Monday, March 23, 2015

News Briefs 3.23.15

Our Google Overlords

The way Google's current search system is set up, it ranks results by popularity. This understandably bumps up a lot of pseudoscience and gossip sites, which are often sensationalist and structured to lure the uninformed with headlines like “BEES—Fact or Fiction?” Well, I think I know the answer to this, but maybe I should click the article just to make sure. That's pretty much what happens to anyone who accidentally ends up on a trashy news site. But, with a million more links to equally compelling headlines all over every article page on the site, the only way to escape it to never end up on one in the first place. That's not just me, right?

Google has this idea to fact-check sites against a “Knowledge Vault” containing 2.8 billion facts largely regarded as true by the Internet. This seems sort of circular to me, but either way, it'll be filtering out a lot of those sensationalist news sites, including pretty much anything trying to debunk climate change or the effectiveness of vaccines. And Fox News. Watch the video; it's kind of hilarious how desperately they're trying to paint this change as immoral. They have a lot of reason to be scared, considering detected “incorrect facts” will bump a web page down in the ranking, and they're Fox News. To quote the anchor in the video, “whoever controls the truth controls the world.” Well said, middle-aged white man.

To be fair, Google is so omnipresent that it kind of freaks me out, so having them decide what's true or false feels a little sketchy, even if I don't use Google because I'm afraid they're spying on me through my laptop webcam or whatever. But honestly, the fact that more people all over the world will be offered reputable sites with information near-unanimously regarded as true means a lot in the way of self-education. The only downside I foresee is that it'll be harder to find unfunny tumblr shitposts from a year ago.

More practically, Google's priority has actually been health-related searches, and they implemented something cool through their Knowledge Graph over a month ago. Try searching for a virus or disease and chances are you'll get a card with a brief explanation of the ailment, along with signs and symptoms, how common it is, and a list of potential treatments, all compiled and fact-checked by medical doctors against reputable medical sources. It's no replacement for visiting a doctor, but it can give you information fast, and you'll quickly get an idea of what to look for if you need to research further. Considering 1 in 20 Google searches are health-related, this is seriously fantastic for a lot reasons.


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Hello all! This is more a friendly reminder about local events than a news report trying to accomplish anything, but it effects enough of us that I figured I'd post it; the MTA is raising subway fares! A single ride goes from $2.50 to $2.75. Included with this is an equal raise in bus fare too. But there is a new rewards system, which gives you a free 11% of credit. Here is a website to help with all this new math. This went into effect yesterday, March 22nd, so be prepared next time you fill up your card!

The reasons for the increase in fare are shrouded in mystery. One theory posits that the MTA needs more funds to quash the ever growing population of rebellious mole-people that inhabit the empty tunnels. Another theory claims that the number 2.75 bears some importance on the scheme of energy leylines running under the city, and that the MTA is trying to harness the vast mystical powers with a combination of crystals and used wads of gum. And lastly, one unlikely conspiracy theory is that MTA is doing it to keep up with inflation. Crackpots, am I right?


Justice for Farkhunda

On Thursday, March 19th, a young Afghan woman was publicly beaten, kicked and burned to death by a mob for allegedly burning the Koran. Initially, the deceased family's statement to the media was that the young woman suffered from mental illness since the age of eleven.
As it turns out, these allegations were false. This young woman was beaten, run over by a car, set on fire, and then thrown off of a cliff into the Kabul River, while onlookers with smartphones recorded the ordeal. This young woman was beaten by a mob of men, with huge wooden sticks as law enforcement stood around as witnesses to the crime.
Today, hundreds of Afghans are protesting the death of the 28-year old religious scholar, Farkhunda. So far, thirteen men have been arrested for their participation and several police officers have been suspended and under investigation for allegedly allowing her brutal, public murder to happen.
This story is still developing. Since there is footage of the ordeal, the Afghani government expects more arrests to be made in the upcoming days. Currently, the protesters of Kabul have gathered outside of the Shah Doshamshera mosque, crying out for justice. Farkhunda was laid to rest on Sunday, by all- female coffin bearers.

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