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Dallas startup InspireMore wants a 'righteous disruption' of mainstream media that'll make you smile – The Dallas Morning News

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Earlier this year, the team at Dallas-based media startup InspireMore learned about a troubling case of elementary school bullying from nonprofit Behind Every Door.

McKenzie Steward, who was born with albinism, had been bullied by other students because of her skin condition. So the InspireMore team put out a request to readers to submit kind letters to the fifth-grader.

“It was truly one of the most cool moments because we got over 500 letters,” InspireMore co-founder and chief marketing officer Hunter Stensrud said.

Partnering with Behind Every Door, InspireMore ended up compiling the crowdsourced letters and artwork into a book and giving it to Steward and her mother. A video recording and article about this became content shared with the site’s followers, thanking them for their participation.

“Each person is made uniquely beautiful, which means there is no one else like you,” Behind Every Door operations director Darrion Lewis read aloud from the book of letters given to Steward earlier this year as she sat in a folding chair beside him, fidgeting with her hands and smiling coyly.

The update on Steward’s saga published to InspireMore’s website joined headlines like “Woman Flies Abused Dog 2,500 Miles To Shower Her With Love And Healing” and “Disney Princesses Help 6-Yr-Old With Autism Find His Confidence.”

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InspireMore, now in its fifth year, was launched out of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center in March 2014. It was driven by a singular mission: inspire overwhelmed media consumers to realize how much good there is in the world.

Some stories are aggregated by InspireMore’s staff from mainstream media outlets where they may be buried by news with greater public implications. Others are dug up by the site’s crew of half a dozen writers who scour social media for tales of heroism and empathy.

Stensrud and InspireMore founder Robert Neely didn’t study journalism and they’ve never worked in news. They don’t consider themselves or their team to be journalists.

“Our team really cares about others, really loves media and wants to find things that are interesting,” Neely said.

InspireMore founder and CEO Robert Neely Jr. (left) and chief marketing officer Hunter Stensrud pose for a portrait in their West End office space on Dec. 16, 2019. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

Neely is a former strategy and operations consultant for Deloitte who went on to study the human condition at the faith-based Kanakuk Institute. Stensrud was a marketing strategist for Reap Marketing.

To them, InspireMore is a platform for connecting people as well as a supplement to readers’ existing media diets.

“We don’t want to replace the news,” Neely said.

He refers to it as “righteous disruption.”

“You know, a lot of things that are reported on can be depressing,” he said.

InspireMore’s early mission, which was based on bringing as much attention as possible to positive and inspiring stories, has evolved in the years since. It’s started to become more focused and purposeful, Neely said.

“When you have attention, and eyeballs, and you have people’s passion — how do you leverage that?” Stensrud noted.

Since launching, the company has reached up to 3 million readers monthly and donated $125,000 to charity. InspireMore even rose to become the 15th-most visited mobile website in the U.S. in June 2017, according to Quantcast data.

The startup moved into new offices in Dallas’ West End in 2018 and is in a fundraising round now to bring in more than $2.7 million. Neely said he hopes the company will see profitability by mid-2020.

The company makes money primarily by selling advertising on its site and with sponsored posts across its social media profiles and newsletters.

But it wasn’t always this way.

In its first year of operation, Neely said InspireMore barely made money and hardly anybody took home a salary as the company worked to find its footing in the media landscape.

InspireMore founder and CEO Robert Neely Jr. checked Instagram impressions with strategic partnership developer Lauren Poey on Dec. 16, 2019, at their West End office. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News)
InspireMore founder and CEO Robert Neely Jr. checked Instagram impressions with strategic partnership developer Lauren Poey on Dec. 16, 2019, at their West End office. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

Social media algorithms have changed over the past several years, with Facebook’s deprioritization of publishers being among the most notable, forcing media outlets to find new avenues to reach audiences.

“We were getting a lot of social traffic,” Neely said. “But people weren’t as attached to the brand as we wanted and it’s because of how we were reaching them, how they were visiting our site, how we were engaging them.”

The company wants to build a “tribe” around the InspireMore brand, a group of people who are driven not just by a cynicism toward negative news media and social media platforms but by a desire to see more good in their lives.

In this vein, Neely and Stensrud hope to develop an app and build more strategic partnerships like they did recently with the Mister Rogers film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The partnership with film distributor Sony Pictures and Dallas-based Vomo encouraged people around the country to partake in community service in November, as well as promoted the film through email sponsorships, sponsored articles and social promotion.

The company is also exploring hyperlocal email newsletters — including one specifically for Dallas residents.

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Facebook’s safety head tells UK lawmakers it does not amplify hate

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Facebook Inc‘s https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebooks-zuckerberg-kicks-off-its-virtual-reality-event-with-metaverse-vision-2021-10-28 algorithms demote rather than promote polarising content, its global head of safety told British lawmakers on Thursday, adding that the U.S. company would welcome effective government regulation.

Governments in Europe and the United States are grappling with regulating social media platforms to reduce the spread of harmful content, particularly for young users.

Britain is leading the charge by bringing forward laws that could fine social media companies up to 10% of their turnover if they fail to remove or limit the spread of illegal content.

Secondary legislation that would make company directors liable could be proposed if the measures do not work.

Facebook https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-asks-employees-preserve-internal-documents-legal-inquiries-2021-10-27 whistleblower Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 told the same committee of lawmakers on Monday that Facebook’s algorithms pushed extreme and divisive content to users.

Facebook’s Antigone Davis denied the charge.

“I don’t agree that we are amplifying hate,” Davis told the committee on Thursday, adding: “I think we try to take in signals to ensure that we demote content that is divisive for example, or polarising.”

She said she could not guarantee a user would not be recommended hateful content, but Facebook was using AI to reduce its prevalence to 0.05%.

“We have zero interest in amplifying hate on our platform and creating a bad experience for people, they won’t come back,” she said. “Our advertisers won’t let it happen either.”

Davis said Facebook, which announced on Thursday it would rebrand as Meta, wanted regulators to contribute to making social media platforms safer, for example in research into eating disorders or body image.

“Many of these are societal issues and we would like a regulator to play a role,” she said, adding Facebook would welcome a regulator with “proportionate and effective enforcement powers”.

“I think criminal liability for directors is a pretty serious step and I’m not sure we need it to take action.”

 

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Facebook to be called Meta in nod to its ‘metaverse’ vision

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Facebook Inc is now called Meta, the company said on Thursday, in a rebrand that focuses on its ambitions building the “metaverse,” a shared virtual environment that it bets will be the next big computing platform.

The rebrand comes as the world’s largest social media company battles criticisms from lawmakers and regulators over its market power, algorithmic decisions and the policing of abuses on its platforms.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at the company’s live-streamed virtual and augmented reality conference, said the new name reflected its ambitions to build the metaverse, rather than its namesake social media service.

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

“Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future,” said Zuckerberg.

The company, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, said the change would bring together its different apps and technologies under one new brand. It said it would not change its corporate structure.

The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

The company said in a blog post that it intends to start trading under the new stock ticker it has reserved, MVRS, on Dec. 1. On Thursday, it unveiled a new sign at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, replacing its thumbs-up “Like” logo with a blue infinity shape.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion. The unit will now be called Reality Labs, its head Andrew “Boz” Bosworth tweeted on Thursday.

Zuckerberg said the new name also reflects that over time, users will not need to use Facebook to use the company’s other services.

This year, the company created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook shares were up 3.7% at $323.81 on Thursday afternoon.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Ken Li and Matthew Lewis)

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg lays out ‘metaverse’ vision at developers event

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Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg said privacy and safety would need to be built into the metaverse, as he opened the company’s annual conference on virtual and augmented reality on Thursday.

Facebook continues to battle criticism over its market power, its content moderation practices and harms linked to its social media platforms. The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

Zuckerberg has increasingly been promoting the idea of Facebook, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, as a “metaverse” company https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sets-up-new-team-work-metaverse-2021-07-26 rather than a social media one.

The CEO, speaking during the live-streamed Facebook Connect event, gave examples of privacy and safety controls that would be needed in the metaverse, such as the ability to block someone from appearing in your space. Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next big computing platform, calling it “the successor to the mobile internet.”

The whistleblower documents, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, show internal research and employee discussions on Instagram’s effects on the mental health of teens and whether Facebook stokes divisions, as well as its handling of activity around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and inconsistencies in content moderation for users around the globe.

The company gave a slew of updates for its VR and AR products. It said it would this year launch a way for people using its Oculus VR headset to call friends using Facebook Messenger and for people to invite others to a social version of their home, dubbed “Horizon Home,” to talk and play games as avatars.

Facebook also said it would introduce a way for Oculus Quest users to use different 2D apps like Slack, Dropbox and Facebook while in this “Horizon Home” VR space.

The company, which began a beta test of its virtual meeting spaces “Horizon Workrooms” earlier this year, said it was working on ways of customizing these with company logos and designs and said it would be bringing more work capabilities into consumer Quest devices. It also announced new fitness offerings for Oculus Quest users.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion.

This year, Facebook created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook also said it would run a $150 million education program aimed at helping AR and VR creators and developers.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Matthew Lewis)

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