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James Han plays a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. While Han typically serves as the team's manager, he is filling in for a sick teammate during this Sunday tournament. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)

James Han plays a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. While Han typically serves as the team's manager, he is filling in for a sick teammate during this Sunday tournament. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)


Noah Wrolson poses at his desk before a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Wrolson doesn't play sports, so he said he fills a competitive void by participating in the ESports team. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)


James Han poses at his desk before a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. The team engages in competitive play once a week against schools from across the country. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)


Esports gain popularity on University of Minnesota campus

Sunday, November 4

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The University of Minnesota is home to a nationally-ranked team that doesn’t practice on a court or field, but instead on the virtual battlefield of popular computer game Overwatch.

The university’s Overwatch team is currently in its preseason, competing against other schools such as Arizona State University and Texas Tech University, the Minnesota Daily reported. The team is practicing for esports company Tespa’s Overwatch Collegiate Championship tournament, which awards winners scholarship money.

Players competed for over $120,000 in scholarships last year. The championship tournament won’t be held until spring, but more than 300 colleges enter teams to compete.

“I never played sports, but I liked competing,” said senior Noah Wrolson, an experienced Overwatch competitor.

During preseason, members of the team play two matches every Sunday and practice between two and five hours each week. Practices might include playing the game solo or with friends, watching professionals online or reviewing tape from previous matches.

The video game is gaining popularity at the University of Minnesota, which now has five other university squads in addition to the main team competing in the national tournament.

Siouxsie Steengrafe, an Overwatch team member, said esports in general are becoming more mainstream.

“Sometimes you can watch (esports) tournaments or games at a sports bar,” she said.

Colin Agur, a journalism professor who teaches the course “Digital Games and Society,” said competitive video game companies seem to be targeting college campuses.

“The companies know they have something that excites people and they’re trying to excite more people,” he said.

Agur added that, if done right, esports can be a relatively cheap and worthwhile addition to the University’s collegiate sports.

Information from: The Minnesota Daily, http://www.mndaily.com/

The Conversation

Unlike in 2016, there was no spike in misinformation this election cycle

November 5, 2018

Author

Paul Resnick

Professor of Information, University of Michigan

Disclosure statement

Paul Resnick consults for Facebook, but work on the Iffy Quotient was independent. He receives funding from the National Science Foundation but not for work on the Iffy Quotient.

Partners

University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

A newsy photo of a public figure shows up on your social media feed, with a clickbait-y headline and a provocative comment, all linking to a site with juicy political content. Did you share it?

Somebody did.

It wasn’t a paid ad, or even recommended-for-you content – it was shared by someone you know. The link didn’t take you to InfoWars or Occupy Democrats – you would’ve noticed that. Maybe it went to Western Journal or another unfamiliar domain whose name sounds legit. Did you comment on it or retweet it?

A lot of somebodies did. Often without even reading it.

State-sponsored cyberwarriors and deep-pocketed influence campaigns spread plausible misinformation – what I like to call “iffy” content – as a cost-effective way to advance their social or political cause. Others spread misinformation just to earn ad revenue.

Meanwhile, the big social media platforms struggle to implement fair editorial practices – disclosures and demotions, blocks and bans – to attenuate the spread of misinformation rather than amplify it.

How well have Facebook and Twitter done? Are they helping iffy content reach large audiences? At the University of Michigan Center for Social Media Responsibility, we have started keeping score, going back to early 2016.

We compute a daily “Iffy Quotient,” the fraction of the 5,000 most popular URLs on each platform that came from a large list of sites that frequently originate misinformation and hoaxes, a list maintained by Media Bias/Fact Check. The Iffy Quotient is a way for the public to track the platforms’ progress – or lack thereof.

Measuring iffy content

We saw a major uptick in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Iffy content approximately doubled from January to November.

Engagement with iffy content fell off precipitously after the election. Questionable content peaked again in February 2017, tracking public dialogue over the presidential transition and early executive orders.

Twitter did a better job than Facebook of not amplifying iffy content going into 2017, then Facebook started to improve. By the middle of 2018, Facebook’s Iffy Quotient was lower than it had been in mid-2016, and most days it was lower than Twitter’s.

Why did things get bad back in 2016? One reason for the uptick is that users are more politically activated during an election cycle. That boosts interest in political news – especially in sensational political news. Supply rises to meet that demand – from legitimate sources but also from both propagandists and opportunists seeking ad revenue.

Assuming that the publishers and disseminators of misinformation are as competent and motivated in 2018 as they were in 2016, we expected the Iffy Quotient to spike in September and October. But it didn’t.

What’s different? We can’t tell for sure. Perhaps the suppliers of such content lost interest. That seems unlikely. Perhaps the American public got more sophisticated and is less prone to click on or share links to iffy sites. Sadly, that also seems unlikely, though it is a nice long-term aspiration.

The most important difference is probably countermeasures taken by the platforms. Twitter executive Colin Crowell wrote on the company blog in 2017, “We’re working hard to detect spammy behaviors at source, such as the mass distribution of Tweets or attempts to manipulate trending topics.” Fake accounts can be used to make content look more popular than it really is, leading the platforms to show the content to more people. Weeding out accounts that engage in such behavior reduces the opportunities for such manipulation.

Facebook has also actively tried to reduce manipulation opportunities by removing fake accounts – 583 million of them in the first quarter of 2018. In addition, in December 2016, Facebook announced a partnership with third-party fact-checkers, sending them questionable stories and showing lower in the feed those that the fact-checkers labeled as false.

On Jan. 11, Facebook announced that it would reduce the reach of all public external content, in favor of native posts from friends and family. On its own, that wouldn’t affect the Iffy Quotient, which is based on whatever public content is most popular. However, that announcement and one the following week also implied other changes that might have affected the Iffy Quotient. One was prioritizing content around which people interacted with friends; it could be that people interact less around content from iffy sites. Another was prioritizing news that the community rates as trustworthy, that people find informative and that is local.

Holding platforms accountable

Media companies already maintain internal suites of metrics, such as monthly page views, clickthrough rates, dwell times and ad revenue. These metrics strongly influence decisions about changes to products and policies. Typically, product managers are rewarded for improving some primary metric, subject to the constraint that there is at most a modest decline in other metrics.

Externally maintained metrics, like our Iffy Quotient, offer two advantages over internal metrics maintained by the platforms. First, they can draw attention to issues that platforms may either not be tracking themselves or not prioritizing as much as the public would like. This form of public accountability focuses attention on the overall performance of platforms rather than on bad outcomes in individual cases; some bad outcomes may be inevitable given the scale on which the platforms operate.

Second, external metrics can create public legitimacy for claims that platforms make about how well they are meeting public responsibilities. Even if Facebook actually reduces the audience share for iffy content, the public may be skeptical if Facebook defines the metric, conducts the measurement without audit and chooses whether to report it.

In the 2016 election season, Twitter and especially Facebook performed poorly, amplifying a lot of misinformation. In the 2018 cycle, Facebook has performed somewhat better, but Twitter needs to up its game.

Facebook, I salute you. For now. But we’ll keep watching, and you can, too.

Comment

John Carver, logged in via Google: I don’t know about “iffy” content but one sided reporting is a problem. I’ve been seeing news agencies control the narrative by abandoning fair reporting. As an example there are several news agencies only reporting white racism and attaching that to the president. You don’t have to have fake news anymore just controlling the narrative is enough to away the public. Twitter still has several hundred death threats up against the president and FB is still running very toxic anti Trump forums. I would say neither has done anything other than appear to do so with a few acts reported by the media.

The Conversation

Why Google’s employees walked out and what it could mean for the future of labor

November 3, 2018

Author

Thomas Kochan

George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management Professor, Work and Organization Studies Co-Director, MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, MIT Sloan School of Management

Disclosure statement: Thomas Kochan receives funding from the Ford Foundation and the Hitachi Foundation to the MIT Good Companies-Good Jobs Initiative.

The recent walkout by thousands of Google employees at offices around the world was the first protest of its kind by well-paid and benefit-rich high-tech workers.

The collective action was triggered by a report that their employer had awarded several top male executives accused of sexual misconduct multimillion-dollar exit packages. But their list of demands suggests the roots of the crisis go much deeper.

To me, it’s a reminder of just how outmoded American labor laws are, a primary area of my research these days. In fact, the underlying grievances that motivated the Google employees to walk out are emblematic of what’s prompting millions of American workers to feel they have lost their voice.

And unfortunately, U.S. labor law no longer has their back. The walkout by these non-union professionals at Google, however, might change that.

Five demands

The brief walkouts took place in about 40 Google offices including New York, London, Singapore and the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

They followed a New York Times investigation that found that the search giant gave Andy Rubin, the creator of its Android mobile software, a US$90 million exit package despite a credible claim of sexual misconduct. The report said two other executives received similar treatment.

The leaders of the walkout presented a list of five demands on an Instagram page:

  • an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination
  • a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality
  • a publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report
  • a clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously
  • promote the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the board of directors. In addition, appoint an employee representative to the board.

The demands signal, in my view, a deep dissatisfaction with the lack of effective channels for reporting and resolving harassment claims, as well as a distrust of human resources, a department tasked with looking out for employees’ legal rights and enforcing company policies.

Workers losing their voice

The Google walkout has little precedent to help us understand what might happen next.

For one thing, it’s the first time employees at a high-tech company – with their free meals and on-site gyms – staged a public protest. For another, it spanned multiple countries, a feat that very few unions are able to pull off. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the demands put forward go well beyond those covered under U.S. labor law.

The thing that comes closest to it is the spontaneous strike by 25,000 executives, managers and employees at the Market Basket grocery chain in Massachusetts in 2014 to protest the firing of their CEO in a family dispute over strategy. After a six-week strike and a consumer boycott, the board capitulated and sold the company to the CEO. At the time, I called it the most successful strike of the 21st century.

Both Market Basket and Google are examples of outbursts of employee tensions that have long been simmering among the private workforce. In a recent national survey we conducted at MIT, a majority of workers said they don’t have as much of a voice as they believe they should on a range of issues, from compensation and benefits to protections against harassment and respect for their labor.

Astoundingly, almost half of respondents said they would join a union if given the chance, a number that has increased from about one third in comparable surveys conducted in prior decades.

Yet, in case after case, companies have suppressed worker efforts to form a union, as we saw at Boeing facilities in South Carolina, Nissan’s Mississippi factory and Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant.

No legal standing

Like at Market Basket, Google’s employees have no legal standing to require their employer to negotiate with them, particularly over the issues they care about.

Legal standing only comes if they go through what is almost always a hotly contested, long and usually futile election process overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

And should they try, these employees would quickly find the board would rule a good number of them ineligible for coverage for several reasons, such as their being managers, contract employees or simply outside the U.S.

Furthermore, their demands – such as an employee rep on the board or requiring the chief diversity officer to report to the CEO – are outside the narrow confines of what the labor relations board considers “the mandatory scope of bargaining.”

And the demand to eliminate forced arbitration would likely end up at the Supreme Court, which has already issued a ruling that backs companies’ right to do it.

But powerless?

All this is not to say that Google employees are powerless to achieve the “structural changes” they seek.

Although labor law won’t protect them, they might be able to use the hundreds of millions of Google’s customers – of its search engine, email program or mobile phone software – to pressure executives to negotiate in good faith.

In this regard, Google might be wise to look to Market Basket for guidance. Because of the strong customer support of the workers in that dispute, business plunged by 90 percent, which is likely what compelled the board to give in.

In other words, if Google’s employees hold steady despite the lack of federal protection, they could not only end up changing their company’s policy on harassment, but become the vanguard that could help disrupt U.S. labor law in the process.

Comment

jack burke: Anything! Anything! that even appears to threaten the power(and egos) of corporations in this country will be opposed severly, even soliciting US troops to suppress valid rebellion (which is against our Constituion’s right to dissent against anything that threatens citizens’ right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.( I am an honorable member of the Teamsters)

Gianforte’s fortunes tied to Trump in Montana House race

By MATT VOLZ

Associated Press

Monday, November 5

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte is pinning his third campaign in two years on Montana residents being better off economically since President Donald Trump took office and that the voters will give him some of the credit.

Gianforte has tied his political fortunes to Trump as he seeks his first full term in Montana’s only House seat. He won a special election last year to serve the remainder of Ryan Zinke’s term after Zinke resigned to become Interior Department secretary.

Gianforte has had to fend off renewed criticism over his assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the day before that special election. His Democratic opponent, Kathleen Williams, has made it a campaign issue, and Trump praised him for it during a recent rally.

The entrepreneur-turned-politician initially gave a tepid endorsement of the president during a failed campaign for governor in the same 2016 Montana election that Trump won in a landslide, then found himself on the winning side in the 2017 special election when he became a full-throated Trump supporter.

“Thank God Donald Trump is our president,” Gianforte said to cheers during a recent rally in East Helena. “You know why we’re doing this. In America, we’ve always believed that if you work hard, follow the rules and persevere, you can make a better life for yourself. That’s the American dream. “

Gianforte has centered his campaign on emphasizing his 16 months in office and telling voters that he’s working hand in hand with the president.

He’s cited his trips on Air Force One and visits to the Oval Office. His speeches are peppered with “we” and “us” when he talks about the economy, as in, “We’ve gotten the economy going,” and “We now have more jobs open in the country than people looking for work,” as he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Williams, a former state lawmaker and water specialist for state government and a nonprofit organization, said she doesn’t believe Gianforte’s time in office gives him an advantage.

“He’s hiding behind his incumbency. Well — he’s barely an incumbent,” she told the AP. “He hasn’t done that much. So, I don’t think it’s a disadvantage at all.”

Williams was the only woman running in a crowded Democratic primary in June, beating out two better-funded men in a year that has seen a record number of women running for office.

She is seeking to become the first Democrat to hold the House seat since Pat Williams left in 1997. She also would be the first woman to hold the office since Jeannette Rankin left in 1943.

Libertarian Elinor Swanson is also on the ballot.

Williams, 57, has centered her campaign on the themes of improving health care and access to it, along with protecting the environment and Montana’s outdoor heritage. In a dig at Trump and Gianforte, she also says restoring civility and integrity to Congress and restoring America’s place in the world are among her top priorities.

Gianforte, 57, is a technology entrepreneur who turned to politics after selling his software company, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle for $1.8 billion in 2011. He says his top issues are undoing Obama-era regulations in a bid to promote economic growth, improving community safety by addressing the methamphetamine crisis, protecting gun rights and increasing access to public lands.

Williams has steadily been attacking Gianforte’s record. In October, she stepped up those attacks to include the assault against Jacobs last year.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for throwing the reporter to the ground when he tried to ask the candidate a question.

Williams released an ad with audio of the assault taken from Jacobs’ recorder on the same day that Trump praised Gianforte for the attack, thrusting it back into the spotlight in the final weeks of the campaign.

It received additional attention when Jacobs’ lawyer sent Gianforte’s lawyer a letter accusing the congressman of lying about the attack and mischaracterizing the terms of a settlement.

Gianforte also ratcheted up his political attacks. His campaign has sent out daily statements that call Williams “extreme” on various issues and released an ad tying her to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom Williams said she wouldn’t support if elected.

Gianforte says Williams has misrepresented his record, especially when accusing him of not meeting with constituents. He cites telephone conferences with them and regular radio appearances as examples of his accessibility.

“I think it’s a false narrative being promoted by my opponent to try and create a wedge, and frankly, it’s not true,” he said.

Williams said Gianforte has distorted her positions, falsely saying she opposes gun rights, and that Montana voters will be able to see through him.

“Apparently, he’s desperate for power,” Williams said of the new attacks. “Montanans value truth and integrity and honesty. It’s not happening in his campaign.”

This story has been updated to correct the age of Gianforte and Williams to 57, not 58.

For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

James Han plays a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. While Han typically serves as the team’s manager, he is filling in for a sick teammate during this Sunday tournament. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/11/web1_121712325-45a045744ae14f6b943589cd0cdc834b.jpgJames Han plays a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. While Han typically serves as the team’s manager, he is filling in for a sick teammate during this Sunday tournament. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)

Noah Wrolson poses at his desk before a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Wrolson doesn’t play sports, so he said he fills a competitive void by participating in the ESports team. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/11/web1_121712325-d1798f59c738407c97efe2d3a82df7e0.jpgNoah Wrolson poses at his desk before a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Wrolson doesn’t play sports, so he said he fills a competitive void by participating in the ESports team. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)

James Han poses at his desk before a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. The team engages in competitive play once a week against schools from across the country. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/11/web1_121712325-f2733baa87e142ad9acb7148d47aa4b8.jpgJames Han poses at his desk before a game of Overwatch with the University ESports team on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. The team engages in competitive play once a week against schools from across the country. (Jack Rodgers/The Minnesota Daily via AP)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports