It’s Why You Put Saline Solution in an IV [...]

When people get dehydrated, or when they need an intravenous drug they are given an IV with a saline solution.

Why is this?

Well, consider that your blood is pretty salty, and the blood cells in the solution that is your blood are used to that salinity. Think a minute what would happen to the blood cells if suddenly they were surrounded by a hypotonic solution (distilled water) rather than a hypertonic one (saline or blood).

What would happen to the blood cells? Would they expand, contract, or stay the same?

They’d expand. Let’s walk through this.

Your blood cells currently exist in osmotic balance with your blood. Your blood is made less salty via the addition of water.

Now the saltiness has to equalize, but it can’t equalize by virtue of moving the solute (in this case salt) because the solute cannot move through cell membranes. So the water has to move. And since the cells have more solute, the water will move into the cells.

Eventually, the cells will burst.

The opposite is true if the saline solution is too salty. In this case the cells will shrivel.

Don’t believe me? Take a look under a microscope:

The Negative Impact of Solutes on Water Potential [...]

Chorus Title: What is solute potential?

Response Title: It’s the Negative Impact of Solutes on Water Potential

I know, fascinating right? But there are a couple of things to note here.

Other explanations of solute potential often mention that “osmosis wants to equalize the saltiness” on two sides of a membrane. But when we say “want” in terms of physical processes, we are talking about physical mechanisms, not desires.

So let’s start with an observed phenomenon:

Here’s a beaker with a semi-permeable membrane. In this first picture, there are two equally full sides of the beaker, but one has saltier water on one side than the other. (We use salt here, but it could be other solutes as well).

Now what happens? Seriously, think about it for a minute. You leave this glass overnight, go to sleep, and come back in the morning: what do you see?

If you’re like most people, you probably think you see a beaker that looks just like the one above, but with the saltiness “averaged out”.

But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. Because here is what you’d find on your counter:

You’ll notice that the saltiness on each side of the membrane is equal, but this has been achieved by moving water, not salt molecules.

The reason for this is simple. For this semi-permeable membrane, water molecules can cross it, but the solute particles, which are larger and polar, cannot. As water molecules pass freely between the two sides, some of them bind to the solute, and are unable to pass back through the membrane. See this animation to see how that happens:

First, pure water (no solutes) has a solute potential (Ψπ) of zero. Solutes reduce water’s potential, limiting the ability of the solution to flow through a membrane.

Solute concentration relates to solute potential according to the given by the Van’t Hoff Equation:

Ψπ = − miRT

where m is the concentration in molarity of the solute, i is the Van’t Hoff factor, the ionization constant of the solute (1 for glucose, 2 for NaCl, etc.) R is the ideal gas constant, and T is the temperature.

The more solute molecules present in the , the more negative the solute potential is.

Solute potential has important implication for many living organisms. If a living cell with a lower solute concentration is surrounded by a concentrated solution, the cell will tend to lose water to the more negative water potential of the surrounding environment.

You can demonstrate this process in your kitchen using common eggs dropped in a hypertonic solution such as corn syrup:


Pieces of this explanation come from Wikipedia.

DigiLit and Adobe [...]

So whilst the overall conclusions and  recommendations are actually pretty sensible. The undertone of “smart “ collaborations, technology companies leading the way, buying a suite of “creative” products to allow students to be “makers” troubles me greatly. Buying into a system doesn’t automagically make you, or a University digitally literate or creative. It’s knowing when and how to use/buy/move on that does.  Whilst the Adobe creative suite of products is undoubtedly powerful, it also creates another set of dependencies for organisations and individuals. “Smart collaborations” between education  and technology companies really need to figure out what the potential implications of those dependencies are.

Digital literacy  is one of our  greatest weapons against the monsters of technology. We can let them dismantle it and sell it back to us. (Source)

The Reason Retweets Kill Truth [...]

Once we know about the effect we can guard against it. Part of this is double-checking why we believe what we do – if something sounds plausible is it because it really is true, or have we just been told that repeatedly? This is why scholars are so mad about providing references – so we can track the origin on any claim, rather than having to take it on faith.
But part of guarding against the illusion is the obligation it puts on us to stop repeating falsehoods. We live in a world where the facts matter, and should matter. If you repeat things without bothering to check if they are true, you are helping to make a world where lies and truth are easier to confuse. So, please, think before you repeat. (Source)

Relying on How Often You’ve Heard Something [...]

The next question has to be, why might that be? The answer is to do with the effort it takes to being rigidly logical about every piece of information you hear. If every time you heard something you assessed it against everything you already knew, you’d still be thinking about breakfast at supper-time. Because we need to make quick judgements, we adopt shortcuts – heuristics which are right more often than wrong. Relying on how often you’ve heard something to judge how truthful something feels is just one strategy. Any universe where truth gets repeated more often than lies, even if only 51% vs 49% will be one where this is a quick and dirty rule for judging facts. (Source)

Fazio Experiment [...]

Recently, a team led by Lisa Fazio of Vanderbilt University set out to test how the illusion of truth effect interacts with our prior knowledge. Would it affect our existing knowledge? They used paired true and un-true statements, but also split their items according to how likely participants were to know the truth (so “The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” is an example of a “known” items, which also happens to be true, and “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” is an un-true item, for which people are likely to know the actual truth).
Their results show that the illusion of truth effect worked just as strongly for known as for unknown items, suggesting that prior knowledge won’t prevent repetition from swaying our judgements of plausibility.
To cover all bases, the researchers performed one study in which the participants were asked to rate how true each statement seemed on a six-point scale, and one where they just categorised each fact as “true” or “false”. Repetition pushed the average item up the six-point scale, and increased the odds that a statement would be categorised as true. For statements that were actually fact or fiction, known or unknown, repetition made them all seem more believable. (Source)

Familiarity Creates Feeling of Truth [...]

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect. Here’s how a typical experiment on the effect works: participants rate how true trivia items are, things like “A prune is a dried plum”. Sometimes these items are true (like that one), but sometimes participants see a parallel version which isn’t true (something like “A date is a dried plum”).
After a break – of minutes or even weeks – the participants do the procedure again, but this time some of the items they rate are new, and some they saw before in the first phase. The key finding is that people tend to rate items they’ve seen before as more likely to be true, regardless of whether they are true or not, and seemingly for the sole reason that they are more familiar. (Source)

A Reality TV of Criminal Investigation [...]

“We now have real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit, a kind of reality TV of federal criminal investigation. Perhaps worst of all, it is happening on the eve of a presidential election. It is antithetical to the interests of justice, putting a thumb on the scale of this election and damaging our democracy,” Gorelick and Johnson wrote in The Washington Post. (Source)

Franklin Dissection [...]

A method for becoming a better writer.

Here it is again:

Take good writing and jot short notes for each sentence.
Put the notes aside and come back in a few days.
Try to “rewrite” the piece using only the notes (and in your own words).
Compare with the original and correct your faults.

Bird-Dogging [...]

Bird-dogging is a technique whereby activists get political candidates on the record about their position on an issue or call attention to an issue through questions asked at public campaign events.°

The term comes from the analogy of a bird-dog, which tracks down birds by scent. In the metaphor, candidates for office often want to conceal their positions on controversial issues or keep their language around them vague. Trained activists, or “bird-dogs”, go to events and ask carefully crafted questions on issues they wish to talk about to try to “flush a candidate’s opinions into the open.” They keep asking follow-up questions until they get a clear answer.

Bird-dogs often work in issue advocacy organizations, and are less concerned with who wins an election than with getting their issues addressed as part of the campaign process.

History of term

The use of “bird-dogging” to describe a process of following, surveilling, or repeatedly questioning individuals dates at least back to World War II. It has long been applied to the processes of reporters, salespeople, and talent scouts, who track issues or leads down to a conclusion.

In activist circles, the term was popularized in the mid-2000s by New Hampshire Quaker activist Arnie Alpert who noted that the way people were asking questions at “town halls” with presidential candidates was allowing the candidates too much wiggle room:

“If you simply go in there and say, ‘What do you think about health care? What do you think about Iraq?’ the candidate can pretty much say anything and have it sound like it’s a good answer,” said Arnie Alpert, the program coordinator in New Hampshire for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group.

So in the lead-up to the 2004 primary, he started teaching people how to ask questions. Basically, it takes planning, precision and a little bit of courage. (see New York Times story)

Albert traces the technique back to anti-nuclear proliferation campaigns organized by Quaker activist group AFSC in the 1980s. But the movement and technique gained national attention when members of the ASFC used the technique to get Howard Dean talking about trade policies in 2004. (Source)

Albert’s techniques were later adopted by Priorities NH, a Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry’s) group trying to get military spending issues addressed, as well as other groups in the 2008 primary. The rise of citizen video made such techniques an important tool of activism.


Rhetoric around a 2016 controversy created by James O’Keefe wrongly portrayed bird-dogging as a Clinton campaign term dealing with the instigation of violence at Trump rallies. The term pre-dates the Clinton campaign and has never been used in this way.


New York Times Article from March 2007: “Bird-Dogging in N.H. and Iowa” (Source)

From the 2016 book Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems: “Bird-dogging means attending a political candidates public appearances with the specific aim of challenging or seeking clarification of a particular issue.” (Source)

From 2011 book The Young Activist’s Guide to Building a Green Movement and Changing the World: “Bird-dogging refers to attending public events where a candidate for public office or an elected representative will appear and calling on him or her to publicly address an issue, support your cause, or reconsider a stance already taken.” (Source)

From March 2010: “Iowans Can Learn From New Hampshire” by Arnie Alpert: “But Erin was not going to miss her chance. Already an experienced ‘bird-dog,’ the 24-year-old activist stuck out her hand and, without missing a beat, asked Obama if he supported the abolition of nuclear weapons.” (Source)

A February 2016 article: “These Quakers Are Asking Tougher Questions Than Many in the Press”, The Intercept. (Source)

It’s Why Slugs Melt [...]

Chorus Title: What is solute potential?

Response Title: It’s Why Slugs Melt

Maybe as a kid you were horrible (many kids are) and you tortured slugs in the back yard by putting salt on them and watching them shrivel up. Or maybe as a kid at the lake you were latched onto by leeches that were horrible (most leeches are) and you watched with amazement as you mom slayed them effortlessly with the salt shaker.

If you think about what’s happening here, you’ll have a bit more of a grip on solute potential.

Consider this. You put salt on the slug’s back, which mixes with the water on it. Now you have a membrane (slug skin) with very salty water on the outside and very non-salty water on the inside. The nature of things is in this case that osmosis wants to equalize the saltiness. So a bunch of the water inside the slug rushes past the membrane (skin) to the outside of the slug. Unfortunately, more water on the outside just dissolves more of the salt, which makes the salt imbalance worse, which in turn creates more osmotic pressure to push more water out of the slug. This cycle continues until the slug is a shriveled mess lying in a pool of salty water.

So what’s the solute potential in this example? In this case salt is the solute and water is the solvent. So the solute potential here, at the point the salt is applied, is high on the inside of the slug and low on the outside of it. Putting the salt on the outside of the slug lowers the solute potential of the water on the outside of the slug.

A way of remembering that is that the water on the inside of the slug has a “high potential” of moving to the outside of the slug. The osmotic pressure is a result of the difference in the potential on the two sides of that slug-skin membrane, the salty low-potential outside and the less salty high potential inside. The difference between the solute potential of the outside and the inside is one of a few factors that determine overall water potential.

If you think about this, this is not just a property of slugs. People dry flowers with salt, and before refrigeration we would sometimes dehydrate foods in this way. That salty french fry on the floor of your car that lasts for years without molding? It’s been dehydrated too, and the way the water got from the inside to the outside of the fry is through a difference in solute potential.

Making Snapchat More Addictive [...]

You can still save snaps and Stories to your camera roll, but the tools inside Memories will give you a chance to edit your old stuff and push it out again. You’ll even be able to combine that stuff with photos and videos from your camera roll. (Think of the #TBT options!) This update will make Snapchat feel a little less raw and in-the-moment, and a little more polished and, err, stale. That’s a big deal, and we’ll get into it later. But first, here’s a rundown of how to use Memories: (Source)

The Hidden Public Square [...]

For now, the network hums along, mostly beneath the surface. A post from a Liberty Alliance page might find its way in front of a left-leaning user who might disagree with it or find it offensive, and who might choose to engage with the friend who posted it directly. But otherwise, such news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable. It’s an environment that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to traditional media brands; but for this new breed of page operator, it’s mostly upside. In front of largely hidden and utterly sympathetic audiences, incredible narratives can take shape, before emerging, mostly formed, into the national discourse.

Consider the trajectory of a post from August, from a Facebook page called Patriotic Folks, the headline of which read, “Spread This: Media Rigging the Polls, Hiding New Evidence Proving Trump Is Winning.” The article cited a litany of social-media statistics highlighting Trump’s superior engagement numbers, among them Trump’s Facebook following, which is nearly twice as large as Clinton’s. “Don’t listen to the lying media — the only legitimate attack they have left is Trump’s poll numbers,” it said. “Social media proves the GOP nominee has strong foundation and a firm backing.” The story spread across this right-wing Facebook ecosystem, eventually finding its way to Breitbart and finally to Sean Hannity’s “Morning Minute,” where he read through the statistics to his audience.

Before Hannity signed off, he posed a question: “So, does that mean anything?” It’s a version of the question that everyone wants to answer about Facebook and politics, which is whether the site’s churning political warfare is actually changing minds — or, for that matter, beginning to change the political discourse as a whole. How much of what happens on the platform is a reflection of a political mood and widely held beliefs, simply captured in a new medium, and how much of it might be created, or intensified, by the environment it provides? What is Facebook doing to our politics? (Source)

Liberty Alliance [...]

Many of these political news pages will likely find their cachet begin to evaporate after Nov. 8. But one company, the Liberty Alliance, may have found a way to create something sustainable and even potentially transformational, almost entirely within the ecosystem of Facebook. The Georgia-based firm was founded by Brandon Vallorani, formerly of Answers in Genesis, the organization that opened a museum in Kentucky promoting a literal biblical creation narrative. Today the Liberty Alliance has around 100 sites in its network, and about 150 Facebook pages, according to Onan Coca, the company’s 36-year-old editor in chief. He estimates their cumulative follower count to be at least 50 million. Among the company’s partners are the former congressman Allen West, the 2008 election personality Joe the Plumber, the conservative actor Kirk Cameron and the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Victoria Jackson. Then there are Liberty’s countless news-oriented pages, which together have become an almost ubiquitous presence on right-leaning political Facebook in the last few years. Their names are instructive and evocative: Eagle Rising; Fighting for Trump; Patriot Tribune; Revive America; US Herald; The Last Resistance.

A dozen or so of the sites are published in-house, but posts from the company’s small team of writers are free to be shared among the entire network. The deal for a would-be Liberty Alliance member is this: You bring the name and the audience, and the company will build you a prefab site, furnish it with ads, help you fill it with content and keep a cut of the revenue. Coca told me the company brought in $12 million in revenue last year. (The company declined to share documentation further corroborating his claims about followers and revenue.)Because the pages are run independently, the editorial product is varied. But it is almost universally tuned to the cadences and styles that seem to work best on partisan Facebook. It also tracks closely to conservative Facebook media’s big narratives, which, in turn, track with the Trump campaign’s messaging: Hillary Clinton is a crook and possibly mentally unfit; ISIS is winning; Black Lives Matter is the real racist movement; Donald Trump alone can save us; the system — all of it — is rigged. (Source)

Page Operators and Their Mobs [...]

Page operators of political clickbait sites look down on their mobs:

Terry Littlepage, an internet marketer based in Las Cruces, N.M., has taken this model even further. He runs a collection of about 50 politically themed Facebook pages with names like The American Patriot and My Favorite Gun, which push visitors to a half-dozen external websites, stocked with content aggregated by a team of freelancers. He estimates that he spends about a thousand dollars a day advertising his pages on Facebook; as a result, they have more than 10 million followers. In a good month, Littlepage’s properties bring in $60,000.

Nicoloff and Littlepage say that Trump has been good for business, but each admits to some discomfort. Nicoloff, a conservative, says that there were other candidates he preferred during the Republican primaries but that he had come around to the nominee. Littlepage is also a recent convert. During the primaries, he was a Cruz supporter, and he even tried making some left-wing pages on Facebook but discovered that they just didn’t make him as much money.

In their angry, cascading comment threads, Make America Great’s followers express no such ambivalence. Nearly every page operator I spoke to was astonished by the tone their commenters took, comparing them to things like torch-wielding mobs and sharks in a feeding frenzy. No doubt because of the page’s name, some Trump supporters even mistake Nicoloff’s page for an official organ of the campaign. Nicoloff says that he receives dozens of messages a day from Trump supporters, expecting or hoping to reach the man himself. Many, he says, are simply asking for money. (Source)

Phillipine Chop-shop [...]

Make America Great, a Trump-supporting clickbait shop, outsources content to a Phillipines-based team:

Then, of course, there’s the content, which, at a few dozen posts a day, Nicoloff is far too busy to produce himself. “I have two people in the Philippines who post for me,” Nicoloff said, “a husband-and-wife combo.” From 9 a.m. Eastern time to midnight, the contractors scour the internet for viral political stories, many explicitly pro-Trump. If something seems to be going viral elsewhere, it is copied to their site and promoted with an urgent headline. (The Khan story was posted at the end of the shift, near midnight Eastern time, or just before noon in Manila.) The resulting product is raw and frequently jarring, even by the standards of this campaign. “There’s No Way I’ll Send My Kids to Public School to Be Brainwashed by the LGBT Lobby,” read one headline, linking to an essay ripped from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze; “Alert: UN Backs Secret Obama Takeover of Police; Here’s What We Know …,” read another, copied from a site called The Federalist Papers Project. In the end, Nicoloff takes home what he jokingly described as a “doctor’s salary” — in a good month, more than $20,000 (Source)

Not Activists, Businesspeople [...]

Hyperpartisan Clickbait sites are often run by businesspeople not activists.

Each day, according to Facebook’s analytics, posts from the Make America Great page are seen by 600,000 to 1.7 million people. In July, articles posted to the page, which has about 450,000 followers, were shared, commented on or liked more than four million times, edging out, for example, the Facebook page of USA Today.

Make America Great, which inhabits the fuzzy margins of the political Facebook page ecosystem, is owned and operated by a 35-year-old online marketer named Adam Nicoloff. He started the page in August 2015 and runs it from his home outside St. Louis. Previously, Nicoloff provided web services and marketing help for local businesses; before that, he worked in restaurants. Today he has shifted his focus to Facebook pages and websites that he administers himself. Make America Great was his first foray into political pages, and it quickly became the most successful in a portfolio that includes men’s lifestyle and parenting.

Nicoloff’s business model is not dissimilar from the way most publishers use Facebook: build a big following, post links to articles on an outside website covered in ads and then hope the math works out in your favor. For many, it doesn’t: Content is expensive, traffic is unpredictable and website ads are both cheap and alienating to readers. But as with most of these Facebook-native pages, Nicoloff’s content costs comparatively little, and the sheer level of interest in Trump and in the type of inflammatory populist rhetoric he embraces has helped tip Nicoloff’s system of advertising arbitrage into serious profitability. In July, visitors arriving to Nicoloff’s website produced a little more than $30,000 in revenue. His costs, he said, total around $8,000, partly split between website hosting fees and advertising buys on Facebook itself. (Source)

Clicking on Web of Khan Lies [...]

Readers who clicked through to the story were led to an external website, called Make America Great Today, where they were presented with a brief write-up blended almost seamlessly into a solid wall of fleshy ads. Khan, the story said — between ads for “(1) Odd Trick to ‘Kill’ Herpes Virus for Good” and “22 Tank Tops That Aren’t Covering Anything” — is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood and a “promoter of Islamic Shariah law.” His late son, the story suggests, could have been a “Muslim martyr” working as a double agent. A credit link beneath the story led to a similar-looking site called Conservative Post, from which the story’s text was pulled verbatim. Conservative Post had apparently sourced its story from a longer post on a right-wing site called

Within 24 hours, the post was shared more than 3,500 times, collecting a further 3,000 reactions — thumbs-up likes, frowning emoji, angry emoji — as well as 850 comments, many lengthy and virtually all impassioned. A modest success. (Source)

Less a Partner Than a Context [...]

From the start, some publishers cautiously regarded Facebook as a resource to be used only to the extent that it supported their existing businesses, wary of giving away more than they might get back. Others embraced it more fully, entering into formal partnerships for revenue sharing and video production, as The New York Times has done. Some new-media start-ups, most notably BuzzFeed, have pursued a comprehensively Facebook-centric production-and-distribution strategy. All have eventually run up against the same reality: A company that can claim nearly every internet-using adult as a user is less a partner than a context — a self-contained marketplace to which you have been granted access but which functions according to rules and incentives that you cannot control.

The news feed is designed, in Facebook’s public messaging, to “show people the stories most relevant to them” and ranks stories “so that what’s most important to each person shows up highest in their news feeds.” It is a framework built around personal connections and sharing, where value is both expressed and conferred through the concept of engagement. Of course, engagement, in one form or another, is what media businesses have always sought, and provocation has always sold news. But now the incentives are literalized in buttons and written into software. (Source)

Facebook’s Rise as a News Broker [...]

In retrospect, Facebook’s takeover of online media looks rather like a slow-motion coup. Before social media, web publishers could draw an audience one of two ways: through a dedicated readership visiting its home page or through search engines. By 2009, this had started to change. Facebook had more than 300 million users, primarily accessing the service through desktop browsers, and publishers soon learned that a widely shared link could produce substantial traffic. In 2010, Facebook released widgets that publishers could embed on their sites, reminding readers to share, and these tools were widely deployed. By late 2012, when Facebook passed a billion users, referrals from the social network were sending visitors to publishers’ websites at rates sometimes comparable to Google, the web’s previous de facto distribution hub. Publishers took note of what worked on Facebook and adjusted accordingly.

This was, for most news organizations, a boon. The flood of visitors aligned with two core goals of most media companies: to reach people and to make money. But as Facebook’s growth continued, its influence was intensified by broader trends in internet use, primarily the use of smartphones, on which Facebook became more deeply enmeshed with users’ daily routines. Soon, it became clear that Facebook wasn’t just a source of readership; it was, increasingly, where readers lived.

Facebook, from a publisher’s perspective, had seized the web’s means of distribution by popular demand. A new reality set in, as a social-media network became an intermediary between publishers and their audiences. For media companies, the ability to reach an audience is fundamentally altered, made greater in some ways and in others more challenging. For a dedicated Facebook user, a vast array of sources, spanning multiple media and industries, is now processed through the same interface and sorting mechanism, alongside updates from friends, family, brands and celebrities. (Source)

Occupy Democrats and the Meme War [...]

Now that the nomination contest is over, Rivero has turned to making anti-Trump content. A post from earlier this month got straight to the point: “Donald Trump is unqualified, unstable and unfit to lead. Share if you agree!” More than 40,000 people did.

“It’s like a meme war,” Rivero says, “and politics is being won and lost on social media.” (Source)

Sanders Was the Facebook Candidate [...]

Donald Trump was the Twitter candidate, but Bernie Sanders may have been the Facebook candidate.

Rafael Rivero is an acquaintance of Provost’s who, with his twin brother, Omar, runs a page called Occupy Democrats, which passed three million followers in June. This accelerating growth is attributed by Rivero, and by nearly every left-leaning page operator I spoke with, not just to interest in the election but especially to one campaign in particular: “Bernie Sanders is the Facebook candidate,” Rivero says. The rise of Occupy Democrats essentially mirrored the rise of Sanders’s primary run. On his page, Rivero started quoting text from Sanders’s frequent email blasts, turning them into Facebook-ready memes with a consistent aesthetic: colors that pop, yellow on black. Rivero says that it’s clear what his audience wants. “I’ve probably made 10,000 graphics, and it’s like running 10,000 focus groups,” he said. (Clinton was and is, of course, widely discussed by Facebook users: According to the company, in the last month 40.8 million people “generated interactions” around the candidate. But Rivero says that in the especially engaged, largely oppositional left-wing-page ecosystem, Clinton’s message and cautious brand didn’t carry.) (Source)

Facebook Native Political Pages [...]

This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.

While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.

From a user’s point of view, every share, like or comment is both an act of speech and an accretive piece of a public identity. Maybe some people want to be identified among their networks as news junkies, news curators or as some sort of objective and well-informed reader. Many more people simply want to share specific beliefs, to tell people what they think or, just as important, what they don’t. A newspaper-style story or a dry, matter-of-fact headline is adequate for this purpose. But even better is a headline, or meme, that skips straight to an ideological conclusion or rebuts an argument. (Source)

Provost / US UnCut [...]

In 2006, when Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to run his rapidly expanding start-up, Mark Provost was a student at Rogers State University in Claremore, Okla., and going through a rough patch. He had transferred restlessly between schools, and he was taking his time to graduate; a stock-picking hobby that grew into a promising source of income had fallen apart. His outlook was further darkened by the financial crisis and by the years of personal unemployment that followed. When the Occupy movement began, he quickly got on board. It was only then, when Facebook was closing in on its billionth user, that he joined the network.

Now 36, Provost helps run US Uncut, a left-leaning Facebook page and website with more than 1.5 million followers, about as many as MSNBC has, from his apartment in Philadelphia. (Sample headlines: “Bernie Delegates Want You to See This DNC Scheme to Silence Them” and “This Sanders Delegate Unleashing on Hillary Clinton Is Going Absolutely Viral.”) He frequently contributes to another popular page, The Other 98%, which has more than 2.7 million followers.Occupy got him on Facebook, but it was the 2012 election that showed him its potential. As he saw it, that election was defined by social media. He mentioned a set of political memes that now feel generationally distant: Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention and Mitt Romney’s debate gaffe about “binders full of women.” He thought it was a bit silly, but he saw in these viral moments a language in which activists like him could spread their message.

Provost’s page now communicates frequently in memes, images with overlaid text. “May I suggest,” began one, posted in May 2015, when opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership was gaining traction, “the first 535 jobs we ship overseas?” Behind the text was a photo of Congress. Many are more earnest. In an image posted shortly thereafter, a photo of Bernie Sanders was overlaid with a quote: “If Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more provide tuition-free college,” read the setup, before declaring in larger text, “we should be doing the same.” It has been shared more than 84,000 times and liked 75,000 more. Not infrequently, this level of zeal can cross into wishful thinking. A post headlined “Did Hillary Clinton Just Admit on LIVE TV That Her Iraq War Vote Was a Bribe?” was shared widely enough to merit a response from Snopes, which called it “quite a stretch.” (Source)

Facebook Website Ecosystem [...]

But there’s also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed. These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook, and you’ve probably never heard of them. They have names like Occupy Democrats; The Angry Patriot; US Chronicle; Addicting Info; RightAlerts; Being Liberal; Opposing Views; Fed-Up Americans; American News; and hundreds more. Some of these pages have millions of followers; many have hundreds of thousands.

Using a tool called CrowdTangle, which tracks engagement for Facebook pages across the network, you can see which pages are most shared, liked and commented on, and which pages dominate the conversation around election topics. Using this data, I was able to speak to a wide array of the activists and entrepreneurs, advocates and opportunists, reporters and hobbyists who together make up 2016’s most disruptive, and least understood, force in media.Individually, these pages have meaningful audiences, but cumulatively, their audience is gigantic: tens of millions of people. On Facebook, they rival the reach of their better-funded counterparts in the political media, whether corporate giants like CNN or The New York Times, or openly ideological web operations like Breitbart or Mic. And unlike traditional media organizations, which have spent years trying to figure out how to lure readers out of the Facebook ecosystem and onto their sites, these new publishers are happy to live inside the world that Facebook has created. Their pages are accommodated but not actively courted by the company and are not a major part of its public messaging about media. But they are, perhaps, the purest expression of Facebook’s design and of the incentives coded into its algorithm — a system that has already reshaped the web and has now inherited, for better or for worse, a great deal of America’s political discourse. (Source)

Malware Business Models for Fake Sites [...]

The vast majority of fake news sites exist in order to earn money from display ads placed on article pages. If the hoaxes drive traffic to the site, they make money. But I’ve recently seen two other ways scammers are using fake news articles to generate revenue.

The sites hosting the fake terrorist attack hoaxes detailed above weren’t trying to make money from advertising. As I reported, they sought to do one of three things: “infect the user’s computer with malware, trick people into handing over personal information, or redirect the traffic to online gaming sites in order to earn a commission.”

As banner ads become more difficult to make money from, we can expect to see scammers try new ways of monetizing fake news. (Source)

Real News As Camoflauge [...]

One of the most alarming trends with fake news sites over the last year is that some of them have started mixing in articles about actual events with their hoaxes. I first saw this on long-time hoaxer Paul Horner’s site, News Examiner. As the above image shows, he’ll publish a fake story about Obama banning the Pledge of Allegiance right next to a real story about an Olympic athlete.

The reason for doing it is that some real news stories can of course bring in traffic. But more importantly, if someone sees a story on the site which they know is true, they may be more inclined to believe an utterly false one next to it. Mixing the true and the false just muddies the waters further, and may help convince people that a hoax site is credible. (Source)

Domain Dopplegangers [...]

More and more fake news sites are popping up which use domain names similar to actual news sites:,,,, and many more. Because they infringe on the trademark, and often the copyright, of real news brands these sites don’t stay online for long. But all they need is a few days and a really big hit to earn some money. Then they find a new domain name and start all over again. (Source)

Celebrity Move as Hoax Recipe [...]

Another variation on the local viral hoax are the websites that publish fake stories about celebrities moving to a specific place in the US or Canada, or about a celebrity saying nice things about a city or town.

This hoax about Leonardo DiCaprio moving to Hempstead, New York has racked up over 16,000 likes, shares and comments on Facebook. And this one about Johnny Depp moving to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has close to 50,000 Facebook interactions.

We’re likely to continue to see new variations on the local viral hoax, as it requires far less creativity than trying to come up with new hoaxes every day. (Source)

Local Hoaxing [...]

One approach, which I recently detailed in this story, involves scammers creating multiple copies of the same hoax article about a terrorist attack killing multiple people in a city. Each article is then edited to cite a different city, with the rest of the text and headline left exactly the same.

The hoaxers publish the articles on one or several websites and then join Facebook groups focused on the locations cited in the hoaxes. Once accepted into the group, they share the link with all the members. This ensures a hoax about, say, Chicago is seen by people who live there. Those people click on and/or share the link with others in the area, thus driving traffic to the websites hosting the hoax.

When it works well the hoax will go viral locally. If you create 10 or 15 of these articles, each about a different city, you can start to generate some decent traffic. (Source)

The God Complex [...]

Economics writer Tim Harford studies complex systems — and finds a surprising link among the successful ones: they were built through trial and error. In this sparkling talk from TEDGlobal 2011, he asks us to embrace our randomness and start making better mistakes. (Source)

True Rumors Resolved Faster [...]

Part of the problem is that true rumors can be corroborated quickly, but false rumors take time to debunk. The delay between introduction and debunking allows the false rumor to spread.

True rumours tend to be resolved faster than false rumours. Our
study shows a significant difference in terms of the time it takes before true and false rumours are resolved respectively. While most true rumours are corroborated within 2 hours of the source tweet that introduces them, false rumours tend to take about 14 hours before they are debunked. This observation aligns with common sense and buttresses earlier conjectures according to which proving
that a fact is not accurate is far more difficult than proving it is true [Saunders,1984]; providing counter-evidence that disproves a statement is indeed more
challenging. (Source)

Unverified Rumor on Twitter [...]

In these figures, we can observe that tweets reporting unverified rumours are more widely spread; the percentages of unverified tweets range from 30.73% of the retweets in Ebola/Essien, to 100% of the retweets in the Putin missing story.

Retweets of inaccurate reports are especially remarkable in the Ferguson unrest (26.78%) and the Ebola/Essien hoax (69.27%). Retweets of accurate tweets can only be observed in Prince/Toronto (23.36%), Germanwings plane crash
(33.32%), Ottawa shootings (35.76%), and the Sydney siege (26.64%). Table 3 shows the percentages of retweets of each type of tweet (unverified, accurate, inaccurate) for each of the events. (Source)

Pearl Harbor Rumors [...]

Allport undertook early investigations [Allport and Postman,
1946, Allport and Postman, 1947] in the context of wartime rumours. He posited the importance of studying rumours, emphasising that “newsworthy events are likely to breed rumors” and that “the amount of rumor in circulation will vary with the importance of the subject to the individuals involved times the
ambiguity of the evidence pertaining to the topic at issue”. This led him to set forth a motivational question which is yet to be answered: “Can rumors be scientifically understood and controlled?” [Allport and Postman, 1946]. His 1947 experiment [Allport and Postman, 1947] reveals an interesting fact about
rumour circulation and belief. He looked at how US President Franklin D. Roosevelt allayed rumours about losses at the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing. The study showed that before the President made his address, 69% of a group of undergraduate students believed that losses at Pearl Harbor were greater than officially stated; but five days later, the President having spoken in the meantime, only 46% of an equivalent group of students believed this statement to be true. This study revealed the importance of an official announcement by a reputable person in shaping society’s perception of the accuracy of a rumour. (Source)

Alarming Rate of Facebook Page Disinformation [...]

Hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News. The review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left also found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.
Our analysis of three hyperpartisan right-wing Facebook pages found that 38% of all posts were either a mixture of true and false or mostly false, compared to 19% of posts from three hyperpartisan left-wing pages that were either a mixture of true and false or mostly false. The right-wing pages are among the forces — perhaps as potent as the cable news shows that have gotten far more attention — that helped fuel the rise of Donald Trump.
These pages, with names such as Eagle Rising on the right and Occupy Democrats on the left, represent a new and powerful force in American politics and society. Many have quickly grown to be as large as — and often much larger than — mainstream political news pages. A recent feature in the New York Times Magazine reported on the growth and influence of these pages, saying they “have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture.” (Source)

Elimination of Trending Stories Team [...]

Quartz confirmed from multiple sources that Facebook has laid off the entire editorial staff on the Trending team—15-18 workers contracted through a third party. The Trending team will now be staffed entirely by engineers, who will work to check that topics and articles surfaced by the algorithms are newsworthy.
Facebook maintains that trending items have always been selected by algorithms; the former editorial staff was only responsible for writing the story descriptions seen in the Trending section, according to the company. This was disputed by former contractors hired by the tech giant who told Gizmodo in May that they were instructed to manually add some stories by hand. Stories on conservative topics were routinely excluded from the Trending list even though they were popular among Facebook users, Gizmodo reported. (Source)

Safe but Incremental [...]

This challenge is not new. Physicist-turned-structural biologist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who is president of the Royal Society, worked for several years in a job with funding that was contingent on a steady stream of publications. This forced him to ask safe but incremental questions. To pursue what became his Nobel-prizewinning work (on the structure of the ribosome), he moved to another institution where he could ask the questions that interested him, irrespective of the chances for publication. As he describes in his Nobel biography, the decision required an international move and a large pay cut.

For every story like this, there are too many where investigators have made a rational choice not to pursue areas outside their core expertise. We spend so much effort trying to find our way that we risk losing the drive to apply skills to the broader world, and stick instead to the less-fulfilling security of ‘productivity’.

More bold is Eva Alisic, a psychologist and senior research fellow at Monash University Accident Research Centre in Victoria, Australia. Earlier this year, Alisic began studying how refugee children from places such as Syria cope with trauma. Her institute has supported her so far, but this research is not the safest choice for a conventional career trajectory. She told us that she would rather give up an academic career than end this line of study. If we feel that we must leave academia to better contribute to society, the scholarly endeavour is compromised. (Source)

Eve and Embedded Code [...]

The first difference you’ll notice is that programs look more like word documents than code files. Eve is designed for “literate programming” – instead of comments embedded in code, code is embedded in a document.

This gives us the freedom to organize our programs based on how we actually think, not how the code will be compiled. We can group blocks based on functionality, similarity, owner, or anything else we can think of.

More importantly though, it gives us the ability to weave a narrative of not just what the program does, but why it does it. You can write a spec and then embed the blocks of code that make it work. Someone new to the project can look at the table of contents to get a sense of what’s going on and then dig into a section to add something. Instead of constantly trying to piece the narrative back together every single time we fix a bug, we can make it an artifact of programming in the first place. (Source)

Xiaoice vs. Tay [...]

Your rudeness invites their underperformance. Abuse bespeaks a hostile work environment that undermines how bots learn. Microsoft’s Tay offers a painfully superb — and superbly painful — real-world case study of how networked abuse shapes UX. Less than a day after Microsoft research released its unsupervised machine learning twitterbot, Tay became a “chatbot from hell” — tweeting a stream of increasingly nasty, racist, and homophobic comments until Microsoft pulled the plug.

“The problem was Microsoft didn’t leave on any training wheels, and didn’t make the bot self-reflective,” Brandon Wirtz said in a recent LinkedIn article about the situation. “[Tay] didn’t know that she should just ignore the people who act like Nazis, and so she became one herself.”

By contrast, look at how Microsoft’s chatbot thrived in China’s more regulated and inhibited digital environment. Xiaoice was able to avoid Tay’s issues because Chinese digital culture effectively sanctions certain forms of expression. Where Tay is no more, Xiaoice enjoys over 40 million users in China and Japan. (Source)

Abusing Bots [...]

But because humans don’t (yet) attach agency or intelligence to their devices, they’re remarkably uninhibited about abusing them. Both academic research and anecdotal observation on man/machine interfaces suggest raised voices and vulgar comments are more common than not. It’s estimated that about 10% to 50% of interactions are abusive, according to Dr. Sheryl Brahnam in a TechEmergence interview late last year.

These behaviors are simply not sustainable. If adaptive bots learn from every meaningful human interaction they have, then mistreatment and abuse become technological toxins. Bad behavior can poison bot behavior. That undermines enterprise efficiency, productivity, and culture.

That’s why being bad to bots will become professionally and socially taboo in tomorrow’s workplace. When “deep learning” devices emotionally resonate with their users, mistreating them feels less like breaking one’s mobile phone than kicking a kitten. The former earns a reprimand; the latter gets you fired. (Source)

Snapchat Worse Than Facebook [...]

Snapchat is more reckless with addictive features than Facebook.

Currently, though, the trend is toward deeper manipulation in ever more sophisticated forms. Harris fears that Snapchat’s tactics for hooking users make Facebook’s look quaint. Facebook automatically tells a message’s sender when the recipient reads the note—a design choice that, per Fogg’s logic, activates our hardwired sense of social reciprocity and encourages the recipient to respond. Snapchat ups the ante: Unless the default settings are changed, users are informed the instant a friend begins typing a message to them—which effectively makes it a faux pas not to finish a message you start. Harris worries that the app’s Snapstreak feature, which displays how many days in a row two friends have snapped each other and rewards their loyalty with an emoji, seems to have been pulled straight from Fogg’s inventory of persuasive tactics. Research shared with Harris by Emily Weinstein, a Harvard doctoral candidate, shows that Snapstreak is driving some teenagers nuts—to the point that before going on vacation, they give friends their log-in information and beg them to snap in their stead. “To be honest, it made me sick to my stomach to hear these anecdotes,” Harris told me. (Source)

Gmail Alarm Fatigue [...]

Google acquired Harris’s company in 2011, and he ended up working on Gmail’s Inbox app. (He’s quick to note that while he was there, it was never an explicit goal to increase time spent on Gmail.) A year into his tenure, Harris grew concerned about the failure to consider how seemingly minor design choices, such as having phones buzz with each new email, would cascade into billions of interruptions. His team dedicated months to fine-tuning the aesthetics of the Gmail app with the aim of building a more “delightful” email experience. But to him that missed the bigger picture: Instead of trying to improve email, why not ask how email could improve our lives—or, for that matter, whether each design decision was making our lives worse? (Source)

Behaviorism and Devices [...]

ll this talk of hacking human psychology could sound paranoid, if Harris had not witnessed the manipulation firsthand. Raised in the Bay Area by a single mother employed as an advocate for injured workers, Harris spent his childhood creating simple software for Macintosh computers and writing fan mail to Steve Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple. He studied computer science at Stanford while interning at Apple, then embarked on a master’s degree at Stanford, where he joined the Persuasive Technology Lab. Run by the experimental psychologist B. J. Fogg, the lab has earned a cultlike following among entrepreneurs hoping to master Fogg’s principles of “behavior design”—a euphemism for what sometimes amounts to building software that nudges us toward the habits a company seeks to instill. (One of Instagram’s co-founders is an alumnus.) In Fogg’s course, Harris studied the psychology of behavior change, such as how clicker training for dogs, among other methods of conditioning, can inspire products for people. For example, rewarding someone with an instantaneous “like” after they post a photo can reinforce the action, and potentially shift it from an occasional to a daily activity. (Source)

Roots of Smartphone Addiction [...]

While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us. (Source)

False Beliefs on Voter Fraud [...]

We also found that 43 percent of Republicans believe people vote under the names of registered voters who have died, and that 36 percent believe that election officials are manipulating vote totals. We did not find very many people who believe double-voting — or someone voting twice — is common. On the other hand, rhetoric about voter suppression is not resonating with Democrats the way voter fraud does with Republicans. (Source)

Patient Zero Was Really Patient “O” [...]

For decades, Gaétan Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant who was gay and HIV-positive, was vilified as “patient zero” in the arrival of HIV in the United States. This week, that 1980s legacy is being revised — Dugas never deserved the label at all. Scientists have pushed back against this idea for years, and researchers published a paper Wednesday in the journal Nature explaining how they analyzed blood serum samples from the late 1970s — as well as Dugas’s — and found that 1) the virus has been in the country since at least 1970, and 2) it appears to have traveled here from Africa via the Caribbean. They believe HIV landed first in New York City.

Dugas, who died in 1984, became widely known as patient zero largely because of journalist Randy Shilts’s 1987 book about the epidemic, “And the Band Played On,” which emphasized Dugas’s role in the spread of the virus. But the designation resulted from a misunderstanding of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research. In cooperation with CDC investigators in the early ’80s, Dugas provided the names of dozens of his sex partners, information that was particularly useful in mapping the spread of the virus and determining that it was sexually transmitted. He was given case number 057, but he was identified also as being from outside of California, where some of the research was conducted, so he became patient “O.” That O morphed into zero over time, and the myth was born. It’s not quite a transcription error, but the case is a reminder that casual misinterpretations of data can have lasting impacts. (Source)

Alt-Right’s Overton Window [...]

“I still feel like we are faking it until we make it,” he confesses. “I mean, in some ways, you’ve got to fucking fake it. You have to project success and project power and kind of make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I do have this fear that it’s not going to ultimately get to that. We’ve gotten over the first hurdle, which is ignorance [of the alt-right], and now we need to get over the second hurdle, which is becoming a multimillion-dollar professional movement. I don’t want to go back to paleoconservatism or some intellectual white nationalism that has no connection with politics and the scene. That would be tremendously depressing.”

But he has faith in the Overton window: the idea that the range of acceptable political discourse gets defined by a safe distance between extremes. “If you want to radically shift the Overton window, you need that far-right flank for that to make sense,” he says. “Clearly, we are working with Trump in this way.” (Source)

The American Conservative Magazine and Spencer [...]

After dropping out of Duke, Spencer remained preoccupied with race while at The American Conservative, where he became an editor in 2007. Since its founding in 2002 by the paleoconservative and erstwhile presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and others, TAC had given voice to a ragtag group of Iraq War opponents, protectionists, anti-immigration activists, and Ron Paul libertarians, but Spencer was “a bit extreme for us,” recalls TAC editor Scott McConnell. After being fired, Spencer moved on to a new job as the sole editor of Taki’s Magazine, the online vanity publication of Taki Theodoracopulos, the scion of a Greek shipping magnate who was notorious for his racist remarks.

“There is something about the Asian girls,” Spencer said, after I told him that I’d discovered an interracial relationship from his past. “They are cute. They are smart. They have a kind of thing going on.”

In Spencer’s telling, he steadily evolved Taki’s into a magazine aimed at white nationalists. By 2009 he’d published essays by Jared Taylor and was regularly using the term “alternative right” in its pages to describe his youthful brand of anti-war, anti-immigration, pro-white conservatism. In December 2009, Spencer left Taki’s to start The site caught the attention of the conservative publisher William Regnery II, who’d tried to start a whites-only online dating service, and, more recently, funded th (Source)

Alt-Right Red Pill [...]

Red Pill politics posits not just that liberalism is wrong, but that it is a closed system that once debunked falls away completely as a worldview.

Years later, Spencer would through his Radix Journal help spread a metaphor used to explain the jarring experience of waking up to a different worldview. In the 1999 movie The Matrix, the character Morpheus (who is black, incidentally) offers Keanu Reeves a choice between taking a blue pill—”the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe”—or a red pill, which shows “how deep the rabbit hole goes.” In the alt-right’s telling, the so-called “normies” swallow the blue pill, digesting the fiction of racial equality, while those who get “red pilled” are stripped of the virtual-reality cloak that blinds them, waking up to the shattering realization that liberalism is just a mirage designed to obscure the hard, ugly truths of a world programmed by genetics. “You’re destroyed by it,” Spencer says, “and put back together again.” (Source)

The Alt-Right Rises [...]

For years, Spencer’s “identitarian” movement barely flickered in the dark corners of the internet on sites such as Reddit and 4chan. But Trump’s ascendancy was like kerosene dumped on a brushfire. From day one, the Republican insurgent sounded themes dear to the alt-right—his official campaign launch in the lobby of Trump Tower in June 2015, when he vowed to crack down on Mexican criminals and “rapists,” was simply the first clarion call. Ever since, Trump’s tacit embrace of the alt-right’s favorite media outlets and shrillest online voices has emboldened the movement beyond Spencer’s wildest dreams. (When Trump retweeted the user @WhiteGenocideTM this past January, Spencer responded, “Wow. Just wow.”) Regardless of the election outcome, Spencer believes the alt-right’s views will continue to seep into mainstream American politics, in the form of a renewed focus on deporting undocumented immigrants and perhaps even the establishment of a Congressional White Caucus.

In August, Hillary Clinton declared in a speech that “the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right” had through Trump “effectively taken over the Republican Party.” Watching that speech from a hotel room while on vacation in Tokyo, Spencer could hardly believe his good fortune. Suddenly his inbox was flooded with interview requests from national political reporters; in a hasty Skype call with Michelle Goldberg of Slate—a Jew, he fig (Source)

Introduction of the Facebook News Feed [...]

There has been an overwhelmingly negative public response to Facebook’s launch of two new products yesterday. The products, called News Feed and Mini Feed, allow users to get a quick view of what their friends are up to, including relationship changes, groups joined, pictures uploaded, etc., in a streaming news format.
Many tens of thousands of Facebook users are not happy with the changes. Frank Gruber notes that a Facebook group has been formed called “Students Against Facebook News Feed”. A commenter in our previous post said the group was closing in on 100,000 members as of 9:33 PM PST, less than a day after the new features were launched. There are rumors of hundreds of other Facebook groups calling for a removal of the new features.
A site calling to boycott Facebook on September 12 has also been put up, as well as a petition to have the features removed. Other sites are popping up as well. There seems to be no counterbalancing group or groups in favor of the changes.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded personally, saying “Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.” and “We didn’t take away any privacy options.” (Source)

The Cyber-Sickness of Chain Email [...]

Let me put the matter bluntly: an awful lot of the e-mailed messages zipping around the Internet are lies — and too many are being sent on by gullible, lazy friends who ought to know better.

These falsehoods are multiplying like viruses as recipients forward them to their entire list of friends without making the slightest effort to verify what’s being claimed, often with cover messages saying something like, “You HAVE to read this!”

This cyber-sickness should stop. All it takes is a little bit of common sense and skepticism, some curiosity and a few keystrokes. Nailing these lies can even be fun. (Source)

Popular = False in Chain Emails [...]

We’ve noticed that the more times something is forwarded, the more likely it is to be false. We suggested this perverse theory when we threw cold water on the claim that the United Kingdom, or the University of Kentucky, had stopped teaching about the Holocaust. E-mails about Obama, for instance, have been particularly popular – they now rank as No. 3 on’s list of the 25 Hottest Urban Legends and one rumor holds the No. 1 spot in Emery’s top 25. But only one of the e-mails these sites have examined is true – and actually only a certain version of it passes the truth test. (Source)

Dark Facebook [...]

“I AM not a number. I am a free man!” was the famous cry of prisoner Number Six, who could never escape his Kafkaesque village on the 1960s television show “The Prisoner.” This is a prescient cry for an era when numbers follow us everywhere. Jim Messina, the victorious Obama campaign manager, probably agrees that you are not a number. That’s because you are four numbers.

The Obama campaign assigned all potential swing-state voters one number, on a scale of 1 to 100, that represented the likelihood that they would support Mr. Obama, and another number for the prospect that they would show up at the polls. A third metric evaluated the odds that an Obama supporter who was an inconsistent voter could be nudged to the polls, and a fourth score estimated how persuadable someone was by a conversation on a particular issue (which was, of course, also determined by crunching more numbers). (Source)

Vandalism is Rare on Wikipedia [...]

But most edits are constructive, and vandalism occurs in only 7 percent of them, according to a group of researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Pennsylvania.

Among their findings: Most vandalism happens during school and office hours. (Source)

Shame Scams [...]

A half hour later I get a message on Facebook. “Listen,” it says, “I’m a man, and I recorded a video of you masturbating. Do you want to see it?” He sends me the video. It’s about five minutes of me masturbating.

“I have a list of your friends and family from Facebook – your mum, your sister, your cousins,” he says. “You have one week to send me to send me 5,000 euros (£4,450), or I’ll send them the video.”

I was in shock. My first thought was to send him the money immediately. But I cancel her, or him, as a Skype contact and right away I get a message on WhatsApp.

“I’m here,” it says. (Source)

Amazon’s OER Project Ran Afoul of Copyright [...]

Amazon, currently testing its new education platform, Amazon Inspire, is another company poised to step into this role. The company’s resource-sharing resembles Teachers Pay Teachers and is comprised only of free and openly licensed materials. Rohit Agarwal, Amazon’s director of education, estimates that teachers spend an average of 12 hours a week searching for resources, and he hopes that Amazon Inspire will help to streamline this process. This great goal may be helpful to teachers in the role of consumer, but Amazon has had more difficulty assessing the needs of teachers who create materials. The company has not always recognized that well-honed and polished resources are not just something teachers have lying around ready to share. Amazon Inspire’s rollout showed little regard for the work of educators when it used teacher-generated resources taken from Teachers Pay Teachers without permission. To foster an intellectual community, it is important to respect the creative output of teachers as intellectual property. (Source)

Lesson Plans vs. Materials [...]

Tracee Orman, an Erie, Illinois, high-school English teacher who creates materials about contemporary books like The Hunger Games, is concerned that the GoOpen campaign’s call for teachers to share resources freely reflects a general misunderstanding among policymakers of the difference between lesson plans and the materials the teacher uses as part of the lesson plans. Teachers write lesson plans to reflect the organization and flow, not the content, of their day-to-day classes; materials, on the other hand, are rich in content and take vastly more time and expertise to generate from scratch. For Orman, writing the two things involves separate skill sets, and asking teachers to share enough material for an entire course without additional compensation imposes a huge burden and sends the message that teacher-authors are not valued on par with textbook authors. While many teachers choose to create their own materials, it has generally been to supplement curriculum rather than design it. (Source)

Hospitable OER [...]

But then I sat at my desk, trying to open up shop, flipping through countless resources that I was truly proud to teach, and realized that not one of them could be shared without some serious editing. What I hadn’t understood before this tentative jump into the broader sharing economy was that making assignments is so much about personalization. Much of my work already had the flow of lesson plans written into the materials. Grouped lists of students names, references to specific comments in specific discussions, staggered deadlines, page numbers referring to other texts and activities, and regional jokes all littered my materials. Nothing had the gloss of the commercial. For them to be appropriate for a general audience, I had to wipe them down and make them blank slates. Selling material, or even sharing it for that matter—Teachers Pay Teachers requires all sellers to offer at least one free resource—would have been an intensive project. My colleagues kept my binders and Google Drive links, but my shop did not launch. (Source)

Oversampled Nonsense [...]

A while back, hackers linked to the Russian government stole a cache of emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and furnished them to WikiLeaks. One of those emails has generated a lot of interest in conservative circles because — conservatives say — it shows that polls are being systematically biased in Clinton’s favor.

In the email, Thomas Matzzie, an operative for the 2008 Clinton primary campaign, asked advisers at a progressive group called the Atlas Project to “recommend oversamples for our polling.” Bloggers like Zero Hedge and Gateway Pundit pounced on this as evidence that the Clinton campaign was working with mainstream media organizations to rig public polls in Clinton’s favor.

That would be a big story if it were true. But as I’ll explain below, it’s not — people were misinterpreting a banal discussion about the campaign’s internal polling.

This article is part of New Money, a new section on economics, technology, and business.
But even though the story is obviously, comically, wrong, it won’t die. It’s been circulating for days among conservative blogs and social media accounts since it became public. And its longevity points to a troubling development in our media environment.

Social media sites like Facebook have democratized the media landscape, allowing anyone to create and distribute content to their friends and family. There are a lot of good things about this, but it’s also proving to have a serious downside: Without the quality filters traditionally supplied by mainstream media outlets, there’s a lot more room for total nonsense to circulate widely.

The increasing polarization of news through social media allows liberals and conservatives to live in different versions of reality. And that’s making it harder and harder for our democratic system to function. (Source)

Vetocracy [...]

Francis Fukuyama
I coined a phrase in the book — “vetocracy,” meaning “rule by veto.” And the broader argument is that the American political system has always made it very hard for the government to actually do things because it gives a lot of parts of the political system veto rights over what the system does. (Source)

Facebook Denial [...]

Facebook executives once again Tuesday rejected the notion that the social media giant is a de facto media company.
“Facebook is a platform,” COO Sheryl Sandberg said on stage at the WSJ.D Live conference. The website has come under increased scrutiny of late following controversial decisions to censor or allow content that some users deemed offensive. The issue came to a head earlier this year when Facebook temporarily removed the iconic 1972 photo of a young Vietnamese girl running away from a napalm attack. The photo, taken by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, is credited with dramatically altering public perception of the Vietnam War.
“It’s a photo showing the atrocities of war. It’s also a naked child,” Sandberg said on Tuesday. “On the other hand, this photo is newsworthy. It has historical significance. We’ve made a decision, that we will make exceptions to our community standards for the benefit of newsworthiness.” (Source)

Lügenpresse [...]

BERLIN — When a video of two Donald Trump supporters shouting “Lügenpresse” (lying press) started to circulate Sunday, viewers from Germany soon noted its explosive nature. The defamatory word was most frequently used in Nazi Germany. Today, it is a common slogan among those branded as representing the “ugly Germany”: members of xenophobic, right-wing groups. Its use across the Atlantic Ocean at a Trump rally has worried Germans who know about its origins all too well. Both the Nazi regime and the East German government made use of it, turning it into an anti-democracy slogan. (Source)

Open Textbook Data [...]

The second-best source available on actual student expenditures on textbooks and course materials is the bi-annual survey from the Florida Virtual Campus (FLVC), which serves Florida’s state colleges, universities, and K-12 districts. Two weeks ago they released the third survey “2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey”, a study of more than 22,000 students in the public colleges and universities. This report is particularly informative for asking questions about the impact of textbook costs – what do students end up doing. That is the interesting question. (Source) [...]

Twitter has cracked down on the racist alt-right movement in the past year and banished many white supremacist leaders from the site. This has left the internet’s top trolls in search of a new way to connect with their followers. They may have found it at, a new social network platform with zero restrictions on free speech. Elle Reeve reports. (Source)

Stresses of Online Political Discourse [...]

A majority of Republicans and Democrats say the 2016 election is a significant source of stress for them right now, according to a recent American Psychological Association poll. They should probably log off Facebook and Twitter. A new survey from the Pew Research Center suggests — in a result that will surprise precisely zero political reporters who tweet — that people don’t think social media is a particularly great vehicle for political discourse. Full 59 percent of social media users say interacting with people they disagree with is more “stressful and frustrating,” while 35 percent say it’s more “interesting and informative.” And by an even more lopsided 64 to 29 percent, they say they actually find they have less in common with people they disagree with rather than say they find more in common. These frustrations are — wait for it — bipartisan. (Source)

Fastest Growing Counties Turn Out To Be Small [...]

Republicans often push a contrary argument: that the fastest growing counties in the country, for instance, went overwhelmingly for Bush in 2000. But Judis and Teixeira show why this argument is based on a crude error of statistical analysis. (That, or a tendentious interpretation.) The fastest growing counties in percentage terms turn out – not surprisingly – to be quite small. In the counties with the highest growth in absolute terms, Gore won by a solid margin. (Source)

Rats and Tools [...]

Rats have been filmed for the first time using hooked tools to get chocolate cereal – a manifestation of their critter intelligence.

Akane Nagano and Kenjiro Aoyama, of Doshisha University in Kyotanabe, Japan, placed eight brown rats in a transparent box and trained them to pull small hooked tools to obtain the cereal that was otherwise beyond their reach.

In one experiment they gave them two similar hooked tools, one of which worked well for the food retrieval task, and the other did not. The rats quickly learned to choose the correct tool for the job, selecting it 95 per cent of the time.

The experiments showed that the rats understood the spatial arrangement between the food and the tool. The team’s study is the first to demonstrate that rats are able to use tools, says Nagano.

The rats did get a little confused in the final experiment. When the team gave them a rake that looked the part but with a bottom was too soft and flimsy to move the cereal, they still tried to use it as much as the working tool that was also available. But, says Nagano, it is possible their eyesight was simply not good enough for them to tell that the flimsy tool wasn’t up to the task.

The rodents’ crafty feat places them in the ever-growing club of known tool-using animals such as chimps, bearded capuchin monkeys, New Caledonian crows, alligators and even some fish. (Source)

Wikipedia Can Save the Internet [...]

Thanks to the Web, we are able to cocoon ourselves among like-minded people and like-minded facts. Instead of finding common ground, we shout across the ideological divide — and in nastiest ways possible, because the distance of online discourse dissociates us from the consequences of our own speech.

It’s downright startling, then, to observe what happens behind the scenes at Wikipedia. Go to any article and visit the “talk” tab. More often than not, you’ll find a somewhat orderly debate, even on contentious topics like Hillary Clinton’s e-mails or Donald Trump’s sexual abuse allegations.

Wikipedia is hardly perfect — it’s known for its pedantry, sexism, and epic edit wars. But somehow, despite of all the forces dragging it toward chaos, the site has managed to carve out a space on the Internet where people can have mostly sane, mostly productive conversations that mostly converge to a version of the truth. (Source)

Wikileaks Useful Idiot [...]

Assange would not, in my view, ever knowingly be a willing tool of the Russian state: If Putin came and gave him a set of orders, they’d be ignored. But if an anonymous or pseudonymous group came offering anti-Clinton leaks, they’d have found a host happy not to ask too many awkward questions: He’s set up almost perfectly to post them and to push for them to have the biggest impact they can.
The poet Humbert Wolfe wrote, “You cannot hope to bribe or twist / (thank God!) the British journalist. / But, seeing what the man will do / unbribed, there’s no occasion to.” Such is Russia’s good fortune with Assange. If it is indeed Russia behind the leaks, as US intelligence has reported, he will need no underhanded deals or motives to do roughly as they’d hope. He would do that of his own free will. (Source)

Assange Rape Charges [...]

Those who have faced the greatest torments are, of course, the two women who accused Assange of sexual offences in Sweden in the summer of 2010. The details of what happened over those few days remain a matter for the Swedish justice system, not speculation, but having seen and heard Assange and those around him discuss the case, having read out the court documents, and having followed the extradition case in the UK all the way to the supreme court, I know it is a real, complicated sexual assault and rape case. It is no CIA smear, and it relates to Assange’s role at WikiLeaks only in that his work there is how they met.
Assange’s decision – and it was a decision – to elide his Swedish case with any possible US prosecution was a cynical one. It led many to support his cause alongside those of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. And yet it is more difficult, not easier, to extradite Assange to the US from Sweden than from the UK, should Washington even wish to do so. (Source)

WIkileaks NDA [...]

There are few limits to how far Assange will go to try to control those around him. Those working at WikiLeaks – a radical transparency organisation based on the idea that all power must be accountable – were asked to sign a sweeping nondisclosure agreement covering all conversations, conduct, and material, with Assange having sole power over disclosure. The penalty for noncompliance was £12 million.
I refused to sign the document, which was sprung on me on what was supposed to be a short trip to a country house used by WikiLeaks. The others present – all of whom had signed without reading – then alternately pressured, cajoled, persuaded, charmed, and pestered me to sign it, alone and in groups, until well past 4am.
Given how remote the house was, there was no prospect of leaving. I stayed the night, only to be woken very early by Assange, sitting on my bed, prodding me in the face with a stuffed giraffe, immediately once again pressuring me to sign. It was two hours later before I could get Assange off the bed so I could (finally) get some pants on, and many hours more until I managed to leave the house without signing the ridiculous contract. An apologetic staffer present for the farce later admitted they’d been under orders to “psychologically pressure” me until I signed. (Source)

Assange and Women [...]

Conversely, Assange often trusts strangers more than those he knows well: He dislikes taking advice, he dislikes anyone else having a power base, and he dislikes being challenged – especially by women. He runs his own show his own way, and won’t delegate. He’s happy to play on the conspiratorial urges of others, with little sign as to whether or not he believes them himself. (Source)

Lies of Wikileaks [...]

What’s often underestimated is his gift for bullshit. Assange can, and does, routinely tell obvious lies: WikiLeaks has deep and involved procedures; WikiLeaks was founded by a group of 12 activists, primarily from China; Israel Shamir never had cables; we have received information that [insert name of WikiLeaks critic] has ties to US intelligence.
At times, these lies are harmless and brilliant. When, on the day the state cables launched, WikiLeaks’ site wasn’t ready (we hadn’t even written the introductory text), the site was kept offline after a short DDoS attack, so Assange took the opportunity to tweet that the site was under an unprecedentedly huge attack to give us time to get the site together.
Six hours later, when we were done, all eyes were looking: What was so bad in the cables that someone was working so hard to keep the site offline? The dramatic flourish worked, but other lies were dumb and damaging – and quickly eroded any kind of trust for those trying to work closely with him. (Source)

Wikileaks and Russia [...]

Anti-Semitism never seemed a major part of Assange’s agenda – I never heard him say a remark I caught as problematic in this way – but it was something he was happy to conveniently ignore in others. Support for Russia or its strongmen eastern European allies was much the same: tolerable for those who otherwise are allies of WikiLeaks and do as Assange says.
WikiLeaks has never had a problem with Russia: not then, not now. (Source)

Wikileaks and Israel Shamir [...]

This shows in some of his supporters. A few days after Assange arrived with me and a few others at Ellingham Hall, an older man, introduced to us as “Adam”, turned up. Assange had invited independent freelance journalists from around the world to the country house to see cables relating to their country – usually no more than a few thousand at a time.
“Adam” was different: He immediately asked for everything relating to Russia, eastern Europe, and Israel – and got it, more than 100,000 documents in all. A few stray comments of his about “Jews” prompted a few concerns on my part, dismissed quickly by another WikiLeaker – “don’t be silly… He’s Jewish himself, isn’t he?”
A short while later, I learned “Adam”’s real identity, or at least the name he most often uses: He was Israel Shamir, a known pro-Kremlin and anti-Semitic writer. He had been photographed leaving the internal ministry of Belarus, and a free speech charity was concerned this meant the country’s dictator had access to the cables and their information on opposition groups in the country. (Source)

Hostile and Benevolent Sexism [...]

Hostile sexism is basically what it sounds like — aggressive, explicit, sometimes violent misogyny couched in the belief that men and women are locked in some sort of perpetual, zero-sum conflict. In this view, women are always trying to get one over on men, trying to snake their way into special treatment and advantages. Glick and Fiske have developed survey questions to measure individuals’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism, and those who rank high on the hostile variety agree with statements like “Most women fail to appreciate fully all that men do for them,” or “Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for ‘equality.’”


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Benevolent sexism is different. Benevolent sexists endorse a paternalistic view of the world in which women are to be cherished and protected, in part because they aren’t quite equal to men. Oftentimes, seemingly positive sentiments about women are manifestations of benevolent sexism. People who score high on this measure agree with statements like “No matter how accomplished he is, a man is not truly complete as a person unless he has the love of a woman,” “A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man,” and “Men should be willing to sacrifice their own well being in order to provide financially for the women in their lives.” A good example of benevolent sexism? All those GOP tweets following Trump’s Access Hollywood tape about “wives and daughters” (with, to be fair, plenty of progressive ones sprinkled in as well).

Glick explained that the overarching theory here is that benevolent sexism evolved culturally as a way to maintain the gender hierarchy while also allowing men to enjoy close companionship with women, consensual sex, and so on. In other words: If you adopt the stance that part of your role is to protect your wife or girlfriend and to be made better by her goodness, then you get those aforementioned perks, without losing your place in the gender hierarchy. “You’re the knight in shining armor, you’re Prince Charming — rather than, ‘You’re the oppressor,’” said Glick. (Source)

Mr. Diversity [...]

What really brought the shift was pointed criticism by a group of writers and social scientists who pointed out that Florida’s “creative class” had either failed to reverse the decline of cities that had lost their economic engines to globalization and automation, or fueled gentrification and inequality in the places where it seemed to work.
Other research revealed the conditions that create pockets of poverty, and found a downside to ethnically mixed cities: People in different groups tend to live apart. “Here’s Mr. Diversity, extolling the virtues of diversity in large cities,” Florida says. “And what comes back to smash you over the head is that large diverse cities also incubate a horrific level of sorting and segregation.” (Source)

Support for Trade Is Increasing [...]

This election featured the rise of two vociferously anti–free trade candidates in Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, which helped force Hillary Clinton (long a fence straddler on the issue) to come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is currently pushing.

The timing for this turn against trade, however, is puzzling, given that the share of Americans saying trade is an “opportunity” rather than a “threat” hit in 2016 its highest point in Gallup’s polling since the organization began asking the question in 1992. And that’s not just a counter-reaction to Trump and Sanders: The popularity of foreign trade has been high since 2013. (Source)

People Are Not Pissed [...]

The American people are not pissed at the state of the economy. At all.

They’re as happy as they were in 1984, when Ronald Reagan won a landslide reelection. They largely approve of their president. They overwhelmingly support free trade and oppose immigration restriction, and in both cases the public is becoming more pro-globalization, not less. Donald Trump won a Republican primary where turnout, as always, was low, and got as far as he did on the votes of a relatively small fraction of Americans. (Source)

Narrative Historicism [...]

Narrative Historicism uses storytelling as its method of imposing order. It inverts the standard critical structure. Rather than embedding stories in an argument, it embeds arguments in a story. The narrative asserts relevance, identifies influence and qualifies importance. It draws out nuances of personality, of moments in time, of settings and disputes and gestures. Criticism is not distant. Literary history accumulates from a litany of intimacies, from the small, day-to-day experiences of men and women of letters. Recreating those experiences is as crucial as forming arguments about them. In fact, it doubles as an argument about them. Narrative details serve critical purposes. The size and style of James Joyce’s notebooks are important. It matters not just that Ezra Pound was one of Joyce’s early allies but that he was the sort of child who would ask Santa Claus for a battle-axe and a globe. It matters not just that Sylvia Beach dared to publish Ulysses but that she was so supremely kind and yielding almost to a fault.

We can, of course, apply these methods to literary criticism itself. How it is produced, funded and disseminated shapes its content. Writing on a laptop differs from writing on a typewriter or with a pen and paper. The difference between a trade press and an academic press matters. It matters that literary critics almost always work under the auspices of universities. It matters that criticism receives the support of fellowships, grants and awards. (Source)

Phantom of Heilbronn [...]

A case of systemic error.

The Phantom of Heilbronn, often alternatively referred to as the “Woman Without a Face”, was a hypothesized unknown female serial killer whose existence was inferred from DNA evidence found at numerous crime scenes in Austria, France and Germany from 1993 to 2009. The six murders among these included that of police officer Michèle Kiesewetter, in Heilbronn, Germany on 25 April 2007.

The only connection between the crimes was DNA, which as of March 2009 had been recovered from 40 crime scenes, ranging from murders to burglaries. In late March 2009, investigators concluded that the “Phantom” criminal did not exist, and the DNA recovered at the crime scenes had already been present on the cotton swabs used for collecting DNA samples.[1] (Source)

Paradox of Unanimity [...]

Imagine a police lineup where ten witnesses are asked to identify a bank robber they glimpsed fleeing the scene. If six of them pick the same person, there’s a good chance that’s the culprit. And if all ten do, you might think the case is rock solid. But sometimes, the closer you start to get to total agreement, the less reliable the result becomes. Derek Abbott explains the paradox of unanimity. (Source)

Pre-suasion [...]

Pre-suasion works by focusing people’s preliminary attention on a selected concept — let’s say softness — which spurs them to overvalue related opportunities that immediately follow. In one study, visitors to an online sofa store were sent to a site that depicted either soft clouds or small coins in the background of its landing page. Those who saw the soft clouds were more likely to prefer soft, comfortable sofas for purchase whereas those who saw the small amounts of money preferred inexpensive models. (When questioned afterwards, the visitors refused to believe what they saw pre-suasively — clouds or coins — had influenced them at all.) (Source)

Niceties are Necessities [...]

Around the world, there are many, many places that lack the “niceties of liberal democracy.” You don’t want to live there. You would quickly discover that the niceties are more like necessities — a rule of law necessary to live a good, decent, and free life. (Source)

The Alt-Right and David French [...]

French’s adopted daughter is black and was called “niglet” and “dindu” by French’s online harassers, who also claimed his wife cheated on him with black men while he was deployed to Iraq. It’s a common charge among far-right internet trolls who often accuse others of being cuckolded, both sexually and ideologically.

French recounts how, immediately after he declined to mount an independent run for president, his wife received an email from a Trump supporter “who informed her that he knew the business end of a gun and told her directly that she should shut her mouth or he’d take action.” In another incident, French wrote that a phone call between his wife and her elderly father was interrupted by a third angry voice on the call, spurring “a brief, anxious search inside my father-in-law’s home for a potential intruder and yet another call to law enforcement.” (Source)

No. 1 Position in Google Gets 33% of Search Traffic [Study] | Search Engine Watch [...]

New findings from online ad network Chitika confirm it’s anything but lonely at the top. According to the study, the top listing in Google’s organic search results receives 33 percent of the traffic, compared to 18 percent for the second position, and the traffic only degrades from there: (Source)

VR Groping [...]

As it progressed, my joking comments toward BigBro442 turned angrier, and were peppered with frustrated obscenities. At first, my brother-in-law and husband laughed along with me — all they could see was the flat computer screen version of the groping. Outside the total immersion of the QuiVr world, this must have looked pretty funny, and definitely not real.

Remember that little digression I told you about how the hundred-foot drop looked so convincing? Yeah. Guess what. The virtual groping feels just as real. Of course, you’re not physically being touched, just like you’re not actually one hundred feet off the ground, but it’s still scary as hell.

My high from earlier plummeted. I went from the god who couldn’t fall off a ledge to a powerless woman being chased by an avatar named BigBro442. (Source)

Can Higher Education Save the Web? [...]

As an author, I’m not sure if you are reading this article online or in print. But if you are reading it online, I can tell you what is about to happen to you.

If I’m lucky, maybe you’ll like the article. Perhaps I’ll make a point that you think you agree with, then another. And if you’re like most internet users, addicted to Facebook or Twitter, it’s around the third “mmm-hmmm” that you will begin to struggle with the overwhelming question: should I tweet a link to this out? Should I share this on Facebook? You will read the article, but only half read it, with one half of your brain evaluating the Facebook-ability of this post and the other attending to its words.

This is by design, of course. As many have noted, the design of the technologies we use for the web bear more in common with slot machines than books, primed to keep us clicking, watching, and pull-to-refreshing, ever desirous to find the next new thing that everyone will be rating up.

It’s not just distraction during reading of course. Consider that fifty-nine percent of links shared on social media have never been clicked, the vast majority of users sharing articles online that they have never actually read. Algorithms that decide what we see and what we don’t produce “filter bubbles” that trap us in cocoons of homogenous opinion. Facebook’s algorithms for selecting trending stories routinely surface fake news stories, encouraging users to spread them further.

Just yesterday, I found a good friend of mine sharing a story from an anti-semitic conspiracy site. My friend is, of course, neither anti-semitic nor a conspiracist. But over the course of a long Democratic primary, he had signed up for certain Facebook pages associated with his candidate. Since content inducing anger is the most viral content, as pages and clickbait websites competed for votes over a too-long primary season the economics of clicks and shares pushed most pages further and further into enraging conspiracy charges, until my formerly liberal friend was now sharing anti-Clinton material from a pro-Putin site whose other articles were outlining the vast conspiracy of the Rothschild family in collaboration with the Illuminati.

Welcome to the internet, circa 2017.

I can’t be the only person seeing this. If you’re engaged online, you have seen this as well: formerly mild-mannered people engaging in mob behavior on Twitter, previously quiet and thoughtful people spreading conspiracy theory, originally tolerant people moving into ever smaller cocoons of thought. At the time I am writing this, we have just come through the first social media election. The results were not pretty.

Can Higher Education Save the Web?

For as long as I have been in educational tech, pundits have asked whether the web can save higher education. There’s been many waves of this, from the early techno-utopianism of the 1990s to the recent fascination with Massively Open Online Courses. In this formulation, education is calcified, creaky, rusted. The web, on the other hand, is vibrant and agile, fueled by innovation and creative destruction. The idea has been that if we could tap into the web’s vitality and innovation we could “fix” education. We could make education work somehow, revitalize it. Optimize it. Disrupt it.

But what if we have it backwards? What if it’s the web that needs saving? And what if it’s higher education that is best suited to save it?

This is not as bizarre as it sounds. Vannevar Bush, whom most consider the great-grandfather of hypertext, drew his inspiration from academic culture, with it’s dense interweaving of cross-references and annotations. Ted Nelson, the person who first applied that vision to the digital computer, saw hypermedia as way to model networks of agreement and disagreement in a way conversation could not. And the earliest users of both the internet and the web were academics, who built a culture of sharing and cooperation, founded on the best traditions of a community of scholars.

As development of web technology moved from universities and research centers to Silicon Valley in the mid 1990s, progress and innovation accelerated. But as the financial model of the web began to form around the twin pillars of advertising and monetization of personal data, things went awry. The social layer of the web provided by Web 2.0 products was a welcome addition to our shared networks, but the set of economic incentives underlying those products set the stage for the web we have today, with its pull-to-refresh addictions, clickbait conspiracy sites, and mob-like behavior.

Towards a Reflective Networked Future

In other words, academic culture inspired much of the web’s early design. And as the today’s web careens Hindenberg-like to the earth below, maybe, just maybe, it’s possible our institutions could return to save the web from its current trajectory, by envisioning technologies and practice for a more thoughtful, reflective, and inclusive online experience.

So, what would saving the web look like? How could we do it?

First, we must put digital literacy at the core of the curriculum. We spend countless hours teaching our students to navigate the world of research and published books. And yet we graduate them into a world where the vast majority of the information they consume professionally and personally will come through the internet. The literate culture of books and published articles is one of the great achievements of our culture, necessary to life-long learning, and must remain central to the education of our students. But it must be placed side-by-side with education on how to best use and critique the information environments they find themselves in on a daily basis.

Second, we need to provide the general population access to better quality information and just-in-time education. Initiatives around open access and

We can follow the examples of many open pedagogy projects, and engage our students by having them bring digital services online and use the internet to increase local community participation rather than supress it.

The current set of tools we are presented with on the web are insufficient for (and perhaps antithetical to) a digital life of the mind. As scholars, researchers, and teachers that should concern us.

Our traditional options have been to push our students away from the web as an information source or to teach them to live with its structural inadequacies. I’d propose there is a third way: make higher education an innovation center for exploring new modes of thinking with and through the web.

What do I mean here? We can look at new technologies, like distributed web annotation (a project gaining some steam in educational circles). We can adopt infrastructure projects, such as BYU’s recent move to allow students access to all their information through APIs. We can build new ways of contributing to communities of inquiry, as I have discussed elsewhere in my work on Choral Explanations.

We can, as institutions, design and develop new software that tries out heretofore unexamined opportunities for new modes of collaboration and communication (see, for example, the work of Bret Victor). We can attempt to model better networked practice as educators.

Luck Ambassadors and Education [...]

> Schüll’s book, which was published in 2013, won applause for its exposure of the dark side of machine gambling. But some readers spotted opportunities in it. Schüll told me that she received an approach from an online education company interested in adopting the idea of “luck ambassadors”. Where is the pain point for a student who isn’t getting the answers right, and what does she need to get over it instead of giving up? Schüll found herself invited to speak at conferences attended by marketers and entrepreneurs, including one on habit formation organised by Nir Eyal.

Birth of Brookings [...]

Back in August I wrote about just this topic (“How Russia’s New Defense Doctrine Is Like Fox News”). As I argued then, there is a humorous but real parallel between Russia’s response to the color revolutions and post-Soviet weakness and institution building on the American right in the late 20th century. As I argued then, movement conservatives built the Heritage Foundation as a counter to the Brookings Institution. It built Fox News as a counter to CNN and the national news networks. In each of these cases there was some truth to how conservatives perceived a playing field stacked against them. The 50s and 60s and 70s were different than the times we live in. Brookings was broadly liberal in a Cold War, establishment way. The networks too were part of a broadly cosmopolitan elite culture. That wasn’t liberal in any real political sense but it also wasn’t friendly to movement conservatism.

Yet the new institutions movement conservatives built were in most ways cartoonish replicas of the institutions they meant to counter – essentially propaganda operations stood up against public policy and news organizations which were legitimate public policy and news organizations but nevertheless inflected against the assumptions and goals of conservatism. This lack of parity was based in part on bad faith. A lot of bad faith. But I have always thought that you can’t really understand this dynamic without understanding that in addition to bad faith t (Source)

Facebook Hoax Hoax [...]

An old claim that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will give away $1,000 to Facebook users if they stop sharing “stupid hoaxes” on the social media site is going viral online once again.

Hundreds of Facebook users are sharing the message, some apparently under the mistaken impression that it is genuine. But the claim first appeared online on December 31, 2015, when News Thump, a satirical website, published an article that was meant to parody previous Facebook hoaxes, Snopes reports.

According to the News Thump article titled “Mark Zuckerberg to give everyone $1000 to stop sharing stupid Facebook hoaxes,” Facebook has developed and implemented a new algorithm to detect and track hoaxes on the social media site. (Source)

Productivity vs. Age in Foraging Societies [...]

Forager diets consist largely of foods requiring high levels of strength and skill (Kaplan et al., 2000). Meat and other important foods (e.g., tubers, larvae, honey, nuts) require extraction from a substrate (often with technology), intensive processing, and assistance from others. Hunting return rates more than double from ages 20 to 40, even though strength peaks in the mid-20s (Walker et al., 2002; Gurven et al., 2006). Lags in peak efficiency relative to peak strength have also been documented for other foods, although not as extreme as hunting and not across all food types (Bird and Bird, 2002; Bock, 2002; Jones and Marlowe, 2002; Tucker and Young, 2005; Gurven and Kaplan, 2006; Crittenden et al., 2013; Stieglitz et al., 2013). The age-profile of net food production over the lifecourse appears to be fairly consistent across small-scale societies, with some variability in the onset of net productivity (Kaplan et al., 2000; Kramer, 2005; Hooper et al., this volume). Large caloric deficits are incurred early in life, and only by the mid to late teens do individuals start producing more calories than they consume. At this point, surplus caloric production increases with age, peaks in the 40s, and then slowly declines until dropping below consumption levels once again after seven decades. High adult productivity enables net transfers from older to younger generations to bankroll prolonged juvenile dependency and to help promote transfers within generations during negative shocks (e.g., morbidity that inhibits work). These transfers increase the likelihood that juveniles reach adulthood, allow parents to rear multiple dependent offspring simultaneously, and reduce adult mortality (Lancaster and Lancaster, 1983; Jaeggi and Gurven, 2013a). (Source)

Culture War and Campaign Volatility [...]

Campaign Volatility disappears as the 1990s culture war is launched. I feel this can’t be a mere coincidence.

If you think about this, this makes sense: I may be undecided about whether I am for a particular policy or not or whether someone is competent or not. But on issues of social identification I’m pretty solid.

In a related way, as Sam Wang says “It does not seem to be a coincidence that just as campaign rhetoric has left civility far behind, opinion has become more stable than ever. For example, lots of people know how they feel about white nationalism. Their preference is pretty well set at this point.”

Pedersen Index [...]

The Pedersen index is a measure of electoral volatility in party systems. It was described by Mogens Pedersen in a paper published in 1979 entitled The Dynamics of European Party Systems: Changing Patterns of Electoral Volatility.[1] (Source)

Greater Voter Volatility in Late 1970s [...]

A 1981 article on voter volatility notes a perceived recent increase.

While there appears to be a significant amount of agreement among political scientists and political communication theorists that elections are becoming more volatile, there is a lack of consensus about the meaning that should be assigned to the volatility concept. One source of ambiguity is the hidden assumption that volatility is a unitary phenomenon with common antecedents and common consequences.

Much of the evidence for increasing volatility comes from marginal percentages and aggregate statistics. Thus there is no easy way to determine whether the trends toward voter independence, vote abstention, split-ticket voting, and declining political trust are functionally interdependent and changing most rapidly in the same
groups of people. The question of unidimensionality vs. multidimensionality is examined as a major question in the present research.

Mass Communication and Voter Volatility [...]

Television exposure predicted lower voter volatility in the 1970s.

This study attempts to explicate empirically the concept of voter volatility and to test the assertion that the use of television for political news contributes to this electoral instability. Voter volatility is defined as the level of unpredictability of election outcomes from traditional demographic and political party variables. The effects of television and newspaper exposure on each of seven volatility dimensions were examined before and after the introduction of two control variables: education and political interest. Neither the media exposure measures nor the control variables predicted to all volatility dimensions in a uniform way. Contrary to expectations, the dominant direction of television exposure’s relationships was toward lower levels of volatility. While newspaper use effects were largely in the expected direction of lower volatility, reversals were shown here as well. Education and political interest, traditionally thought to be stabilizing electoral forces, also revealed positive as well as negative relationships to various volatility factors. (Source)

Mutual Knowledge vs. Common Knowledge [...]

In logic, there is a subtle but important distinction between the concept of mutual knowledge – information that everyone (or almost everyone) knows – and common knowledge, which is not only knowledge that (almost) everyone knows, but something that (almost) everyone knows that everyone else knows (and that everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows, and so forth).  A classic example arises from Hans Christian Andersens’ fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes: the fact that the emperor in fact has no clothes is mutual knowledge, but not common knowledge, because everyone (save, eventually, for a small child) is refusing to acknowledge the emperor’s nakedness, thus perpetuating the charade that the emperor is actually wearing some incredibly expensive and special clothing that is only visible to a select few.  My own personal favourite example of the distinction comes from the blue-eyed islander puzzle, discussed previously here, here and here on the blog.  (By the way, I would ask that any commentary about that puzzle be directed to those blog posts, rather than to the current one.) (Source)

Voting Math [...]

If you are American, SSC endorses voting in this presidential election.

Andrew Gelman, Nate Silver, and Aaron Edlin calculate the chance that a single vote will determine the election (ie break a tie in a state that breaks an Electoral College tie). It ranges from about one in ten million (if you live in a swing state) to one in a billion (if you live in a very safe state). The average American has a one in sixty million chance of determining the election results. The paper was from the 2008 election, which was a pro-Obama landslide; since this election is closer the chance of determining it may be even higher.

The size of the US budget is about $4 trillion, but Presidents can only affect a tiny bit of that – most of the money funds the same programs no matter who’s in charge. But Presidents do shift budgetary priorities a lot. GW Bush started a war in Iraq which probably cost $2 trillion; the CBO estimates Obamacare may cost about $1.2 trillion. Neither of these are pure costs – Obamacare buys us more health care, and military presence in Iraq buys us [mumble] – but if you think these are less (or more) efficient ways to spend money than other possible uses, then they represent ways that having one President might be better than another. If we suppose a good president would use these trillions of dollars at least 33% more efficiently than a bad president, then this is still $300 billion in value.

So order of magnitude, having a good President rather than a bad one can be worth $300 billion. A 1/60 million chance to create $300 billion in value is worth $5,000; even the 1/1 billion chance afforded someone in a safe state is worth $300. (Source)

Suicide and the Asian-American Student [...]

This academic edge, however, comes at a hefty cost. Asian-American students have higher rates of suicidal ideation than white college students, and these pernicious thoughts translate into behavior. At Cornell University, there were 21 on-campus suicides from 1999 to 2006, 13 of which were Asian students. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Asians accounted for 42 percent of student suicides in the last 15 years. (Source)