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Traditional Methods for Calling Emergency Services is Still the Best Option

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911-emergencyThe smartphone’s increasing popularity demands that more applications feature international communication. Skype offers cheap international voice calling, text messaging, and group video calling; however, Skype and its fellow applications do not allow emergency calling for several reasons. Regular phone calls and SMS text messages are more expensive than their alternatives, but they still have something that their competitors do not: the ability to reach anyone in the world. Many of the phone applications out there right now are dependent on user-to-user connections. In the event of an emergency, it is still recommended to use the more traditional method of making a phone call to the authorities.

Why Skype limits emergency calling
Skype limits emergency calling because power failure, battery failure, or internet disconnection would disrupt your emergency call. Skype suggests that users keep a mobile phone with them at all times to alleviate any problems that may arise when using their products. Internet calls may also not get the same priority as a normal mobile phone call. In the event of an emergency, every second counts, so it is important that an emergency call gets the attention it deserves.

By not allowing emergency calling through their services, Skype protects themselves against lawsuits from those who claim that Skype did not handle their emergency call correctly. Skype does not guarantee a 100% success rate, so it is important to not use their software for making emergency calls.

In a recent trend, private business exchanges (PBX) are using internet programs to save on costs. Hosted PBX allows businesses to make calls routed via internet, and a PBX platform performs the calls at a fraction of the cost. Even with this type of service, it is still recommended that if an emergency were to arise, a traditional phone call is the superior option.

Viber
Viber is a smartphone application growing in popularity, boasting over 200 million users. Through Viber, users can call, text, and send files for free. One of the good things about this service is that calls between Viber users are free. Viber also states that it has extremely high sound quality; however, like Skype, it is not suggested that you make emergency calls through this service.

WhatsApp
Text messaging generates extremely high amounts of revenue for mobile service providers through expensive text messaging packages and overage fees; however, there is an alternative to spending a lot of money on phone bills for text messages. WhatsApp allows users to type in their phone number and instantly start texting with other WhatsApp users. One of the benefits of this app is its simplicity compared to other apps and software. It is also very cheap – free for the first year and then roughly $2 per year after that. Considering how expensive phone bills are per month, this seems like a cost-effective alternative.

MXit
Mxit is a predecessor of WhatsApp; the application has a similar user size but struggles with monetizing their service. The service boasts 750,000,000 messages are sent through their app. MXit also struggles from a large file size when compared to other apps like WhatsApp and Skype. Apps like MXit and WhatsApp are providing alternatives to SMS users.

As technology and apps continue to improve there will be alternatives to a standard phone call through your phone, but as of right now there is only one way to make emergency phone calls. A traditional phone call will guarantee the quickest and most direct response from the authorities.

Photo Courtesy of Payphone.com

Ashley Williamson, a freelance writer and a Game of Thrones enthusiast.

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News

Study Finds Fringe Communities on Reddit and 4chan Have High Influence on Flow of Alternative News to Twitter

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Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Cyprus University of Technology and University College London have conducted the first large-scale measurement of how mainstream and alternative news flows through multiple social media platforms.

After analyzing millions of posts containing mainstream and alternative news shared on Twitter, Reddit and 4chan, Jeremy Blackburn, Ph.D., and collaborators found that fringe communities within 4chan, an image-based discussion forum where users are anonymous, and Reddit, a social news aggregator where users vote up or down on posts, have a surprisingly large influence on Twitter. The results of the study were published this week in a paper at the ACM Internet Measurement Conference in London.

“Based on our findings, these smaller, fringe communities on Reddit and 4chan serve as an incubation chamber for a lot of information,” said Blackburn, assistant professor of computer science in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “Many online hoaxes, false or misleading stories have been traced back to users on these platforms. The content and talking points are refined until they finally break free and make it to larger, more mainstream communities.”

The team gathered information from posts, threads and comments on Twitter, Reddit and 4chan that contained URLs from 45 mainstream and 54 alternative news websites. Activity on the three platforms was measured between June 20, 2016, and Feb. 28, 2017.

They analyzed more than 400,000 tweets, 1.8 million posts and comments on Reddit, and 97,000 posts and replies on 4chan. After analyzing the occurrence of 99 URLs on the top 20 mainstream and alternative news sites, they found Breitbart.com made up 55 percent of the URLs from six selected subreddits, and the nytimes.com made up 14 percent. Breitbart.com made up 44 percent of the URLs on Twitter, while theguardian.com made up 19 percent, and Breitbart.com made up 53 percent of the URLs, with theguardian.com making up 14 percent.

Using the unique URLs across all platforms and the time they first pop up, the team analyzed their appearance in one, two or three platforms, and the order in which the appearance occurred. Examination of the path of a URL reveals the domains whose URLs tend to appear first on each of the platforms.

Flow of Mainstream News

For the mainstream news domains, the group found that URLs from nytimes.com and cnn.com tend to appear first more often on Reddit than Twitter and 4chan. On the other hand, URLs from other domains like bbc.com and theguardian.com tend to appear first more often on Twitter than Reddit. There was no instance where mainstream news URLs tended to appear first on 4chan.

Flow of Alternative News  

The group found that breitbart.com URLs appear first in Reddit more often than on Twitter, and more frequently than they do on 4chan. However, for other popular alternative domains, such as infowars.com, rt.com and sputniknews.com, URLs appear first on Twitter more often than Reddit and 4chan. As is the case with the mainstream domains, there was no domain where 4chan dominates in terms of first URL appearance.

In addition to studying how news is shared on the three platforms, the researchers were able to estimate how much influence each platform has on the information shared on other platforms, using a mathematical technique knowns as Hawkes process.

The group measured the influence of six subreddits from Reddit.com, “The_Donald,” “politics,” “worldnews,” “AskReddit,” “conspiracy,” and “news,” the “/pol/” board on 4chan and the Twitter platform. They found that Twitter has a heavy influence on the posting of URLs from alternative news sites on the other social platforms, and is the most influential single source for most of the other web communities.

“These platforms have become an important piece of the modern information ecosystem,” Blackburn said. “As we continue to see the creation and spread of hoaxes, rumors and false information online, this knowledge is crucial to understand the risks associated with alternative news and to aid in designing appropriate detection and mitigation strategies.”

Blackburn is a co-founder of the International Data-driven Research for Advanced Modelling and Analysis Lab, or iDRAMA Lab, an international group of scientists focusing on modern socio-technical issues with expertise ranging from low-level cryptography to video games. The paper, “The Web Centipede: Understanding How Web Communities Influence Each Other Through the Lens of Mainstream and Alternative News Sources,” can be found here.

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Health

Want to Lose Weight? Snap That Selfie, Set That Goal, Share with Others Says New Study

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About those before and after selfies and public declarations of hitting the gym? New research co-authored by Dr. Sonya A. Grier, professor of marketing in the American University Kogod School of Business, confirms these announcements and progress updates are useful for the achievement of weight and fitness goals.

“Weight Loss Through Virtual Support Communities: A Role for Identity-based Motivation in Public Commitment,” published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, examines the role of virtual communities and public commitment to setting and weight loss goals.

The study tracks two communities of weight loss groups, surgical and non-surgical over a four-year period. They found that participation and sharing of successes and setbacks in virtual support communities (VSC) is a key part of achieving goals through the public commitment to lose weight.

“In our investigation of VSCs, we find social identity motivates public commitment in support of goal attainment,” the researchers write.

A post shared by Weight Loss Stories (@wlstories) on


Grier says, “The sharing of intimate information and photos about weight loss goals in virtual space is a key factor in motivating behaviors that fulfill that new thinner identity and thus helps people reach their goals.”

Bloggers like Audrey* shared old photos in search of a “pretty and slim” version of herself.

“Here is my picture of 28 years ago when I was young, pretty and slim,” Audrey* wrote in a post. “Makes me wanna cry… I can’t get any younger, but I sure can get closer to that weight! Stop crying, start losing weight, girl!”

Others, like Darlene* shared milestones.

“I have good news to report. My hard work of eating right and working out has paid off. I am now in ONDERLAND!!!! I weighed in this morning at 196lbs! YES, I did it. I reached my first goal to be under 200lbs and before my cruise on October 16th. I can’t believe I did it! I’m so proud of myself.”

Ultimately, Grier says, VSCs allow for relative anonymity, accessibility, availability, and flexibility in how users represent themselves on their journeys. The process of building community, even in relative anonymity helps with keeping participants motivated and accountable.

“Not everyone can get the support they need from the people they interact with in person on a daily basis. It is helpful that technology can support community building and goal achievement in virtual spaces.”

*Names have been changed.

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News

Professor Charts Digital Plan to Fight Domestic Violence

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October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — 31 days of reflection brought about by years of suffering, survivorship and study that experts say still needs far more attention. Although domestic violence cases involving celebrities, politicians and professional athletes will occasionally trigger calls for action on social media and other platforms, the faces of many lesser-known cases continue to suffer in silence.

Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, is working to address that silence. Reversing the negative use of technology in intimate partner violence, Messing is working to create a safe space for victims in the technology space of digital applications. She is part of a team that is developing myPlan, a new app designed to help college-age women spot the signs of an abusive relationship — and find their way out.

Highlighting the resulting impact of domestic violence on our communities, Messing recently discussed the efforts and research in play to stem the problem long described as the “quiet epidemic.”

Question: In recent years we have seen increased reports about domestic violence as a public health threat. How do we define domestic violence, and what are some examples of its impact on public health?

ASU: “Domestic violence” is the term generally used by the public and practice communities to refer to violence within intimate partnerships (e.g., people who are dating, in a relationship or have a child together). Violence is generally understood to be physical (e.g., pushing, slapping, hitting) or sexual (e.g., forcing a partner into sexual activity with violence or threats).

Professor Jill Messing

Other abusive actions such aname-callingng, put-downs, harassment, stalking, control, jealousy, financial abuse, threats and other behaviors are also considered domestic violence. In the research literature, this form of violence or abuse is often termed gender-based violence or intimate-partner violence.

Intimate-partner violence disproportionately affects women and can lead to physical- and mental-health consequences. In addition to injury that results from violence, intimate-partner violence leads to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance misuse and other negative outcomes. In the most extreme cases, intimate-partner violence escalates to homicide.

Knowing what a healthy relationship looks like is just as important as being able to recognize red flags for abuse. Healthy relationships include mutual respect, safety, open and honest communication, compromise, equality, independence, freedom, support and privacy. Everyone deserves to be in a healthy and safe relationship.

Q: Despite an increase in education and resources for domestic violence, there still seems to be a reluctance on the part of others to get involved or reach out to those who they suspect of being abused. What is the most important thing a person can do if they suspect abuse?

ASU: Friends are often the first to know about abuse. The most important thing that someone can do if they suspect that a friend is being abused is to talk to their friend in a kind, non-judgmental manner. Many people who are being abused would like to talk about it but are scared. Listening to your friend, being supportive, and not telling her/him what to do can be very effective. Ask your friend what you can do to help.

Starting in 2018, ASU’s School of Social Work will also begin offering new degree programs to better educate and equip students with the tools they need to spot and stop domestic violence. Coursework will include focus on technology-based abuse, intimate-partner violence risk assessment, teen dating violence, violence against women in the global context, and the domestic violence social movement. The courses will be offered as part of undergraduate and graduate certificates in domestic violence.

Q: We have heard some of the ways technology has enabled domestic violence (harassment, stalking, etc.), but how is it also playing a role in addressing the issue?

ASU: Technology is an important tool for education and can connect people to helpful community-based resources. I have partnered with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University to develop the myPlan app. Because women are more likely than men to be abused, to suffer injuries due to violence and to be killed by intimate partners, myPlan is for female-identifying students who are in a relationship with a male or female partner.

The app provides the user with a private, safe and non-judgmental space to consider their values and to weigh the risks and benefits of their relationship. It’s tailored to each person’s unique situation and provides a safety plan as well as free and often confidential resources. MyPlan is available for iPhone and Android devices and is completely free. There is also a version for friends. If you think a friend is being abused, myPlan can provide help and advice specific to your friend’s situation. Visit myPlanApp.org to learn more.

Unfortunately, technology is often used to abuse, harass or stalk someone in an abusive relationship, and technology safety is an important aspect of staying safe. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has information about staying safe online. There are also confidential and even anonymous resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love is Respect that can help.

Q: What is new research telling us about domestic violence?

ASU: Much of my research focuses on the development and use of risk-assessment instruments that provide information about the danger that an abuser poses for a domestic violence victim. Risk assessments can be used for women to assess their own danger or a friend’s danger, or they can be used by practitioners who work with victims or offenders for safety planning. The criminal justice system is increasingly using risk assessments to make determinations about whether a domestic violence offender should be released on bond or the conditions of that release. Some of my current research is developing culturally competent adaptations of a risk assessment for immigrant, refugee and Native American victims of intimate-partner violence.

At ASU, we are also learning from students who are placed in domestic violence agencies across Arizona through our AmeriCorps internship program. Since 2015, 149 AmeriCorps members from various disciplines have volunteered more than 72,000 hours serving vulnerable survivors of domestic violence and their families. The students are getting an opportunity to learn more about domestic violence through hands-on experience while earning a stipend and education credit that they can put toward future tuition or student loans. Members have already earned more than $409,000 in scholarships and educational awards through the AmeriCorps program.

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