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”

[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.

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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”

[Weekly Rundown] Muhammad Ali tributes; Uncle Verne and Joe Buck; a Christian rocker comes out; what is tronc?

Today, we’re sports-heavy – honoring The Greatest, more Baylor fallout (now featuring Mississippi State), and sports broadcasters accused of bias. That, plus a Christian rocker comes out, social media faces censorship, and something called tronc.

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Sports

Muhammad Ali died Saturday night. If you only knew him as a boxer, I hope you’ll take all the tributes as an opportunity to learn more.

The news broke as I was finalizing this week’s rundown, but people more attuned to great sports writing have been curating your must-reads. I recommend this list from Don Van Natta and Jacob Feldman’s Sunday Long Read newsletter.

From a sports media perspective, ESPN did something I can’t recall seeing before. They went live in the wee hours Saturday with their top journalistic talent. Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap anchored a SportsCenter that was relaxed in pace, letting both men and their guests share longform stories about Ali. Deadspin, who loves to hate on the Worldwide Leader, offered praise, and captured a 12-minute segment for you to watch. SI’s Richard Deitsch has the behind-the-scenes look at how the late-night broadcast came together.

This probably isn’t your first time to see the photo at the top of today’s post. It was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated in 1965, and remains one of history’s most iconic sports photographs. Many stories have been written about it since. Here’s a longread by Dave Mondy published about a year ago that explores the photographer and the fighters he captured. Continue reading “[Weekly Rundown] Muhammad Ali tributes; Uncle Verne and Joe Buck; a Christian rocker comes out; what is tronc?”

Teaching media literacy in a world of active shooters

I teach in a world of active shooters.

Whenever I teach a university-core communication course, I always include a bit of media literacy, even if it’s a speech/interpersonal-oriented class. If this will be the only exposure non-majors receive to the discipline, I believe one of the most practical skills I can teach them is how to be wise consumers and distributors of information.

This is how that played out in a classroom in Arkansas.

Continue reading “Teaching media literacy in a world of active shooters”