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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
It might surprise you to learn that I read news the “old fashion” way.
Yes, I occasionally read news online, but it’s the print edition that I find most satisfying.
Each morning, I walk to our box at the end of the driveway, collect The Vindicator, walk back to the house and perform the same ritual I’ve performed for the last ten years since moving to Youngstown.
With a cup of coffee nearby, I methodically scrutinize the print version until my cup is empty.
Okay. Sometimes two cups.
And okay. I don’t read every story. But when the coffee is gone (and usually cold), I move on.
We continue to pay for home delivery of The Vindicator for two reasons.
First, as strange as this might sound, we view our $17-a-month home delivery bill like we do our other public utility payments.
Second, I like the subtle hint of ink stains on my fingers after a particularly long cup of coffee.
A new reason that I didn’t really consider until this week: I also like the reliability of getting my news the same way, in the same format, at the same time every morning I have for the last ten years.
So, I was saddened to learn that, at the end of this week, our long-time Vindicator delivery person, Faye Davis, is retiring. Coincidentally, I also learned that Vindicator social media manager, Sean Ferguson, is moving on to a new job.
In many ways, both Vindicator employees have very different jobs.
But in one very important way, they have the same job: reliable, consistent delivery of the news.
Davis drives all over God’s creation (i.e., the Valley) in the wee hours of the morning, delivering newspapers from the window of her small car, illuminated by her interior lights. I know this because I had the good fortune to chat with Davis several mornings over the years while my kids waited for the bus.
In contrast, Ferguson reliably “delivered” the news by way of Vindicator social media feeds, attracting a worldwide audience to the stories impacting our region.
Ferguson was my former student and mentee, but made an impression on his Vindicator co-workers in a very short time.
As for Davis, I don’t know her well, but I know her well enough to say thanks by way of this column, something a little more than the small holiday tip we send each year in the form of a restaurant gift card.
So, I raise my cup to Davis for bringing the news every morning — without a missed paper in ten years. And to Ferguson, onward and upward.
Thanks for being a part of a team that brings us real news every day in print and online, and the confidence that The Vindicator will be there when I walk to the end of the driveway.
Editor’s note: This is part two of an interview. See December 13 post for part one.
Facebook, Twitter and other platforms know they have a retention problem.
People are taking breaks from social media. Others have abandoned it all together.
On Monday, Twitter began enforcing new rules that would eliminate some forms of speech as well as violent and abusive tweets, logos and images.
This announcement comes on heels of criticism from a former Facebook executive who claimed the social media giant was harming society, and that users should take a break from the platform.
Before I start a five-day social media fast over the holiday break, I had questions about what to expect. I turned to writer and reporter James Swift, who left social media permanently, and wrote about his experiences:
Q. What did your friends say when you left social media?
A. I received a few emails asking if everything was OK, but the majority of my social media acquaintances probably didn’t even realize or care I disappeared. And that sort of proves the inherent irony of the term “social media.”
Virtually “de-personing” myself didn’t mean anything to my closest friends, because the bulk of our interaction was one-to-one anyway. As it turns out, the people I lost contact with were people I didn’t really enjoy being around to begin with – individuals I’m fairly certain were using the platform as a means of social surveillance, not social interaction.
I have gotten a lot of emails from people who have read some of my articles about the ills of social media, and two intriguing themes emerged.
Younger generations seem to view social media as passe. Having been raised in the web as opposed to with it, they have a deep desire to disconnect from the internet hive-mind. They want anonymity, as apparent by their preference for platforms such as 4Chan, Reddit and YouTube.
But older generations seem to view it as a necessary evil, this thing they hate but can’t escape. They’re aware of the deleterious effects of social media, but it’s almost like they are addicted to it.
I’ve even had a few people ask me for tips on “breaking the habit,” so to speak.
Q. Do you ever foresee a time when you might return to social media?
A. I’ll never use social media as a personal user. That includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The frank reality is that I don’t want to be assailed by a parade of opinions I never solicited. If I’ve learned one thing from my social media detox, it’s that privacy feels fantastic.
Instead of having to worry about your personal brand and fighting the latest moral crusade for whatever sociopolitical issue you think will get you the most retweets, you can actually kick back and enjoy your own personal experiences.
Read Swift’s works at uncommonjournalism.blogspot.com and thoughtcatalog.com, including his new book coming in 2018.
Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts. The conclusion will run next week.
Former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya recently spoke about the damage social media is doing around the world.
He named Facebook public enemy No. 1.
Speaking at Stanford University, Palihapitiya, who ultimately became Facebook’s vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his role in the social network’s massive success.
He recommended people take a “hard break” from social media.
This led me to consider what life would be like without social media, even if just for a few days. It’s something I’ve contemplated since last year’s presidential election.
The hatred and divisiveness drove many of my friends away from social media, not permanently, but certainly for a few days or months.
So, I’m thinking about taking a social media fast, per se. I don’t plan to abandon social media on a permanent basis. I still find great value in it, and I think there are ways to save it.
But I do plan to take a break, as Palihapitiya suggests. Sort of.
Do you sense my fear?
When I’m scared to do something new, I read about it. Usually online.
A few months ago, I found my social-media-cessation sensei, James Swift. Swift, an Atlanta-based writer and reporter, wrote “Why Now Is The Time To Abandon Social Media” for ThoughtCatalog.com.
He made me rethink the importance of social media, and at the very least, consider some of the therapeutic values in taking a social media break.
I caught up with Swift via email last week. Next week, we will dive into reactions from friends, and explore a time he could foresee rejoining the social media mob.
Q. What was the tipping point for you (e.g., I’m done with social media!)?
A. I suppose you could call it a perfect storm of annoyances. Generally speaking, after college, Facebook and Twitter lost their core utility – that being a place for people in a centralized area to relay information back and forth.
As an adult professional, however, social media turned into this weird goulash of vanity posts and shameless advertising masquerading as “updates.”
Instead of bandying about pertinent info about things that actually mattered, my alleged “friends” and “followers” seemed to subconsciously engage in a virtual game of “my life is better than yours,” with everyone jockeying for likes and shares as if they were actual commodities.
The death knell, however, had to be the politicization of the platforms. Every single day I was bombarded by propaganda from the right and the left about the hot button du jour, as if any of them had half a clue what they were talking about.
Factor in some grievances with the censorship policies and trending algorithms used by Facebook and Twitter, and that was all it took to virtually “de-person myself.”
Come back next week (December 20) for part two of my interview wit James Swift.
I don’t take many selfies.
When I do, my head is usually in a small portion of the frame, and I’m curiously looking over my shoulder at someone or something.
It’s a selfie trick I picked up from other buddies my age – guys with little to no hair up top, or too much hair in the wrong places on our faces.
No need for filters or face morphing apps unless they include toupees or tweezers.
“I’m good with a little nose hair, thank you,” said my friend Dave, lamenting his teenage daughters need to use Photoshop on every selfie before posting it.
“She takes 20 pictures on her phone in 10 seconds, all with the same goofy face, and then picks the best one. What’s wrong with one and done? I miss the days of Polaroid cameras.”
But as my other friends who have teenage kids will tell you, this is absolutely the norm.
A study by Frames Direct suggests that the average teen will spend an hour a week taking selfies. This includes taking the picture, retaking it (often dozens of times) and editing it before posting to Snapchat or Instagram.
The study also reports the average millennial will take nearly 26-thousand selfies in lifetime.
Skip Pritchard, CEO of the Online Computer Library Center, noted in a recent blog post at OCLC.org that the motivations “the selfie generation” have for taking pictures of themselves doing silly things revolves around four key principles:
visibility, reciprocity, creativity and authority.
1. Selfie takers want to be seen. “Whether you’re taking a picture next to someone famous or capturing proof of an important moment, nothing speaks louder than a visual,” Pritchard said. For some, being visible is a hallmark of social media use.
2. Selfie takers want to know if other people are watching and reacting. Likes and comments are just as important to the image itself. In fact, many of my students have confessed they will delete a selfie if it doesn’t get a satisfactory number of likes or comments. If we give a piece of ourselves to the audience, we expect a reaction in return: reciprocity.
3. Selfie takers are focused on creativity, which may account for the seemingly endless supply of filters, graphics and image morphing applications available on most social media platforms. “It’s part of what makes these platforms so compelling: that we don’t just have to be in the audience, we can be on stage,” Pritchard said.
4. Selfie takers are in charge of their own content. The level of authority has changed because what media outlets used to be controlled by a few people is now available to mostly everyone on the planet. Now we are all editors and publishers. For good or bad, we are all mass communicators.
To learn more, search “the selfie generation” at OCLC.org.
My friend and local attorney Jan Mostov recently posted:
“I presume there are thousands of people who can say they found their ‘dream job’ through LinkedIn.” He went on to ask his friends to “say a few words” and offer advice.
Mostov’s LinkedIn “dream job” inquiry is not uncommon.
Some who responded to his post echoed his frustration with the ability of the platform to make meaningful connections with other professionals and create opportunities.
When I saw his post, I was immediately reminded of conversations I’ve had with others about the utility of LinkedIn when it comes to career advice.
What has LinkedIn done for me lately? It’s a common refrain heard from professionals regardless of industry, education, gender, age, race and ethnicity.
Before I responded to Mostov’s post, I was reminded of conversations I’ve had with others who find LinkedIn to be a powerful professional platform.
Personally, I think Jim Cossler has the best LinkedIn advice.
Cossler is the Huntington Bank Entrepreneur in Residence at the Youngstown Business Incubator. I often refer to Cossler as a LinkedIn power user. He’s harnessed the ability to make connections with people in his industry – professionals who want to know what he knows, and get his advice.
Speaking of advice, Cossler was already responding to Mostov when I was ready to chime in.
“There is a huge difference between being ‘on’ LinkedIn and being ‘visible’ on LinkedIn,” Cossler wrote. “One way to do that is to publish or re-publish the content your target market wants. I do that for startups and entrepreneurs.”
He’s absolutely right. LinkedIn has become the “go to” social media landing spot for those seeking professional advice.
LinkedIn recently made it a lot easier to not only find that advice, but to create a mentoring profile for giving advice.
“Mentorship is an important part of developing and sustaining a satisfying career and improving your professional life, regardless of whether you’re a mentee or mentor,” LinkedIn posted in its Career Advice platform launch.
“Our research has found that more than 80 percent of professionals on LinkedIn have stated they either want to have a mentor or be one to others, but have a hard time knowing where to start.”
LinkedIn’s new service, Career Advice, makes it easier to create connections through the network with something they refer to as “lightweight mentorship opportunities.”
“Whether you’re looking for best practices for approaching a new project ... or intel on switching industries, Career Advice can help you connect with the right person,” LinkedIn posted.
To access Career Advice, visit your profile, enter your preferences, and LinkedIn will make matches for giving and receiving advice.
Interests you have in common with someone might also lead to connections with professionals outside your network.
Making these new connections will broaden your network and, possibly, lead you to that dream job.
The headline is creepy. I know it. That’s why I wrote it.
If you’re reading this online right now, I want you to stop and think about all of the websites you’ve visited in the last 24 hours.
If that’s too long a list, focus on the last few hours.
Have your list?
Okay. Now here’s the hard question. How many of those sites are tracking your every move?
Whether your list includes Amazon, Facebook, or even the trusted, award-winning journalism at Vindy.com (little plug for the newspaper in which this column appears every Wednesday), chances are you’re giving up some personal information and you don’t even know it.
Some data you give willingly. You want to be connected with friends on social media, so there’s a bit of privacy you give up to do so. You want deeper, richer information on a particular site, so you willingly share your name, an email address and maybe a birthdate to gain access.
However, it’s the other data that you’re not sacrificing willingly that is of concern to many consumers. A new report reveals the depths to which some companies are going to track your every move online.
In an article posted last week to Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy site Freedom To Tinker, Steven Englehardt and his colleagues exposed the extraordinary lengths some retailers will go to track your data.
“More and more sites use session replay scripts,” Englehardt said. “These scripts record your keystrokes, mouse movements and scrolling behavior, along with the entire contents of the pages you visit, and send them to third-party servers.”
Scripts sit behind the pictures you see on retailer websites. While the collection of that data might not surprise you, the storage of that information on third-party computers is alarming.
“These scripts are intended for the recording and playback of individual browsing sessions, as if someone is looking over your shoulder,” Englehardt said.
Some of us are already giving up information, so why worry about this?
Their team uncovered several vulnerabilities recorded during these sessions including the tracking of passwords and using keystrokes or inputs to collect sensitive date (data that should have been removed).
Englehardt noted that collecting this content could lead to other information (i.e., credit-card numbers, medical reports) being leaked to the third-party, which could lead to consumer fraud.
“This may expose users to identity theft, online scams and other unwanted behavior,” Englehardt said. “The same is true for the collection of user inputs during checkout and registration processes.”
Ad-blocking list EasyList will help stop some of these activities, but it’s not a fool-proof protection measure.
Want to learn more about how these retailers are tracking you online? Check out Princeton’s Freedom To Tinker site at www.freedom-to-tinker.com. They make difficult concepts easy to comprehend, and in ways most of us can use.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.