Fake news is bad.
Thankfully, snopes.com and similar sites identify fake news for us, but only when we use their services.
Most of us are lazy when it comes to reading news. We don’t fact-check.
Understandably, we leave the fact-checking to the people who wrote the news.
Couple the challenge of fake news with our own political leanings, and the ability to get people to listen to other sides becomes a daunting, if not impossible, task.
Here’s why: ask liberals or conservatives which newspapers, websites, radio or TV channels they use and, depending on political bent, you’ll see little overlap in the names of their preferred news outlets.
Think of it as Fox News versus CNN. The probability of hearing different points-of-view is low.
To improve this probability, a team of college students invented a new Google browser plug-in (i.e., extension) called Open Mind, as means for blocking fake news, and for introducing readers to alternative opinions.
The application was created during a 36-hour, student-run hack-a-thon at Yale University. Think of a hack-a-thon as teams of super smart students competing to solve big problems.
In this case, the big problem was fake news.
“[Open Mind] does two things,” said Michael Lopez-Brau, Yale doctoral student and co-designer of Open Mind. “It warns users of potential fake news sites and suggests news articles from the other side of the aisle.”
When users visit a news site, Open Mind checks to see if it’s in one of the plug-ins rigorously-tested, community-curated fake news databases.
“If so, we warn users with a pop-up and tell them why the site was marked as fake news.” Lopez-Brau said.
To be clear, Open Mind is not professing to be the arbiter of truth. And they’re not censoring sites. They invite users to suggest sites that should be reviewed, and they give users the option to click past the warning.
To build their fake news database, the team used credible sources including Open Sources and B.S. Detector. Their database now includes some 1,400 sites. Many of these sites play on misspellings and nearly identical logos for trusted news sites, such as “MSNBC.co,” a fake news site meant to resemble MSNBC.com.
Open Mind also analyzes the news articles that users read. “If we detect that a user is frequently reading articles with a certain bias, our extension will suggest related articles,” Lopez-Brau said. However, the suggested articles offer different points of view.
“This works for people all over the political spectrum,” Lopez-Brau added.
The extension aims to provide users with a sort of political immune system that can assist them in achieving a more balanced news diet.
The team is planning to release a beta version of Open Mind by the middle of next month. You can sign up for Open Mind at openmind.press, and be sure to give them some feedback.
One skill most of us will say we don’t have, or that we struggle with, is the ability to talk about ourselves.
Whether it’s our accomplishments, dreams and aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, we often clam up.
It’s one reason why we struggle with first dates and job interviews. We sometimes fumble through conversations, not knowing how much information to share, what to promote and what to hold back.
You’d think that we’d be better at this by now. After all, communication research shows that even the most introverted people have found their voices on social media.
And at a time when Facebook and other social media platforms are being blamed for the disintegration of civil discourse, some platforms are finding new ways to enhance our desire to connect with others in meaningful ways.
I’m betting Facebook would rather us to talk about something other than politics.
So, in December, Facebook introduced “Did You Know,” a feature that prompts users to answer questions about themselves.
The new feature is based on the social networking app “tbh” (which stands for “to be honest”). The original version of tbh gave users the ability to anonymously answer questions about other users.
Facebook acquired the tbh app in October.
Teenagers were the heaviest adopters of tbh. Before moving over to Facebook, tbh boasted more than 5 million downloads and 2.5 million daily active users.
The polling-like questions on tbh allowed teens to answer about other users – questions that were mostly friendly, and often mundane.
Facebook likely saw the acquisition as a way to attract new teenage users – a demographic they have been struggling to reach and retain, at least in terms of daily active usage.
But the version of tbh now available on Facebook is different from the original app. Now the focus is on you – prompting you to talk about yourself, albeit through answers to randomly generated questions.
Like most Facebook features, this one is easy to use
Finding the “Did You Know” feature depends on the way you access Facebook (e.g., app, browser).
In my browser, “Did You Know” appears on the left side of the profile screen, under the “Intro” and “Photos” sidebars.
Click on “Did You Know,” and you’ll be prompted to answer a question. If you don’t like the question, simply click “Next Question” for a new prompt.
As you answer questions, you’ll slowly populate a forum with new details about your likes, dislikes and more.
One prompt was “The video game I’ve played the most is...” I answered, “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (thanks for keeping track of my hours, Nintendo Switch).”
That answer quickly generated responses from friends.
Remember that answers appear as posts on your profile and, if needed, you should adjust the privacy settings for that post (e.g., public, friends, etc.).
I took a break from social media for seven days over the holidays.
Yes. I know others have taken my longer breaks from social media, so I realize my fast won't seem all that novel. But for a guy who regularly writes about connecting with others via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, and regularly preaches the virtues of online relationships, this was kind of a big deal.
I originally planned to stop using social media for four days, but instead started late Christmas Day and rejoined the online social world after New Year’s Day.
Following recent columns in which we explored the notion of “quitting” social media, I heard from readers and friends who were contemplating life without social media – “like giving up smoking,” one friend wrote.
Like them, I craved a brief respite from daily posting.
So, in order to give advice about “what to expect” during a social media fast, I started my own break, not knowing for sure what would happen.
It’s important to know what I did (and did not do):
1. I did not give up technology. I still used email, surfed the web, but avoided references to social media platforms as best I could. It wasn’t easy.
2. I deleted social apps from my phone to remove any temptation. This included deleting Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social apps.
3. I started in the early evening on Dec. 25 and rejoined Jan. 2. I chose these dates because I thought for sure the lure of sharing holiday pictures would be overwhelming.
Alas, I survived.
Here are a few excerpts from my journal:
Day 1, 6 p.m.: I deleted Twitter 30 seconds ago. It was the last app to go.
What have I done? I’m not sure I can do this.
It was pretty easy to dump Snapchat and Instagram because, well, I’m not a daily user. I look at other people’s posts, but I only post my own images a few times a month.
LinkedIn didn’t hurt because I don’t plan to work much over break, and LinkedIn feels like my social media “work” app. Facebook and Messenger kind of hurt.
Already thinking this was a bad idea and feeling withdrawal symptoms.
Day 2, 7 a.m.: I took a few pictures on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Surprisingly, I didn’t take as many as I usually do, probably because I knew I was doing this fast and wouldn’t be posting images.
Also, I’ve had a few random thoughts about the football games I’m watching and sports in general that I would usually post. Does this mean my thoughts are inconsequential, or that I’ll forget I had those thoughts?
This is so weird.
Day 3, 8:30 p.m.: I’ve been distracted by my wife and kids all day. I use the word “distracted” because I wonder if they’re helping me to forget about social media. As expected, I feel more connected to the people around me when I’m not lured away by my smartphone.
Maybe it's the holiday break. Maybe it was the ease with which I deleted my social media apps. The first days have felt fairly painless.
Day 4, 6:30 a.m.: Checking email is a challenge. I get daily updates from Facebook and other platforms about new activity. If I’m tagged in new posts, getting friend requests or new followers, Facebook and Twitter tell me, albeit via email.
I’ve avoided social media, but it feels like they’ve come looking for me.
In a strange game of social media hide-and-seek, I’m hiding while Facebook and Twitter are searching.
Not sure who is winning.
Day 5, 4:15 p.m.: A friend has been in the hospital for a few days. She was providing updates on Facebook, but now I can’t look for updates. I don’t know if she’s out of the hospital yet, and I don’t have her cellphone number.
I could ask my wife to check Facebook, but that feels like cheating.
Am I a bad friend?
Day 6, 10 a.m.: Hanging with my family for New Year’s, and my brother-in-law says (in a very accusatory tone), “I thought you were off social media. But then you posted a picture the day after Christmas. You didn’t last very long.”
I’m freaking out. Did someone hack my account?
He digs a little and finds that the picture was actually posted a few days before my fast. As is common on Facebook, when someone comments, the post is suddenly reignited, moving it to the top of some news feeds.
Day 7, noon: I’m back on social media today and, to be honest, I really feel like I could go another week or two. The lack of drama has been good for me, both psychologically and socially.
As I wade back into social media waters (dipping my toe into Facebook first), what did I learn?
Are you thinking about taking a break from social media? Share your experience with me at email@example.com.
From Donald Trump to #MeToo, 2017 was a momentous, albeit tumultuous, year in social media.
Highlights featured increases in active users and improved tools for sharing content.
Lowlights included continued problems with harassment, threats, and the ease with which major platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could be co-opted to influence an election.
Here are a few of the important social media issues and moments from 2017:
Twitter’s Resurgence. For a period of about two years, Twitter experienced a lull in growth of daily active users. Then something inexplicable happened: the 2016 presidential election.
Specifically, Donald Trump happened.
Twitter’s rebound can be attributed, in part, to Trump’s tweets.
In late October, Twitter reported third quarter results that exceeded Wall Street expectations.
The growth in Twitter’s active users was likely a reaction to those who joined or reactivated dormant accounts, just to read the president’s tweets, react to his tweets, and interact with others about Trump.
Another reason for the uptick may be attributed to the increase from 140 characters to 280 characters for a tweet. The move was both panned and praised by users, and it’s too early to tell if additional characters definitively improved activity.
While Twitter was rolling out new rules and character limits, the #MeToo campaign emerged as a forum for pulling back the curtain on the sexual assault and harassment in entertainment, media and other industries.
Facebook Follies. Two billion monthly active users gave Facebook reason to celebrate in 2017. In comparison, YouTube entertains 1.5 billion monthly users, and WattsApp boasts 1.2 billion active users.
Unfortunately, Facebook was mired in political turmoil when the social media giant disclosed it found more than 3,000 ads bought by 470 accounts through a Russian agency.
The accounts were shuttered, the ads shared with Congress and special investigators, and a new Facebook “action plan” was put in place to (hopefully) stave off interference in future elections.
With all the negative attention, Facebook is pressing forward in 2018 with new tools to prevent harassment, to fight engagement bait or “click bait” posts, and to improve options for advertisers and sharing content.
Looking Forward to 2018. There’s a lot to be hopeful for in 2018, including new community building tools. These new apps promise to improve our online dialogue, apps that bring us together rather than tear us apart.
I’ll be featuring a few of these in the next few months.
For example, an up-and-coming app with great potential to build community is OpenMind (openmindplatform.org).
It was created to prepare users — emotionally and psychologically — to engage others online in ways that foster intellectual discussion and debate, a way to introduce us to new points-of-view without sacrificing our personal values and convictions.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.