Paper by Arthur Campbell, C. Matthew Leister and Yves Zenou: “Because of its impacts on democracy, there is an important debate on whether the recent trends towards greater use of social media increases or decreases (political) polarization. One challenge for understanding this issue is how social media affects the equilibrium prevalence of different types of media content. We address this issue by developing a model of a social media network where there are two types of news content: mass-market (mainstream news) and niche-market (biased or more “extreme” news) and two different types of individuals who have a preference for recommending one or other type of content. We find that social media will amplify the prevalence of mass-market content and may result in it being the only type of content consumed. Further, we find that greater connectivity and homophily in the social media network will concurrently increase the prevalence of the niche market content and polarization. We then study an extension where there are two lobbying agents that can and wish to influence the prevalence of each type of content. We find that the lobbying agent in favor of the niche content will invest more in lobbying activities. We also show that lobbying activity will tend to increase polarization, and that this effect is greatest in settings where polarization would be small absent of lobbying activity. Finally, we allow individuals to choose the degree of homophily amongst their connections and demonstrate that niche-market individuals exhibit greater homophily than the mass-market ones, and contribute more to polarization….(More)”.
MIT Technology Review: “Blockchain technology is at the core of a new research project the New York Times has launched, aimed at making “the origins of journalistic content clearer to [its] audience.”
The news: The Times has launched what it calls The News Provenance Project, which will experiment with ways to combat misinformation in the news media. The first project will focus on using a blockchain—specifically a platform designed by IBM—to prove that photos are authentic.
Blockchain? Really? Rumors and speculation swirled in March, after CoinDesk reported that the New York Times was looking for someone to help it develop a “blockchain-based proof-of-concept for news publishers.” Though the newspaper removed the job posting after the article came out, apparently it was serious. In a new blog post, project lead Sasha Koren explains that by using a blockchain, “we might in theory provide audiences with a way to determine the source of a photo, or whether it had been edited after it was published.”
Unfulfilled promise: Using a blockchain to prove the authenticity of journalistic content has long been considered a potential application of the technology, but attempts to do it so far haven’t gotten much traction. If the New York Times can develop a compelling application, it has enough influence to change that….(More)”.
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in The Conversation: “Every year, some thousands of sites – including ones with unique information – go offline. Countless further webpages become inaccessible; instead of information, users encounter error messages.
Where some commentators may lament yet another black hole in the slowly rotting Internet, I actually feel okay. Of course, I, too, dread broken links and dead servers. But I also know: Forgetting is important.
In fact, as I argued in my book, “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age,” all through human history, humans reserved remembering for the things that really mattered to them and forgot the rest. Now the internet is making forgetting a lot harder.
Built to forget
Humans are accustomed to a world in which forgetting is the norm, and remembering is the exception.
This isn’t necessarily a bug in human evolution. The mind forgets what is no longer relevant to our present. Human memory is constantly reconstructed – it isn’t preserved in pristine condition, but becomes altered over time, helping people overcome cognitive dissonances. For example, people may see an awful past as rosier than it was, or devalue memories of past conflict with a person with whom they are close in the present.
Forgetting also helps humans to focus on current issues and to plan for the future. Research shows that those who are too tethered to their past find it difficult to live and act in the present. Forgetting creates space for something new, enabling people to go beyond what they already know.
Organizations that remember too much ossify in their processes and behavior. Learning something new requires forgetting something old – and that is hard for organizations that remember too much. There’s a growing literature on the importance of “unlearning,” or deliberately purging deeply rooted processes or practices from an organization – a fancy way to say that forgetting fulfills a valuable purpose….(More)”.
Article by Eyal Weizman: “More than a decade ago, I would have found the idea of a forensic institute to be rather abhorrent. Coming from the field of left activism and critical spatial practice, I felt instinctively oriented against the authority of established truths. Forensics relies on technical expertise in normative and legal frameworks, and smacks full of institutional authority. It is, after all, one of the fundamental arts of the state, the privilege of its agencies: the police, the secret services, or the military. Today, counter-intuitively perhaps, I find myself running Forensic Architecture, a group of architects, filmmakers, coders, and journalists which operates as a forensic agency and makes evidence public in different forums such as the media, courts, truth commissions, and cultural venues.
This reorientation of my thought practice was a response to changes in the texture of our present and to the nature of contemporary conflict. An evolving information and media environment enables authoritarian states to manipulate and distort facts about their crimes, but it also offers new techniques with which civil society groups can invert the forensic gaze and monitor them. This is what we call counter-forensics.
We do not yet have a satisfactory name for the new reactionary forces—a combination of digital racism, ultra-nationalism, self-victimhood, and conspiracism—that have taken hold across the world and become manifest in countries such as Russia, Poland, Hungary, Britain, Italy, Brazil, the US, and Israel, where I most closely experienced them. These forces have made the obscuring, blurring, manipulation, and distortion of facts their trademark. Whatever form of reality-denial “post truth” is, it is not simply about lying. Lying in politics is sometimes necessary. Deception, after all, has always been part of the toolbox of statecraft, and there might not be more of it now than in previous times. The defining characteristics of our era might thus not be an extraordinary dissemination of untruths, but rather, ongoing attacks against the institutional authorities that buttress facts: government experts, universities, science laboratories, mainstream media, and the judiciary.
Because questioning the authority of state institutions is also what counter-forensics is about—we seek to expose police and military cover-ups, government lies, and instances in which the legal system has been aligned against state victims—we must distinguish it from the tactics of those political forces mentioned above.
While “post truth” is a seemingly new phenomenon, for those working to expose state crimes at the frontiers of contemporary conflicts, it has long been the constant condition of our work. As a set of operations, this form of denial compounds the traditional roles of propaganda and censorship. It is propaganda because it is concerned with statements released by states to affect the thoughts and conducts of publics. It is not the traditional form of propaganda though, framed in the context of a confrontation between blocs and ideologies. It does not aim to persuade or tell you anything, nor does it seek to promote the assumed merits of one system over the other—equality vs. freedom or east vs. west—but rather to blur perception so that nobody knows what is real anymore. The aim is that when people no longer know what to think, how to establish facts, or when to trust them, those in power can fill this void by whatever they want to fill it with.
“Post truth” also functions as a new form of censorship because it blocks one’s ability to evaluate and debate facts. In the face of governments’ increasing difficulties in cutting data out of circulation and in suppressing political discourse, it adds rather than subtracts, augmenting the level of noise in a deliberate maneuver to divert attention….(More)”.
“Make FOIA Work is about re-imagining journalism through design, participation and collaboration. Faculty, staff and students at Emerson College and the Engagement Lab staff worked alongside the Boston Institute of Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) and MuckRock, two independent and alternative news and information platforms and publishers, to produce a data-driven and engagement-based investigative reporting series that exposes corruption around the sales of guns in Massachusetts. Through design studios in participatory methods and data visualization, project participants created a participatory guide book for journalists, practitioners and community members on how to undertake participatory design projects with a focus on FOIA requests, community participation, and collaboration. The project also highlights the course syllabi in participatory design methods and data visualization….(More)”.
Report by the Institute for Public Relations: “Sixty-three percent of Americans view disinformation—deliberately biased and misleading information—as a “major” problem in society, on par with gun violence (63%) and terrorism (66%), according to the 2019 Institute for Public Relations Disinformation in Society Report.
The 2019 IPR Disinformation in Society Report surveyed 2,200 adults to determine the prevalence of disinformation, who is responsible for sharing disinformation, the level of trust in different information sources, and the parties responsible for combatting disinformation.
“One surprising finding was how significant of a problem both Republicans and Democrats rated disinformation,” said Dr. Tina McCorkindale, APR, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. “Unfortunately, only a few organizations outside of the media literacy and news space devote resources to help fix it, including many of the perceived culprits responsible for spreading disinformation.”
More than half (51%) of the respondents said they encounter disinformation at least once a day, while 78% said they see it once a week. Four in five adults (80%) said they are confident in their ability to recognize false news and information. Additionally, nearly half of Americans (47%) said they “often” or “always” go to other sources to see if news and information are accurate….(More)”.
Polly Curtis in the Financial Times: “…We once believed in utopian dreams about how a digital world would challenge power structures, democratise information and put power into the hands of the audience. Twenty years ago, I even wrote a university dissertation on how the internet was going to re-democratise society.
Two decades on, power structures have certainly been disrupted, but that utopianism has now crashed into a different reality: a growing and largely unrecognised crisis of the “unnewsed” population. The idea of the unnewsed stems from the concept of the “unbanked”, people who are dispossessed of the structures of society that depend on having a bank account.
Not having news does the same for you in a democratic system. It is a global problem. In parts of the developing world the digital divide is defined by the cost of data, often splitting between rural and urban, and in some places male control of mobile phones exacerbates the disenfranchisement of women. Even in the affluent west, where data is cheap and there are more sim cards than people, that digital divide exists. In the US the concept of “news deserts”, communities with no daily local news outlet, is well established.
Last week, the Reuters Digital News Report, an annual survey of the digital news habits of 75,000 people in 38 countries, reported that 32 per cent now actively avoid the news — avoidance is up 6 percentage points overall and 11 points in the UK. When I dug into other data on news consumption, from the UK communications regulator Ofcom, I found that those who claim not to follow any news are younger, less educated, have lower incomes and are less likely to be in work than those who do. We don’t like to talk about it, but news habits are closely aligned to something that looks very like class. How people get their news explains some of this — and demonstrates the class divide in access to information.
Research by Oxford university’s Reuters Institute last year found that there is greater social inequality in news consumption online than offline. Whereas on average we all use the same number of news sources offline, those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale use significantly fewer sources online. Even the popular tabloids, with their tradition of campaigning news for mass audiences, now have higher social class readers online than in print. Instead of democratising information, there is a risk that the digital revolution is exacerbating gaps in news habits….(More)”.
Joshua Benton at Nieman Labs: “The New York Times wants more of its journalists to have those basic data skills, and now it’s releasing the curriculum they’ve built in-house out into the world, where it can be of use to reporters, newsrooms, and lots of other people too.
Even with some of the best data and graphics journalists in the business, we identified a challenge: data knowledge wasn’t spread widely among desks in our newsroom and wasn’t filtering into news desks’ daily reporting.
Yet fluency with numbers and data has become more important than ever. While journalists once were fond of joking that they got into the field because of an aversion to math, numbers now comprise the foundation for beats as wide-ranging as education, the stock market, the Census, and criminal justice. More data is released than ever before — there are nearly 250,000 datasets on data.govalone — and increasingly, government, politicians, and companies try to twist those numbers to back their own agendas…
We wanted to help our reporters better understand the numbers they get from sources and government, and give them the tools to analyze those numbers. We wanted to increase collaboration between traditional and non-traditional journalists…And with more competition than ever, we wanted to empower our reporters to find stories lurking in the hundreds of thousands of databases maintained by governments, academics, and think tanks. We wanted to give our reporters the tools and support necessary to incorporate data into their everyday beat reporting, not just in big and ambitious projects.
….You can access the Times’ training materials here. Some of what you’ll find:
- An outline of the data skills the course aims to teach. It’s all run on Google Docs and Google Sheets; class starts with the uber-basics (mean! median! sum!), crosses the bridge of pivot tables, and then heads into data cleaning and more advanced formulas.
- The full day-by-day outline of the Times’ three-week course, which of course you’re free to use or reshape to your newsroom’s needs.
- It’s not just about cells, columns, and rows — the course also includes more journalism-based information around ethical questions, how to use data effectively inside a story’s narrative, and how best to work with colleagues in the graphic department.
- Cheat sheets! If you don’t have time to dig too deeply, they’ll give a quick hit of information: one, two, three, four, five.
- Data sets that you use to work through the beginner, intermediate, and advanced stages of the training, including such journalism classics as census data, campaign finance data, and BLS data.But don’t be a dummy and try to write real news stories off these spreadsheets; the Times cautions in bold: “NOTE: We have altered many of these datasets for instructional purposes, so please download the data from the original source if you want to use it in your reporting.”
- “How Not To Be Wrong,” which seems like a useful thing….(More)”
Mark Stencel at Poynter: “The number of fact-checking outlets around the world has grown to 188 in more than 60 countries amid global concerns about the spread of misinformation, according to the latest tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab.
Since the last annual fact-checking census in February 2018, we’ve added 39 more outlets that actively assess claims from politicians and social media, a 26% increase. The new total is also more than four times the 44 fact-checkers we counted when we launched our global database and map in 2014.
Globally, the largest growth came in Asia, which went from 22 to 35 outlets in the past year. Nine of the 27 fact-checking outlets that launched since the start of 2018 were in Asia, including six in India. Latin American fact-checking also saw a growth spurt in that same period, with two new outlets in Costa Rica, and others in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.
The actual worldwide total is likely much higher than our current tally. That’s because more than a half-dozen of the fact-checkers we’ve added to the database since the start of 2018 began as election-related partnerships that involved the collaboration of multiple organizations. And some those election partners are discussing ways to continue or reactivate that work— either together or on their own.
Over the past 12 months, five separate multimedia partnerships enlisted more than 60 different fact-checking organizations and other news companies to help debunk claims and verify information for voters in Mexico, Brazil, Sweden,Nigeria and the Philippines. And the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network assembled a separate team of 19 media outlets from 13 countries to consolidate and share their reporting during the run-up to last month’s elections for the European Parliament. Our database includes each of these partnerships, along with several others— but not each of the individual partners. And because they were intentionally short-run projects, three of these big partnerships appear among the 74 inactive projects we also document in our database.
Politics isn’t the only driver for fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation — often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads.
We also continue to see new topic-specific fact-checkers such as Metafact in Australia and Health Feedback in France— both of which launched in 2018 to focus on claims about health and medicine for a worldwide audience….(More)”.
Abigail Higgins at SSIR: “It isn’t unusual that a girl raped in northeastern Kenya would be ignored by law enforcement. But for Mary, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, it should have been different—NGOs had established a hotline to report sexual violence just a few years earlier to help girls like her get justice. Even though the hotline was backed by major aid institutions like Mercy Corps and the British government, calls to it regularly went unanswered.
“That was the story that really affected me. It touched me in terms of how aid failures could impact someone,” says Anthony Langat, a Nairobi-based reporter who investigated the hotline as part of a citizen journalism initiative called What Went Wrong? that examines failed foreign aid projects.
Over six months in 2018, What Went Wrong? collected 142 reports of failed aid projects in Kenya, each submitted over the phone or via social media by the very people the project was supposed to benefit. It’s a move intended to help upend the way foreign aid is disbursed and debated. Although aid organizations spend significant time evaluating whether or not aid works, beneficiaries are often excluded from that process.
“There’s a serious power imbalance,” says Peter DiCampo, the photojournalist behind the initiative. “The people receiving foreign aid generally do not have much say. They don’t get to choose which intervention they want, which one would feel most beneficial for them. Our goal is to help these conversations happen … to put power into the hands of the people receiving foreign aid.”
What Went Wrong? documented eight failed projects in an investigative series published by Devex in March. In Kibera, one of Kenya’s largest slums, public restrooms meant to improve sanitation failed to connect to water and sewage infrastructure and were later repurposed as churches. In another story, the World Bank and local thugs struggled for control over the slum’s electrical grid….(More)”