Understanding “fake news,” & why defeating it isn’t a fix-all

After the dust from our toxic post-election discourse settled, the talk of traditional and social media turned to “fake news” – a term that has taken on new meaning in recent years, and new prominence in the 2016 presidential race.

In this iteration, fake news doesn’t refer to satire like The Daily Show or The Onion. Nor does it refer to news that is biased in its selection and interpretation of facts. No, for now we’re fighting a much simpler to identify foe – the peddling of information that is blatantly, demonstrably false and intentionally deceptive.

Stuff like these sensational – and completely fictional – headlines that circulated in the months leading up to the election:

Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president, releases statement [Ending The Fed]

FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide [Denver Guardian]

WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary sold weapons to ISIS… Then drops another BOMBSHELL! Breaking news [The Political Insider]

Thousands of fake ballot slips found marked for Hillary Clinton! TRUMP WAS RIGHT!! [Donald Trump News]

President Obama confirms he will refuse to leave office if Trump is elected [Burrard Street Journal]

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton to be indicted… Your prayers have been answered [World Politic US]

Rupaul claims Trump touched him inappropriately in the 1990s [World News Daily Report]

This sort of nonsense has been around for a long time, previously circulating via your crazy relatives’ email inboxes. But it found new prominence this election cycle, on Facebook. Craig Silverman and his team at Buzzfeed compared Facebook engagement metrics on the top 20 fake news stories and the top 20 stories from a sampling of traditional media outlets across the final three quarters of the 2016 election. They found that after lagging well behind for most of the year, the most popular fake news out-engaged the most popular real news in the final three months of the race. (All of the headlines above were among the top 20 in that time period.)

*There are caveats to this method, and if you care, I discuss them at the end of this post. The point is that engagement with fake news has risen dramatically.

That has invited three questions – where is fake news coming from, does it have an effect, and what can be done to stop it? Continue reading “Understanding “fake news,” & why defeating it isn’t a fix-all”

Advertisements

[Media Rundown] Periscoping politicians; baffling Brexit; hiding Hillary; short-handed SCOTUS

Today, recapping unexpected events – Congress and C-SPAN on the cutting edge, and the U.K. leaving the E.U. Plus, we’ll check in on the Supreme Court and the two most unpopular presidential candidates ever.

Want to be the first to read the Media Rundown? Subscribe to email updates by clicking the “Follow” tab at the bottom of your screen (or here if that’s not working for you). You can also add to your RSS reader.

All politics today… let’s go.

The Streaming Sit-In

The hippest place this week to see social video streaming? The floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and C-SPAN, of course. House Democrats staged a sit-in demanding a vote be taken on gun control legislation in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando.

It was similar to Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster the week before. Both were publicity stunts – Democrats know they don’t have the votes to do anything involving guns. But why was the House sit-in – even further removed from the mass shooting – so much more effective at drawing public attention to the cause?

Novelty. Of the protest itself, to a small degree. Filibustering isn’t allowed in the House, so this was a, let’s call it “creative,” way around those rules. It also helped to have George Representative John R. Lewis – a man who knows about honest-to-goodness sit-ins – front and center.

But I still think the sit-in would have been mostly ignored and quickly forgotten if not for the greater novelty of how it was broadcasted to the country.

Continue reading “[Media Rundown] Periscoping politicians; baffling Brexit; hiding Hillary; short-handed SCOTUS”

Is there an (((echo))) in here? Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas

Hate and harassment on social media is driving users away. The difficulty of exposing hate, protecting victims, and limiting censorship.

Any corner of the Internet that facilitates anonymity is going to attract trolls. Twitter is no different. Recently, you might have noticed users placing their names in multiple (((parentheses))). It all traces back to anti-Semitic groups. Members place this parenthetical “echo” around Jewish people or businesses when attacking them on social media, giving compatriots an easy way to search for the target and join in on the harassment. There was even a now-removed Google Chrome plugin that made echoing easy, by cross-referencing text against a database of Jews. Here’s what it looked like in action:

echo_sample
Tomorrow Comes Today // Tumblr

Vox has an explainer if you want to read more about how the echo was used, as well as how it and the Chrome plugin were discovered by the rest of us.

Point is, once the echo was exposed, Twitter users, Jewish or not, began putting the echo around their names and other content. Not only a symbolic stand, it also undermined the beacon system being used by the hate groups.

The echo was defeated by the rest of the social media community. But that also involved Google taking down the plugin, which violated its terms forbidding “promotions of hate.” And it involved Twitter banning a number of users who “promote violence against or directly attack or threaten” other users.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like all have different policies on dealing with harassment and hate speech, as well as the ways in which they curate content. They range from Google’s broad ban on hate code to Twitter’s fairly specific ban on direct, violent threats. A few weeks ago, all three agreed to adhere to the European Union’s “code of conduct on illegal online hate speech,” which requires resolution of hate speech reports within 24 hours, be it by removing or restricting the content or the user responsible.

However, speech laws are more restrictive in the E.U. than in the U.S., and vary by country. It’s the service provider’s job to figure out if a particular post fails to meet legal standards in those various jurisdictions. Much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which YouTube already lets rightsholders wildly abuse, companies face penalties for failing to suppress content, but suffer no consequence for blocking everything in sight just to catch a small number of actual offenders.

It’s easy to see how the social media platforms could lean on the side of heavy censorship.

Continue reading “Is there an (((echo))) in here? Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas”

[Clickworthy] Isolating ourselves behind a Facebook Wall

The problem […] is that we invite loneliness, even though it makes us miserable. The history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.

What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.

The impact of technology on interpersonal relationships has been a favorite research topic of students who often find themselves in the middle of the phenomenon. Last year, at least half of my students’ communication research papers dealt with Facebook to some extent, half of those making social media the primary focus of the paper. How does Facebook affect friendships? Business communication? Marketing efforts? When something new comes along, we are curious about these things.

But at the base of it is our relationship with other people and the impact that has on ourselves. Facebook, after all, is about “friends,” right? Do we find social sustenance in curating our public profile, in interacting with one another on a virtual wall? Or, do we overuse a technological advancement meant only to complement our relationships as a replacement for the real face-to-face event?

Why do we allow technology – even technology with social intent – to leave us lonely? Social beings left unfulfilled by our own decisions.

Stephen Marche explored these psychological inconsistencies in a cover story for the Atlantic. I picked it up on a newsstand earlier this week and couldn’t put it down. This isn’t surface drivel about a pop topic. Marche throws data at you left and right as he contemplates a lonely world full of distant friends and the effort we endure to create polished virtual selves. He references a number of studies, using words like “longitudinal” along the way. It reads like a literature review stripped of parenthetical citations and laced with philosophical ponderings.

You’ll have to set aside a decent amount of time for the full read, but it’s well worth it. From a feeling of despair, Marche goes further to understand effective use of mediated technologies and a reordering of priorities.

Read the story. You’ll be ready to text, tweet, or wall post your way to something meaningful… like a cup of coffee with an old friend you realize you only know through a timeline.

Clickworthy Bonus: If you enjoyed Marche’s writing, are nowhere near retirement, and like being angry with your elders, read this essay from the April edition of Esquire.

How Google (and maybe Wikipedia) won the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign for the Internet

I tend to check at least one Wikipedia page per blog post. It’s a simple way to double-check the little pieces of information that make a post come together.

I use Google more times a day than I’d ever care to count.

Today, two of the most-visited sites on the Internet have gone black – one symbolically, the other quite literally – in the most publicized opposition to date of anti-piracy legislation SOPA and PIPA.

A visit to any English-language Wikipedia page today was met with a rapid redirect to a black screen with a brief paragraph not-so-subtly suggesting that your favorite open-source encyclopedia could one day be blocked by some overzealous federal button masher:

Continue reading “How Google (and maybe Wikipedia) won the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign for the Internet”