Connect with us

Spread & Containment

The thousands of vulnerable people harmed by Facebook and Instagram are lost in Meta’s ‘average user’ data

Research from Meta and some scientists shows no harm from social media, but other research and whistleblower testimony show otherwise. Seemingly contradictory, both can be right.

Published

on

Mark Zuckerberg's company says the kids are all right, but the data it presents is only about how the average social media user is doing. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Fall 2021 has been filled with a steady stream of media coverage arguing that Meta’s Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram social media platforms pose a threat to users’ mental health and well-being, radicalize, polarize users and spread misinformation.

Are these technologies – embraced by billions – killing people and eroding democracy? Or is this just another moral panic?

According to Meta’s PR team and a handful of contrarian academics and journalists, there is evidence that social media does not cause harm and the overall picture is unclear. They cite apparently conflicting studies, imperfect access to data and the difficulty of establishing causality to support this position.

Some of these researchers have surveyed social media users and found that social media use appears to have at most minor negative consequences on individuals. These results seem inconsistent with years of journalistic reporting, Meta’s leaked internal data, common sense intuition and people’s lived experience.

Teens struggle with self-esteem, and it doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest that browsing Instagram could make that worse. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine so many people refusing to get vaccinated, becoming hyperpartisan or succumbing to conspiracy theories in the days before social media.

So who is right? As a researcher who studies collective behavior, I see no conflict between the research (methodological quibbles aside), leaks and people’s intuition. Social media can have catastrophic effects, even if the average user only experiences minimal consequences.

Averaging’s blind spot

To see how this works, consider a world in which Instagram has a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effect on the well-being of users. A majority, those already doing well to begin with, find Instagram provides social affirmation and helps them stay connected to friends. A minority, those who are struggling with depression and loneliness, see these posts and wind up feeling worse.

If you average them together in a study, you might not see much of a change over time. This could explain why findings from surveys and panels are able to claim minimal impact on average. More generally, small groups in a larger sample have a hard time changing the average.

Yet if we zoom in on the most at-risk people, many of them may have moved from occasionally sad to mildly depressed or from mildly depressed to dangerously so. This is precisely what Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen reported in her congressional testimony: Instagram creates a downward spiraling feedback loop among the most vulnerable teens.

A teen watches an Instagram post of a young woman applying makeup
Large-scale population studies can miss effects experienced by a subset of people; for example, vulnerable teen girls on Instagram. AP Photo/Haven Daley

The inability of this type of research to capture the smaller but still significant numbers of people at risk – the tail of the distribution – is made worse by the need to measure a range of human experiences in discrete increments. When people rate their well-being from a low point of one to a high point of five, “one” can mean anything from breaking up with a partner who they weren’t that into in the first place to urgently needing crisis intervention to stay alive. These nuances are buried in the context of population averages.

A history of averaging out harm

The tendency to ignore harm on the margins isn’t unique to mental health or even the consequences of social media. Allowing the bulk of experience to obscure the fate of smaller groups is a common mistake, and I’d argue that these are often the people society should be most concerned about.

It can also be a pernicious tactic. Tobacco companies and scientists alike once argued that premature death among some smokers was not a serious concern because most people who have smoked a cigarette do not die of lung cancer.

Pharmaceutical companies have defended their aggressive marketing tactics by claiming that the vast majority of people treated with opioids get relief from pain without dying of an overdose. In doing so, they’ve swapped the vulnerable for the average and steered the conversation toward benefits, often measured in a way that obscures the very real damage to a minority – but still substantial – group of people.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

The lack of harm to many is not inconsistent with severe harm caused to a few. With most of the world now using some form of social media, I believe it’s important to listen to the voices of concerned parents and struggling teenagers when they point to Instagram as a source of distress. Similarly, it’s important to acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has been prolonged because misinformation on social media has made some people afraid to take a safe and effective vaccine. These lived experiences are important pieces of evidence about the harm caused by social media.

Does Meta have the answer?

Establishing causality from observational data is challenging, so challenging that progress on this front garnered the 2021 Nobel in economics. And social scientists are not well positioned to run randomized controlled trials to definitively establish causality, particularly for social media platform design choices such as altering how content is filtered and displayed.

But Meta is. The company has petabytes of data on human behavior, many social scientists on its payroll and the ability to run randomized control trials in parallel with millions of users. They run such experiments all the time to understand how best to capture users’ attention, down to every button’s color, shape and size.

Meta could come forward with irrefutable and transparent evidence that their products are harmless, even to the vulnerable, if it exists. Has the company chosen not to run such experiments or has it run them and decided not to share the results?

Either way, Meta’s decision to instead release and emphasize data about average effects is telling.

Joseph Bak-Coleman receives funding from the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, University of Washington eScience Institute, and the Knight Foundation.

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

TV Show Mysteriously Deletes Poll After Vast Majority Oppose Mandatory Vaccination

TV Show Mysteriously Deletes Poll After Vast Majority Oppose Mandatory Vaccination

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

A major morning television show in the UK deleted a Twitter poll asking if vaccines should be made mandatory..

Published

on

TV Show Mysteriously Deletes Poll After Vast Majority Oppose Mandatory Vaccination

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

A major morning television show in the UK deleted a Twitter poll asking if vaccines should be made mandatory after the results showed that 89% of respondents oppose compulsory shots.

Yes, really.

Good Morning Britain, which often tries to set the news agenda, posted the poll which asked the public, “With Omicron cases doubling every two days, is it time to make vaccines mandatory?”

The last screenshots Twitter users were able to obtain before the poll was wiped showed 89% oppose mandatory vaccinations, with just 11% in favor after a total of over 42,000 votes.

People demanded to know why the poll had been pulled, although it wasn’t exactly hard to guess.

Why did you delete this poll, is it because you were asked? Or because it shows the people don’t support this s**t, this tyrannical future your colleagues seem to want. We see you,” commented one respondent.

“Guess that wasn’t the answer they were looking for,” remarked another.

Good Morning Britain has failed to explain why it removed the poll.

However, it’s unsurprising given that the broadcast has been a vehicle for pushing pro-lockdown messaging since the start of the pandemic.

For most of that time, it was hosted by Piers Morgan, an aggressive proponent of lockdowns, mandatory vaccines and face masks.

The show also regularly features Dr. Hillary Jones, someone who at the start of the pandemic warned that face masks could make the spread of the virus worse, before getting the memo and doing a complete 180.

*  *  *

Brand new merch now available! Get it at https://www.pjwshop.com/

In the age of mass Silicon Valley censorship It is crucial that we stay in touch. I need you to sign up for my free newsletter here. Support my sponsor – Turbo Force – a supercharged boost of clean energy without the comedown. Get early access, exclusive content and behinds the scenes stuff by following me on Locals.

Tyler Durden Thu, 12/09/2021 - 03:30

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

UK PM announces tougher measures amid more Covid cases

In total, the UK recorded 51,342 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours…
The post UK PM announces tougher measures amid more Covid cases first appeared on Trading and Investment News.

Published

on

In total, the UK recorded 51,342 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours on Wednesday and a further 161 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for the novel coronavirus

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced tougher measures such as work from home where possible, expanded face mask rules and use of COVID-19 vaccination certificates for entry to venues, as another 131 cases of the new Omicron variant were recorded, taking the total to 568.

The UK government’s Plan B winter strategy comes in force in stages starting this Friday, in an effort to slow the spread of the highly transmissible variant, which Johnson said shows a doubling time of two or three days.

Addressing a Downing Street media briefing, he said all signs indicate that Omicron transmits more rapidly than the previously dominant Delta variant of COVID-19.

From this Friday, we will further extend the legal requirement to wear face masks in public indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas. We will reintroduce guidance to work from home from Monday work from home if you can, go to work if you must but work from home if you can, said Johnson.

We’ll also make the NHS COVID pass mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather, including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, and seated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people, he said, adding that this will come into effect from next week.

Johnson once again called on everyone to come forward for their COVID vaccinations, including all adults now eligible for a third top-up booster dose.

We must be humbled in the face of this virus. As soon as it becomes clear that the boosters are capable of holding this Omicron variant and we have boosted enough people to do that job of keeping Omicron in equilibrium, we will be able to move forward as before. Please everybody play your part and get boosted, he said.

The government had so far stopped short of enforcing Plan B and issued guidelines for compulsory face masks on transport and some indoor settings, such as shops.

We now have, in the Omicron variant, a variant that is spreading much faster than any that we have seen before. That is why I ask everybody to go to get their booster jab as soon as they are called to come forward, said Johnson, when asked about Plan B in Parliament on Wednesday.

In total, the UK recorded 51,342 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours on Wednesday and a further 161 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

Since the first jab was delivered one year ago today, our phenomenal vaccine rollout has saved hundreds of thousands of lives and given us the best possible protection against COVID-19, said Johnson.

Our fight against the virus is not over yet, but vaccines remain our first and best line of defence against the virus so the best way to continue to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get behind the vaccine programme and get boosted as soon as you’re eligible, he said.

The post UK PM announces tougher measures amid more Covid cases first appeared on Trading and Investment News.

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Canada’s Top Renewable & Clean Energy Stocks for December 2021

There’s no questioning the fact that as a population we’re moving towards cleaner, greener forms of energy. Fossil fuels will be a thing of the past, and the world will benefit immensely from it.How long will it take before Canadian renewable companies…

Published

on

There's no questioning the fact that as a population we're moving towards cleaner, greener forms of energy. Fossil fuels will be a thing of the past, and the world will benefit immensely from it.

How long will it take before Canadian renewable companies dominate the energy scene? It's difficult to say. But if I were to guess, not long at all. That's why you need to have a look at these Canadian stocks before it's too late.

The renewable energy vs fossil fuel debate is a heated one

The effects of fossil fuels on the climate and climate change in general is an extremely touchy subject, and arguments from both sides tend to pack a sizable punch in terms of support. Plus, much like Canadian gold stocks, fossil fuel companies rely heavily on a commodity and can be quite cyclical.

But all while this is happening, green energy companies here in Canada are quietly amassing large asset bases and production capacities. It's an investment gold mine.

Your best bet as an investor is to funnel out the noise and instead take a position in a strong TSX listed renewable energy stock.

Because it's a matter of when, not if these companies take over as the primary method of energy generation

And while people sit on the sidelines, squabbling over if swapping to renewables is worth it, you can be making boatloads of money off of it.

Don't believe me? These clean energy companies have crushed the returns of the TSX Index.

So if you're new to buying stocks here in Canada, you may want to know what exactly these Canadian renewable energy companies do. Lets go over it.

What exactly do Canadian renewable energy companies do?

Renewable energy is defined as such:

"energy from natural resources that can be naturally replenished within a human lifespan." - Natural Resources Canada

Renewable energy companies provide sources of power that are often considered cleaner and more sustainable including but not limited to:

  • Hydroelectric
  • Wind
  • Solar
  • Biomass
  • Hydrogen

Renewable energy provides nearly 20% of Canada's energy supply, with hydroelectricity accounting for over half of that.

A common misconception with Canadian green energy companies? 

Renewable companies aren't the new kids on the block, despite many thinking so.

In fact, they have been around for quite some time now, and as a result clean energy stocks provide stable and reliable cash flows, much like regulated utility giants Fortis, Canadian Utilities and Emera.

The end result?

Clean energy companies are able to provide strong dividends to go along with upside potential in an ever growing industry.

Let’s take a closer look at four renewable energy companies we think are the cream of the crop here in Canada for 2021.

As requested by many readers, we've also added a solar energy company to the list in this most recent update. Solar stocks in Canada have been around for a while, but have remained relatively unknown due to high costs, and investors are starting to gain interest

What are the best Canadian renewable energy stocks?

4. Canadian Solar Inc (NASDAQ:CSIQ)

One of the primary reasons we've never included a Canadian solar company on this list of renewable energy stocks is the fact that the best of the best trades down south on the NASDAQ.

However, due to increasing demand we figure we'd start talking about Canadian Solar Inc (NASDAQ:CSIQ).

Solar stocks in general have surged as of late, but since its lows in March 2020 Canadian Solar has shot up over 81%.

The stock has dipped significantly from all time highs however as renewable energy companies have gone through a significant correction. But, there is still a bullish attitude.

We think investors, and analysts for that matter, are finally starting to see the potential in the once small cap Canadian (but U.S. traded) company.

Canadian Solar benefits from a fairly low cost of production and has a decent amount of projects planned for the future.

Initially, solar power faced a lot of criticism. Production costs were extremely high, and it wasn't looked at as a permanent solution to dirtier forms of power.

But the fact is, we wouldn't even need to capture one-hundredth of a percent of the energy hitting the earth in a year to be able to scrap every other form of energy generation. And as costs of production come down, it's becoming a more feasible clean energy generation method.

Canadian Solar has been a very frustrating stock for those buying it as a value investment.

But interestingly enough, even with a 81% run up, Canadian Solar is still fairly valued considering the future of solar energy.

Trading at only 0.38 times 2021 expected sales and 14.23 times 2021 expected earnings, valuations are not outrageous. The company has been fairly inconsistent with its growth, which is why the market isn't really willing to pay a high earnings multiple. But again, most of its inconsistencies have been as a result of what we've stated above.

Growth is expected to pick back up in 2022 and 2023, and 2023 expected revenue of $7B USD would mark a 100% increase from 2020 revenue of $3.47B. There is promise in the industry, and at current valuations the company is certainly worth a look.

Keep in mind however, this is the only renewable energy stock on this list that doesn't currently pay a dividend, and we would classify this stock as the highest risk of the bunch as well.

CSIQ 5 year performance vs the NASDAQ:

CSIQ Vs NASDAQ 5 Year

3. Northland Power (TSX:NPI)

Northland Power Logo

Northland Power (TSX:NPI) is a pure-play renewable energy company, and one that has been in business for a long period of time. The company was established in 1987, and operates nearly 2.8 GW of electricity, with potential future capacity in excess of 5 GW.

Northland has witnessed some incredible growth in terms of earnings over the last 3 years with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in excess of 30%. The company has also managed to more than double revenue since 2015.

The bulk of the company's renewable operations are located in Eastern Canada.

In fact, the farthest the company reaches out west are two facilities in Saskatchewan - its Spy Hill facility with 86 MW of production and its North Battleford facility, with 260 MW of production. Both of these facilities generate power by burning natural gas and full contracts are established until 2036 and 2033 respectively.

The company has a total of 27 assets, 2 of which we've already talked about. With 19 facilities in the province, Northland has a high percentage of its assets in Ontario. Quebec has 2 wind farms, while the Netherlands and Germany have one wind farm each, Netherlands being offshore.

The renewable company closed on its acquisition of EBSA back in September of 2019, a Colombian regulated utility company for around $1.05 billion. EBSA serves nearly half a million customers, and its revenue is highly regulated, thus highly reliable. It also provides Northland Power with strong revenue outside of North America.

In terms of performance, Northland Power, at least over the last year and a half, has not disappointed. Much like other Canadian renewable energy stocks, it was hit hard in the correction at the start of 2021. However, it held on better than most and didn't witness the volatility that many small/micro cap renewable companies did.

The company currently has a yield in the high 2% range and a payout ratio in terms of earnings of 104%. This payout ratio looks high, however the dividend is well covered by cash flow at 16.09%.

Northland Power's lack of dividend growth is one of the primary reasons it falls short on this list. Especially considering the company has ample room to grow it.

But, don't let that fool you, this is still a very strong renewable energy stock, one that has actually faced some recent weakness due to seasonal and temporary issues with its windfarms.

NPI.TO 5 year performance vs the TSX:

TSE:NPI vs TSX Index

2. Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (TSX:BEP.UN)

Brookfield Renewable Partners

Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (TSX:BEP.UN) is another pure-play renewable company and is one of the fastest growing by a landslide. The company is expected to grow earnings at a rate of nearly 40% over the next 5 years.

To add to this, the company is already the fastest growing pure-play renewable energy company in the country with a compound annual growth rate of 10.71%.

The company has over 20,000 MW of capacity and just shy of 6000 facilities in North America, Europe, Asia and South America.

The company's goal is to deliver shareholders annual returns in the 12-15% range. Thus far, it has more than accomplished its objective.

The company's portfolio consists of wind, solar, storage facilities and distributed generation and most importantly, hydroelectric, which makes up over 62% of its portfolio. An interesting note, this is down from the 75% that was noted last time we updated this article, a sign the company is diversifying its asset base.

Back in March of 2020, the company entered an agreement to buy Terraform Energy in an all stock deal. Why are we still mentioning this year later? Well, this purchase made Brookfield Renewable Partners the biggest pure-play renewable energy company in the world.

The company pays a generous dividend, north of 3%, and the dividend accounts for only 80%~ of funds from operations.

Management has stated they want its dividend to grow by 5-9% annually over the next 5 years. This would be an increase over its past results, so it will be interesting to see how the company performs.

Renewable companies faced a significant correction in 2021, which will be evident in the performance chart below. In our eyes, all this did was make Brookfield Renewables more attractive.

In our last update of this piece, we had stated that valuation was one of the main reasons it was number 3 on this list. Well, we've bumped it up to number 2 now due to its recent correction.

The company also set up a Canadian corporation, BEPC, to be the "equivalent" to the partnership BEP.UN. This is primarily a tax consideration, one that you'll need to figure out on your own which one is best for you.

Brookfield Renewables 5 year performance vs the TSX:

TSE:BEP.UN Vs TSX Index

1. Algonquin Power (TSX:AQN)

Algonquin

Algonquin Power & Utilities (TSX:AQN) is a diversified generation, transmission and distribution utility company. The company provides rate regulated natural gas, water, and electricity generation, transmission, and distribution utility services to over 1 million customers in the United States and Canada.

The company is engaged in the generation of clean energy through its portfolio of long term contracted wind, solar and hydroelectric generating facilities representing more than 1,600 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity.

There are a few things we really like about the company, but there's one thing that stands out with Algonquin, and that is its growth rates.

Algonquin is one of the fastest growing utility companies on the TSX Index. In fact, the company grew earnings by 33% in 2020, and prior to a very unfortunate one-off event in Texas that ended up costing the company $55 million, analysts expected strong growth in 2021 as well.

They've changed their tune now, and overall it will be a flat or even shrinking year for Algonquin. But, it's important to understand that this is very temporary, and we'd expect the company to get back to growth in 2022. In fact, the company expects to inject $9.4B USD into capital projects through 2025, adding more than 1.6 GW of capacity.

2021 aside, you're not going to find many utility companies on the index that provide this kind of growth, especially one that offers a rock solid dividend to go along with it.

Algonquin, at the time of writing, yields north of 4%. In terms of earnings this works out to be a payout ratio of around 40%.

With a dividend growth streak of 10 years, the company has proven to be capable of consistently raising its dividend. In fact, Algonquin is one of the few Canadian Dividend Aristocrats that raised the dividend during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Algonquin is a top 5 holding in one of Canada's biggest utility ETFs, and pays its dividend in US dollars, providing an even more attractive proposition to Canadian investors.

AQN.TO 5 year performance vs the TSX

TSE:AQN vs TSX Index


Read More

Continue Reading

Trending