far ahead, Facebook has come up with a new video chat alternative to its competitors, Zoom, Skype, Jitsi Meet, and Google Meet. With Messenger Rooms, up to 50 people can chat in a room at once, with no time limit. Participants don’t even need an account to use the room.

Messenger Rooms offers more features than its Facebook Messenger video chat option, allowing up to 50 people on screen with no time limit through either the main Facebook app or through the dedicated Messenger one.

Zoom became especially popular in the early days of self-quarantining, but issues around security leading to Zoom-bombing soon became an issue. Facebook is no stranger to security and privacy problems. Still, in a livestream earlier this month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company has been “very careful.” He tried to “learn the lessons” from issues users have experienced with other video conference tools over the past several months. 

Facebook also owns WhatsApp, with over 700 million accounts participating in voice and video calls every day on both platforms. In a press release in April, Facebook noted that the number of calls has more than doubled in many areas since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Facebook seems to be taking the potential security risks seriously. Messenger Rooms promises these features:

  • Locking: Rooms can be locked or unlocked once a call begins. If a room is closed, no one else can join, except a Group administrator for rooms created through a Group. 
  • Removing a participant: The room creator can remove any unwanted participants. If the room creator removes someone from the call or leaves, the room will lock automatically, and the room creator must unlock the call for others to join. 
  • Leaving: If at any point, users feel unsafe in a room, they can exit. Locking down a room prevents others from entering, not participants from leaving.
  • Reporting: Users can report a room name or submit feedback about a room if they feel it violated Facebook’s Community Standards. However, since Facebook doesn’t record Messenger Room calls, so reports and feedback will not include audio or video from the room.
  • Blocking: You can block someone on Facebook or Messenger who may be bothering you, and they will not be informed. When someone you’ve blocked is logged into Facebook or Messenger, they won’t be able to join a room you’re in, and you won’t be able to join theirs.

Make sure you have the latest version of the Facebook and Messenger mobile apps downloaded from the App Store or the Google Play Store to create a room on your phone. 

  • Open the Messenger app.
  • Tap the People tab at the bottom right of your screen. 
  • Tap Create a Room and select the people you want to join. 
  • To share a room with people who don’t have a Facebook account, you can share the link with them. You can also share the room in your News Feed, Groups, and Events. 
  • You can join a room from your phone or computer — no need to download anything, according to Facebook.

To create a room on your laptop or desktop, go to your Home Page and to the box at the top where you would usually post. Click on “Create Room” and follow the prompts to name your chat, invite guests, and choose your start time.

Currently available to everyone in the US, Canada, and Mexico, Messenger Rooms is rolling out worldwide over the next week.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Facebook Cracking Down on Fake COVID-19 News

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s nothing new for Facebook to be under scrutiny for fake news and hate speech. It’s been an issue for years and was never more evident than in the wake of the 2016 presidential electionThey’ve made concerted efforts to rein in misinformation, but it’s an ongoing battle. 

Facebook has been open about the challenges both human reviewers and AI have in identifying and removing offensive content. While things have improved, the number of users posting makes it challenging to curate information accurately.

One area where their efforts are glaringly deficient is the amount of COVID-19 related misinformation in languages other than English.  Avaaz, a crowd-funded research group, analyzed more than 100 pieces of Facebook coronavirus misinformation on the website’s English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Italian and French versions. 

They found that:

  • It can take Facebook up to 22 days to issue warning labels for coronavirus misinformation, with delays even when Facebook partners have flagged the harmful content for the platform.
  • 29% of malicious content in the sample was not labeled at all on the English language version of the website.
  • It is worse in some other languages, with 68% of Italian-language content, 70% of Spanish-language content, and 50% of Portuguese-language content not labeled as false.
  • Facebook’s Arabic language efforts are more successful, with only 22% of the sample of misleading posts remaining unlabelled. 
  • Over 40 percent of the coronavirus-related misinformation on the platform — which had already been debunked by fact-checking organizations working alongside Facebook — was not removed despite being told by these organizations that the content was based on misinformation. 

Avaaz’s research led Facebook to begin alerting users if they’d been exposed to false information. So, according to a Facebook blog post and a report from BuzzFeed News, both Facebook and YouTube are cracking down yet again and using AI to weed out the volumes of misleading content. 

Facebook has been forced to rely more heavily on AI as the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced its number of full-time employees. They still rely on contractors, many of whom, like the rest of us, are working from home. The content review team prioritizes posts that have the greatest potential for harm, including coronavirus misinformation, child safety, suicide, and anything related to self-harm.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Our effectiveness has certainly been impacted by having less human review during COVID-19. We do unfortunately expect to make more mistakes until we’re able to ramp everything back up.”  

Currently, if a fact-checker flags a post as false, Facebook will drop it lower on a user’s News Feed and include a warning notice about the veracity of the content. The challenge in removing misinformation is that it’s much like dandelions on your lawn – you can remove them from one spot, but there’s already countless more popping up somewhere else.  

Facebook uses a tool called SimSearchNet to identify the reposts and copies by matching them against its database of images that contain misinformation. The problems stem from users being quick to hit the “Share” button before checking to see if the source is a reputable organization.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer admits  AI will never be able to replace human curators. “These problems are fundamentally human problems about life and communication. So we want humans in control and making the final decisions, especially when the problems are nuanced.” 

So before you hit “Share” or are tempted to gargle with vinegar or Lysol, head to UCF Libraries Fake News and Fact Checking page, Snopes, the CDC website, and do a little homework.

As Abraham Lincoln warned Americans during the Civil War, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.