Indonesia restricts WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram usage following deadly riots

Indonesia is the latest nation to hit the hammer on social media after the government restricted the use of WhatsApp and Instagram following deadly riots yesterday.

Numerous Indonesia-based users are today reporting difficulties sending multimedia messages via WhatsApp, which is one of the country’s most popular chat apps, and posting content to Facebook, while the hashtag #instagramdown is trending among the country’s Twitter users due to problems accessing the Facebook-owned photo app.

Wiranto, a coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, confirmed in a press conference that the government is limiting access to social media and “deactivating certain features” to maintain calm, according to a report from Coconuts.

Rudiantara, the communications minister of Indonesia and a critic of Facebook, explained that users “will experience lag on Whatsapp if you upload videos and photos.”

Facebook — which operates both WhatsApp and Instagram — didn’t explicitly confirm the blockages , but it did say it has been in communication with the Indonesian government.

“We are aware of the ongoing security situation in Jakarta and have been responsive to the Government of Indonesia. We are committed to maintaining all of our services for people who rely on them to communicate with their loved ones and access vital information,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

A number of Indonesia-based WhatsApp users confirmed to TechCrunch that they are unable to send photos, videos and voice messages through the service. Those restrictions are lifted when using Wi-Fi or mobile data services through a VPN, the people confirmed.

The restrictions come as Indonesia grapples with political tension following the release of the results of its presidential election on Tuesday. Defeated candidate Prabowo Subianto said he will challenge the result in the constitutional court.

Riots broke out in capital state Jakarta last night, killing at least six people and leaving more than 200 people injured. Following this, it is alleged that misleading information and hoaxes about the nature of riots and people who participated in them began to spread on social media services, according to local media reports.

Protesters hurl rocks during clash with police in Jakarta on May 22, 2019. – Indonesian police said on May 22 they were probing reports that at least one demonstrator was killed in clashes that broke out in the capital Jakarta overnight after a rally opposed to President Joko Widodo’s re-election. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP)

For Facebook, seeing its services forcefully cut off in a region is no longer a rare incident. The company, which is grappling with the spread of false information in many markets, faced a similar restriction in Sri Lanka in April, when the service was completely banned for days amid terrorist strikes in the nation. India, which just this week concluded its general election, has expressed concerns over Facebook’s inability to contain the spread of false information on WhatsApp, which is its largest chat app with over 200 million monthly users.

Indonesia’s Rudiantara expressed a similar concern earlier this month.

“Facebook can tell you, ‘We are in compliance with the government’. I can tell you how much content we requested to be taken down and how much of it they took down. Facebook is the worst,” he told a House of Representatives Commission last week, according to the Jakarta Post.

Update 05/22 02:30 PDT: The original version of this post has been updated to reflect that usage of Facebook in Indonesia has also been impacted.

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Facebook found hosting masses of far right EU disinformation networks

A multi-month hunt for political disinformation spreading on Facebook in Europe suggests there are concerted efforts to use the platform to spread bogus far right propaganda to millions of voters ahead of a key EU vote which kicks off tomorrow.

Following the independent investigation, Facebook has taken down a total of 77 pages and 230 accounts from Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain and Poland — which had been followed by an estimated 32 million people and generated 67 million ‘interactions’ (i.e. comments, likes, shares) in the last three months alone.

The bogus mainly far-right disinformation networks were not identified by Facebook — but had been reported to it by campaign group Avaaz — which says the fake pages had more Facebook followers and interactions than all the main EU far right and anti-EU parties combined.

“The results are overwhelming: the disinformation networks upon which Facebook acted had more interactions (13 million) in the past three months than the main party pages of the League, AfD, VOX, Brexit Party, Rassemblement National and PiS combined (9 million),” it writes in a new report.

Although interactions is the figure that best illustrates the impact and reach of these networks, comparing the number of followers of the networks taken down reveals an even clearer image. The Facebook networks takedown had almost three times (5.9 million) the number of followers as AfD, VOX, Brexit Party, Rassemblement National and PiS’s main Facebook pages combined (2 million).”

Avaaz has previously found and announced far right disinformation networks operating in Spain, Italy and Poland — and a spokesman confirmed to us it’s re-reporting some of its findings now (such as the ~30 pages and groups in Spain that had racked up 1.7M followers and 7.4M interactions, which we covered last month) to highlight an overall total for the investigation.

“Our report contains new information for France, United Kingdom and Germany,” the spokesman added.

Examples of politically charged disinformation being spread via Facebook by the bogus networks it found include a fake viral video seen by 10 million people that supposedly shows migrants in Italy destroying a police car (but was actually from a movie; which Avaaz adds that this fake had been “debunked years ago”); a story in Poland claiming that migrant taxi drivers rape European women, including a fake image; and fake news about a child cancer center being closed down by Catalan separatists in Spain.

There’s lots more country-specific detail in its full report.

In all, Avaaz reported more than 500 suspicious pages and groups to Facebook related to the three-month investigation of Facebook disinformation networks in Europe. Though Facebook only took down a subset of the far right muck-spreaders — around 15% of the suspicious pages reported to it.

“The networks were either spreading disinformation or using tactics to amplify their mainly anti-immigration, anti-EU, or racist content, in a way that appears to breach Facebook’s own policies,” Avaaz writes of what it found.

It estimates that content posted by all the suspicious pages it reported had been viewed some 533 million times over the pre-election period. Albeit, there’s no way to know whether or not everything it judged suspicious actually was.

In a statement responding to Avaaz’s findings, Facebook told us:

We thank Avaaz for sharing their research for us to investigate. As we have said, we are focused on protecting the integrity of elections across the European Union and around the world. We have removed a number of fake and duplicate accounts that were violating our authenticity policies, as well as multiple Pages for name change and other violations. We also took action against some additional Pages that repeatedly posted misinformation. We will take further action if we find additional violations.

The company did not respond to our question asking why it failed to unearth this political disinformation itself.

Ahead of the EU parliament vote, which begins tomorrow, Facebook invited a select group of journalists to tour a new Dublin-based election security ‘war room’ — where it talked about a “five pillars of countering disinformation” strategy to prevent cynical attempts to manipulate voters’ views.

But as Avaaz’s investigation shows there’s plenty of political disinformation flying by entirely unchecked.

One major ongoing issue where political disinformation and Facebook’s platform is concerned is that how the company enforces its own rules remains entirely opaque.

We don’t get to see all the detail — so can’t judge and assess all its decisions. Yet Facebook has been known to shut down swathes of accounts deemed fake ahead of elections, while apparently failing entirely to find other fakes (such as in this case).

It’s a situation that does not look compatible with the continued functioning of democracy given Facebook’s massive reach and power to influence.

Nor is the company under an obligation to report every fake account it confirms. Instead, Facebook gets to control the timing and flow of any official announcements it chooses to make about “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” — dropping these self-selected disclosures as and when it sees fit, and making them sound as routine as possible by cloaking them in its standard, dryly worded newspeak.

Back in January, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg admitted publicly that the company is blocking more than 1M fake accounts every day. If Facebook was reporting every fake it finds it would therefore need to do so via a real-time dashboard — not sporadic newsroom blog posts that inherently play down the scale of what is clearly embedded into its platform, and may be so massive and ongoing that it’s not really possible to know where Facebook stops and ‘Fakebook’ starts.

The suspicious behaviours that Avaaz attached to the pages and groups it found that appeared to be in breach of Facebook’s stated rules include the use of fake accounts, spamming, misleading page name changes and suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior.

When Avaaz previously reported the Spanish far right networks Facebook subsequently told us it had removed “a number” of pages violating its “authenticity policies”, including one page for name change violations but claimed “we aren’t removing accounts or Pages for coordinated inauthentic behavior”.

So again, it’s worth emphasizing that Facebook gets to define what is and isn’t acceptable on its platform — including creating terms that seek to normalize its own inherently dysfunctional ‘rules’ and their ‘enforcement’.

Such as by creating terms like “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, which sets a threshold of Facebook’s own choosing for what it will and won’t judge political disinformation. It’s inherently self-serving.

Given that Facebook only acted on a small proportion of what Avaaz found and reported overall, we might posit that the company is setting a very high bar for acting against suspicious activity. And that plenty of election fiddling is free flowing under its feeble radar. (When we previously asked Facebook whether it was disputing Avaaz’s finding of coordinated inauthentic behaviour vis-a-vis the far right disinformation networks it reported in Spain the company did not respond to the question.)

Much of the publicity around Facebook’s self-styled “election security” efforts has also focused on how it’s enforcing new disclosure rules around political ads. But again political disinformation masquerading as organic content continues being spread across its platform — where it’s being shown to be racking up millions of interactions with people’s brains and eyeballs.

Plus, as we reported yesterday, research conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute into pre-EU election content sharing on Facebook has found that sources of disinformation-spreading ‘junk news’ generate far greater engagement on its platform than professional journalism.

So while Facebook’s platform is also clearly full of real people sharing actual news and views, the fake BS which Avaaz’s findings imply is also flooding the platform, gets spread around more, on a per unit basis. And it’s democracy that suffers — because vote manipulators are able to pass off manipulative propaganda and hate speech as bona fide news and views as a consequence of Facebook publishing the fake stuff alongside genuine opinions and professional journalism.

It does not have algorithms that can perfectly distinguish one from the other, and has suggested it never will.

The bottom line is that even if Facebook dedicates far more resource (human and AI) to rooting out ‘election interference’ the wider problem is that a commercial entity which benefits from engagement on an ad-funded platform is also the referee setting the rules.

Indeed, the whole loud Facebook publicity effort around “election security” looks like a cynical attempt to distract the rest of us from how broken its rules are. Or, in other words, a platform that accelerates propaganda is also seeking to manipulate and skew our views.

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Every Facebook insider who has turned against the company

That awkward moment when your former friend puts you on blast in The New York Times.
That awkward moment when your former friend puts you on blast in The New York Times.
Image: Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency / Getty ImagesGetty Images

Some of the people who were once Facebook’s most powerful executives and allies are publicly breaking up with the social network.

When Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes dropped a New York Times op-ed calling for the breakup of Facebook, it prompted a terse response from the company. But though Hughes might be the most prominent Facebook alum to criticize the company, he is far from alone. 

Over the last couple years, numerous former Facebook execs and other insiders have publicly criticized the social network and its leadership. And while that criticism may be hard for the company to swallow — Facebook would likely point out that these men have all become very, very wealthy thanks to their roles at the company — it’s worth considering how unusual it is to air this kind of criticism publicly. 

Here’s a look some of the most prominent Facebook insiders who have changed their minds about the company.

Chris Hughes

Chris Hughes (right) was with Mark Zuckerberg during Facebook's dorm-room beginnings.

Chris Hughes (right) was with Mark Zuckerberg during Facebook’s dorm-room beginnings.

Image: Rick Friedman / Corbis via Getty Images

Who he is: Hughes helped found Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg while the two were students at Harvard. He was the company’s firs spokesperson, and later worked on the product team. He left the company in 2007. 

What he’s said: In a searing op-ed titled “It’s Time to Break Up Facebook,” Hughes argued that the social network has gotten too big and powerful for its founder to control. “Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can,” he wrote. He urged the FTC to intervene and separate Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram into separate entities to encourage more competition, and to “create guidelines for acceptable speech on social media.”

Zuckerberg’s one-time classmate had some particularly harsh criticism for the CEO. “Mark is a good, kind person,” he wrote. “But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them. Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American.”

Brian Acton

Who he is: The cofounder of WhatsApp, known as a staunch privacy advocate. He left Facebook in 2017.

What he’s said: Six months after leaving Facebook (and walking away from nearly a billion of dollars of unvested Facebook stock), Acton infamously tweeted #deletefacebook. Later, in a stunning interview with Forbes, the WhatsApp founder took things even farther, calling himself a “sellout.” “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day,” he said. 

Since leaving Facebook, Acton has given $50 million of his personal fortune to the Signal Foundation, the organization responsible for the private messaging app Signal. 

Sean Parker

Alas, no word on what Snoop thinks of #deleteFacebook.

Alas, no word on what Snoop thinks of #deleteFacebook.

Image: Kevin Mazur / WireImage

Who he is: Parker was Facebook’s founding president, famously portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network.

What he’s said: Parker told Axios he considers himself “something of a conscientious objector” to the social network. And the billionaire former Facebook executive candidly described how Facebook was designed to be addictive from the very beginning.

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Roger McNamee

[embedded content]

Who he is: An early investor in Facebook, McNamee famously advised Zuckerberg against taking Yahoo’s $1 billion acquisition offer. The advice helped earn McNamee a reputation as Zuckerberg’s “mentor.”

What he’s said: McNamee became a vocal critic of Facebook following the 2016 election. He claims he was one of the first to raise the alarm about potential election interference to Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, but that his concerns were ignored. He’s said that Zuckerberg’s vision of a “privacy-focused” Facebook is little more than a PR stunt and that the company’s leadership is not able to address criticism.

“The people at Facebook live in their own bubble,” he wrote in a piece in Time earlier this year. “Zuck has always believed that connecting everyone on earth was a mission so important that it justified any action necessary to accomplish it. Convinced of the nobility of their mission, Zuck and his employees seem to listen to criticism without changing their behavior. They respond to nearly every problem with the same approach that created the problem in the first place: more AI, more code, more short-term fixes.” 

Chamath Palihapitiya

Palihapitiya says he has mostly quit using Facebook years after running the company's first growth team.

Palihapitiya says he has mostly quit using Facebook years after running the company’s first growth team.

Image: Mike Windle / Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Who he is: Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007 and oversaw the company first growth team. He left in 2011 and founded a venture capital firm. 

What he’s said: In a sobering talk at Stanford’s business school, Palihapitiya said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his involvement with Facebook. “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we have created are destroying how society works.” 

Justin Rosenstein

The inventor of the like button now worries about social media addiction.

The inventor of the like button now worries about social media addiction.

Image: asana

Who he is: One of Facebook’s earliest engineers, Rosenstein is known as one of the creators of Facebook’s iconic “like” button. He later cofounded Asana with Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz.

What he’s said: Rosenstein said he’s concerned about the addictive, time-sucking nature of social media. So much so that he told The Guardian in 2017 that he had his assistant block social media apps from his phone. “It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences,” he said.

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Facebook still a great place to amplify pre-election junk news, EU study finds

A study carried out by academics at Oxford University to investigate how junk news is being shared on social media in Europe ahead of regional elections this month has found individual stories shared on Facebook’s platform can still hugely outperform the most important and professionally produced news stories, drawing as much as 4x the volume of Facebook shares, likes, and comments.

The study, conducted for the Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) Computational Propaganda Project, is intended to respond to widespread concern about the spread of online political disinformation on EU elections which take place later this month, by examining pre-election chatter on Facebook and Twitter in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Swedish.

Junk news in this context refers to content produced by known sources of political misinformation — aka outlets that are systematically producing and spreading “ideologically extreme, misleading, and factually incorrect information” — with the researchers comparing interactions with junk stories from such outlets to news stories produced by the most popular professional news sources to get a snapshot of public engagement with sources of misinformation ahead of the EU vote.

As we reported last year, the Institute also launched a junk news aggregator ahead of the US midterms to help Internet users get a handle on manipulative politically-charged content that might be hitting their feeds.

In the EU the European Commission has responded to rising concern about the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes by stepping up pressure on platforms and the adtech industry — issuing monthly progress reports since January after the introduction of a voluntary code of practice last year intended to encourage action to squeeze the spread of manipulative fakes. Albeit, so far these ‘progress’ reports have mostly boiled down to calls for less foot-dragging and more action.

One tangible result last month was Twitter introducing a report option for misleading tweets related to voting ahead of the EU vote, though again you have to wonder what took it so long given that online election interference is hardly a new revelation. (The OII study is also just the latest piece of research to bolster the age old maxim that falsehoods fly and the truth comes limping after.)

The study also examined how junk news spread on Twitter during the pre-EU election period, with the researchers finding that less than 4% of sources circulating on Twitter’s platform were junk news (or “known Russian sources”) — with Twitter users sharing far more links to mainstream news outlets overall (34%) over the study period.

Although the Polish language sphere was an exception — with junk news making up a fifth (21%) of EU election-related Twitter traffic in that outlying case.

Returning to Facebook, while the researchers do note that many more users interact with mainstream content overall via its platform, noting that mainstream publishers have a higher following and so “wider access to drive activity around their content” and meaning their stories “tend to be seen, liked, and shared by far more users overall”, they also point out that junk news still packs a greater per story punch — likely owing to the use of tactics such as clickbait, emotive language, and outragemongering in headlines which continues to be shown to generate more clicks and engagement on social media.

It’s also of course much quicker and easier to make some shit up vs the slower pace of doing rigorous professional journalism — so junk news purveyors can get out ahead of news events also as an eyeball-grabbing strategy to further the spread of their cynical BS. (And indeed the researchers go on to say that most of the junk news sources being shared during the pre-election period “either sensationalized or spun political and social events covered by mainstream media sources to serve a political and ideological agenda”.)

“While junk news sites were less prolific publishers than professional news producers, their stories tend to be much more engaging,” they write in a data memo covering the study. “Indeed, in five out of the seven languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish), individual stories from popular junk news outlets received on average between 1.2 to 4 times as many likes, comments, and shares than stories from professional media sources.

“In the German sphere, for instance, interactions with mainstream stories averaged only 315 (the lowest across this sub-sample) while nearing 1,973 for equivalent junk news stories.”

To conduct the research the academics gathered more than 584,000 tweets related to the European parliamentary elections from more than 187,000 unique users between April 5 and April 20 using election-related hashtags — from which they extracted more than 137,000 tweets containing a URL link, which pointed to a total of 5,774 unique media sources.

Sources that were shared 5x or more across the collection period were manually classified by a team of nine multi-lingual coders based on what they describe as “a rigorous grounded typology developed and refined through the project’s previous studies of eight elections in several countries around the world”.

Each media source was coded individually by two separate coders, via which technique they say was able to successfully label nearly 91% of all links shared during the study period. 

The five most popular junk news sources were extracted from each language sphere looked at — with the researchers then measuring the volume of Facebook interactions with these outlets between April 5 and May 5, using the NewsWhip Analytics dashboard.

They also conducted a thematic analysis of the 20 most engaging junk news stories on Facebook during the data collection period to gain a better understanding of the different political narratives favoured by junk news outlets ahead of an election.

On the latter front they say the most engaging junk narratives over the study period “tend to revolve around populist themes such as anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment, with few expressing Euroscepticism or directly mentioning European leaders or parties”.

Which suggests that EU-level political disinformation is a more issue-focused animal (and/or less developed) — vs the kind of personal attacks that have been normalized in US politics (and were richly and infamously exploited by Kremlin-backed anti-Clinton political disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election, for example).

This is likely also because of a lower level of political awareness attached to individuals involved in EU institutions and politics, and the multi-national state nature of the pan-EU project — which inevitably bakes in far greater diversity. (We can posit that just as it aids robustness in biological life, diversity appears to bolster democratic resilience vs political nonsense.)

The researchers also say they identified two noticeable patterns in the thematic content of junk stories that sought to cynically spin political or social news events for political gain over the pre-election study period.

“Out of the twenty stories we analysed, 9 featured explicit mentions of ‘Muslims’ and the Islamic faith in general, while seven mentioned ‘migrants’, ‘immigration’, or ‘refugees’… In seven instances, mentions of Muslims and immigrants were coupled with reporting on terrorism or violent crime, including sexual assault and honour killings,” they write.

“Several stories also mentioned the Notre Dame fire, some propagating the idea that the arson had been deliberately plotted by Islamist terrorists, for example, or suggesting that the French government’s reconstruction plans for the cathedral would include a minaret. In contrast, only 4 stories featured Euroscepticism or direct mention of European Union leaders and parties.

“The ones that did either turned a specific political figure into one of derision – such as Arnoud van Doorn, former member of PVV, the Dutch nationalist and far-right party of Geert Wilders, who converted to Islam in 2012 – or revolved around domestic politics. One such story relayed allegations that Emmanuel Macron had been using public taxes to finance ISIS jihadists in Syrian camps, while another highlighted an offer by Vladimir Putin to provide financial assistance to rebuild Notre Dame.”

Taken together, the researchers conclude that “individuals discussing politics on social media ahead of the European parliamentary elections shared links to high-quality news content, including high volumes of content produced by independent citizen, civic groups and civil society organizations, compared to other elections we monitored in France, Sweden, and Germany”.

Which suggests that attempts to manipulate the pan-EU election are either less prolific or, well, less successful than those which have targeted some recent national elections in EU Member States. And logic would suggest that co-ordinating election interference across a 28-Member State bloc does require greater co-ordination and resource vs trying to meddle in a single national election — on account of the multiple countries, cultures, languages and issues involved.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the study’s findings.

The company has put a heavy focus on publicizing its self-styled ‘election security’ efforts ahead of the EU election. Though it has mostly focused on setting up systems to control political ads — whereas junk news purveyors are simply uploading regular Facebook ‘content’ at the same time as wrapping it in bogus claims of ‘journalism’ — none of which Facebook objects to. All of which allows would-be election manipulators to pass off junk views as online news, leveraging the reach of Facebook’s platform and its attention-hogging algorithms to amplify hateful nonsense. While any increase in engagement is a win for Facebook’s ad business, so er…

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11 essential VR apps every Oculus Quest owner should download first

The Oculus Quest is a game console first, but you can do use it for more than just gaming.
The Oculus Quest is a game console first, but you can do use it for more than just gaming.
Image: zlata ivleva / mashable

So you’ve just bought yourself an Oculus Quest. Hello, wireless VR with head and hand-tracking! 

You’re probably going to download a bunch of games (we highly recommend Beat Saber, Sports Scramble, and SuperHot VR to get you started). But there’s a whole lot more to do in VR on the Quest beyond slicing rhythm cubes and dodging bullets in slow-motion.

With the right app, you can do stuff your parents could only dream of doing, like running your Windows PC (all of it) in virtual space, or painting in 3D, or watching movies with friends that live on the opposite side of the world on a massive theater-sized screen.

Before you strap on the Quest and grab its controllers, check out these 11 non-gaming apps we’ve tried out. Oculus is promising more to come, but for now these are the ones we think every Quest owner should check out first.

1. Apollo 11 

Oh hey, Neil!

Oh hey, Neil!

Image: immersive vr Education

Space geeks will get a real kick out of Apollo 11. The VR app recreates the historic mission to the moon from launch to landing.

Developer Immersive VR Education worked its butt off to simulate what the feeling of leaving Earth through the eyes of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. Though, the interactive parts aren’t very deep, Apollo 11 is an excellent example of how VR can bring us to places we’d normally not be able to visit.

2. Bigscreen Beta

It's just like watching movies in a real movie theater.

It’s just like watching movies in a real movie theater.

Image: bigscreen, inc.

On the surface, Bigscreen Beta is a hassle-free way to stream your Windows PC to a screen in VR. But using Bigscreen Beta by yourself to run your PC on a larger screen defeats the point of the VR app, which is to enjoy content with other people.

You can easily create a theater-sized VR room and invite friends to watch movies or TV shows together or join one of the many public virtual movie theaters that already exist; I watched I Am Legend for about 30 minutes with strangers and it didn’t feel weird at all. 

The app’s cross-platform so you’ll likely meet people who are on Oculus and HTC Vive headsets. Just don’t spend too much time oohing and ahhing or you will probably get yelled at by somebody like I did.

3. Nature Treks VR

Don't think. Just sit back and chill in nature.

Don’t think. Just sit back and chill in nature.

Image: Greener games

Nature Treks is arguably one of the most relaxing VR experiences in my opinion. Once loaded up, the VR app lets you visit nine locations such as an island beach, grassy meadow, or savannah. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even go into space and watch as planets orbit the sun.

The actual locations themselves are small (you won’t be able to go beyond certain boundaries in the distance), but even so the atmospheric music and calm environments are enough to quickly put you at ease unless you’re the kind of person who hates nature.

4. Ocean Rift

Explore the oceans and its creatures without getting wet.

Explore the oceans and its creatures without getting wet.

Image: picselica

Billed as a “VR aquatic safari park,” Ocean Rift is an enjoyable exploration of Earth’s oceans. The VR experience gives you an up-close look at 12 different underwater habitats and the creatures that live in them. Ever wanted to see a shark up close but never had the guts to do it IRL? No problem, Ocean Rift is the perfect way to do it without a) getting wet and b) being put in harm’s way.

Sure, you can always visit an aquarium to see dolphins and turtles, but can you see a whale or dinosaur? Not a chance. However, with Ocean Rift, the admission price is less than most movie tickets.

5. Rec Room

You can play mini games in

You can play mini games in “Rec Room” but you don’t have to. Chilling is alright, too.

Image: against gravity

You probably already know this, but VR can be a very isolating experience and most games on Quest so far are single-player. With Rec Room, you can meet up and “hang” with friends in a number of user-created rooms in VR, kind of like a virtual forum.

Unlike most VR games, you don’t need to really do anything inside of Rec Room. While I mostly went in to chat with peeps (the app supports multiple platforms and anyone with an Oculus VR headset, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, or Windows Mixed Reality headset can join in), there are a handful of multiplayer games like dodgeball and paintball you can play in. One thing worth noting: About 25 percent of player-created rooms available on other VR headsets won’t be accessible at launch; future updates will reportedly add them in.

The graphics sure aren’t anything to write home about, but what you give up in visuals, you gain in gameplay and a sense of community.

6. SKYBOX VR Video Player

Skybox VR is the best way to stream high-res videos to the Oculus Quest.

Skybox VR is the best way to stream high-res videos to the Oculus Quest.

Image: Source technology

YouTube VR (see below) is a great way to watch VR content uploaded online, but if you want to view large, high-resolution videos, you’re going to want to use SKYBOX VR Video Player. It’s sorta like VLC Player, but for VR headsets.

With SKYBOX, you can view videos locally or stream them from a connected PC. The app supports a ton of video formats such H.265, VP9, WEBM, and Blu-ray, and can automatically detect them so there’s no need to do any extra encoding for playback. I played a legally ripped Blu-ray copy of Interstellar in 4K and it was a more cinematic experience than watching it on my 46-inch HDTV.

7. Sling TV

If you've used the Android app, there's no learning curve.

If you’ve used the Android app, there’s no learning curve.

Image: sling tv

If you subscribe to Sling TV for your TV programming, there’s good news: You can watch all of its content on a virtual 180-inch display on the Quest, too.

The Sling TV app for Oculus Quest is identical to the one on Oculus Go and comes with a basic point-and-click interface. Navigating around channels is a no-frills VR experience, but it gets the job done.

8. Tilt Brush

You're not gonna create VR illustrations this good at first stab, but with practice, maybe later.

You’re not gonna create VR illustrations this good at first stab, but with practice, maybe later.

Image: google

Tilt Brush was one of the breakout non-game apps on the original Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and it’s even more immersive without a cable literally holding you back from painting in 3D space.

On the Quest, painting in 3D virtual space is just as fun and simple. Whether you’re doing a quick doodle with brushes like fire or stars, or drawing something more complex, Tilt Brush has enough depth to keep you entertained for hours. Nothing beats walking around a 3D painting.

9. Virtual Desktop

Who needs a monitor when you can run your PC in VR?

Who needs a monitor when you can run your PC in VR?

Image: virtual desktop, inc.

The name tells you everything you need to know about Virtual Desktop: You can use your computer in VR. Basically, instead of a computer monitor, you get a virtual screen for your Windows PC (8.1 or 10 works) almost as if you were interfacing with computers in Minority Report

It’s a barebones app that does one thing, but it actually works and it’s really sweet to be able to do all your computing in the virtual space. The Oculus Touch controllers can even be used to replace gestures for things like pinch-to-zoom. 

10. VRChat

Yeah, VRChat experiences get really weird.

Yeah, VRChat experiences get really weird.

Image: vr chat, inc. 

Remember Second Life or PlayStation Home, where people from over the world could create virtual avatars and just chill in digital space? VRChat is like that, but way bigger. 

Less of a game and more of a whole bunch of VR communities, VRChat lets you explore a crazy amount of community-created virtual rooms and mingle. The controls take some getting used to and the visuals can be primitive if you’re looking for more realism, but once you get to know a few buddies, things can get wild (in good and bad ways). Follow the rules and you’ll be alright!

11. YouTube VR

Watch over a million VR videos or millions of 2D videos on a big virtual screen.

Watch over a million VR videos or millions of 2D videos on a big virtual screen.

Image: youtube

Slicing and dicing rhythm blocks in Beat Saber is hella fun and all, but for those times you want to just sit back and watch videos by your favorite video creators, there’s YouTube VR.

The app, which is beefed up version of the one released for Oculus Go, has over 1 million “VR videos” that let you look around in 360-degrees. Not all of them have depth, though. If VR videos aren’t your cup of tea, you can also watch any regular YouTube video in 2D on a big VR screen, which is still neat.

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