Posts Tagged ‘ news ’

Crowdsourced Intelligence and You

This post should have gone up ages ago, as part of a course assignment for HUCO 510.  Sometimes you just get side-tracked.  Anyway, this week something happened that gave me the perfect topic to complete my assignment.  Enjoy.

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On May 2, 2011 Osama Bin Ladin, one of the most feared terrorist leaders in the world, was killed.  Nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, attacks orchestrated by Bin Laden, US Navy Seals successfully carried out the assassination.  A nation rejoiced.

And, as that nation rejoiced, within minutes of the news being made public on the Internet and on television, all social media websites were abuzz.  One can imagine the sheer volume of the expressions of support, opposition, incredulity, happiness, sadness, congratulations and disgust that flooded the web.  Or, one can simply search “osama” on the Twitter index.  The President would later televise an address to the nation confirming the death of the man who had been cast in the role of nemesis to an entire people and way of life.

It is during these kinds of world-changing events that the most interesting insights about our society are discovered.  Megan McArdle, editor for The Atlantic, made one such discovery, as she browsed her Twitter feed on the fateful day.  One tweet in particular caught her eye.  Being one of Penn Jillette’s 1.6 million followers, she read the following quote, apparently in response to the death of Bin Laden:

“ I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

Amid the—no doubt—millions of reactions, some of them shocking, this short sentence at least had the ring of reason.  And it was attributed to perhaps the most famous civil rights activist in North America.  A combination of Jillette’s celebrity as a performer and this level-headed response to the event in contrast to many much less level-headed responses made it viral; within hours of it going up on Twitter, many of Jillette’s followers had retweeted the quote, and it had become a trending topic on the social network, in the midst of the Bin Laden furor.  McArdle, unlike many others, did not retweet the quote, though she did initially feel the urge to pass it on.  She hesitated, however, because it didn’t “sound” like Martin Luther King, Jr.  And for that hesitation, I am sure she was later grateful, when it was soon discovered that the quote was misattributed.

Besides the end to privacy (which I’ve repeatedly discussed on this blog), another quality of modern communication technologies that we must all adapt to is the speed at which information travels.  Networks like Twitter and Facebook increase the rate of transmission exponentially.  The cult of celebrity has also found fertile earth in these virtual spaces.  If I had been the person to publish the quote on Twitter, with my 80 or so followers, rather than Jillette, the quote would not have been so popular, and the backlash would not have been so severe.  The fact that the initial tweet reached 1.6 million people dramatically increased how quickly the quote spread from that point.  So where did Jillette get the quote?

Despite some media outlets implying that he did this deliberately to mess with his followers, it seems clear now that it was accidental.  Jillette copied the quote from a Facebook user’s status update that read:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” MLK jr

In viewing this, it is clear that Jessica Dovey, the Facebook user, was adding her own interpretation to an authentic quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.  Jillette tried to copy it to Twitter, but given the 140 character limit for tweets, was forced to edit it down.  Apparently he did not realize the first sentence was not part of the quotation.  Jillette later apologized repeatedly for the tweet, stating that it was a mistake.

“Why all the fuss over this?” one might ask.  It seems that most people are upset not so much by the misattribution as they are at the criticism of the popular reaction and the media circus that has surrounded the assassination.  Dovey and Jillette, and McArdle as well, who went on to write a blog post and editorial in The Atlantic online about her discovery of the misattribution, have faced a great deal of criticism since the quote was first shared.

We live in a world of memes, in a place where information—regardless of its accuracy or authenticity—is shared at an exponential rate, and where fiction can be accepted as fact based on who says it and how many believe it.  The only thing surprising about this particular incident is that the mistake was discovered and the truth of it spread online as fast as the initial tweet did.  If it had taken a day or two longer for someone like McArdle, with a platform to spread the information, to discover the mistake, would anyone have noticed?  Probably not.  It is not like people haven’t been misquoted or misattributed in the past.  What’s noteworthy is the speed at which this particular misquote proliferated.

I find this interesting because, as I have stated, it gives evidence of how communication has changed in our society.  Many of us rely on sources like Twitter to engage with current events.  It serves us well to be reminded that, in spite of the many benefits of crowdsourced intelligence, the onus for fact-checking is on the reader.

Blogs as Records: Damage Done?

It’s no secret that I am a social media addict. My current drug of choice is Twitter, which I’ve discussed previously as part of the records management blog. As you may or may not know, I’m in the process of researching the records management issues surrounding the Edmonton City Centre airport plebiscite for a term paper, and when I checked Twitter this morning– as I’m wont to do– I was surprised by a new and interesting development in the form of links to new commentary.

A blogger claiming to be a reporter for the Seattle Times blogged about the decision by city council to move forward with the closure following the failed petition drive by Envision Edmonton. This blogger, apparently named “Darren Holmes”, put his own spin on the existing documents, facts and hearsay about the issue that portrays the council decision as some nefarious conspiracy, and casts Envision Edmonton as well as all Edmontonians as victims and dupes [1].

Some crack investigative reporting by local Journal reporter Todd Babiak revealed that this individual’s claims of authority were bogus, but not before the blog post went viral [2, 3]. This development begs the question: how do you classify blogs as records?

There are a number of issues initially that we need to consider—for the sake of brevity, I’ll limit myself to the most obvious one.  Outwardly “Darren” has no connection with the municipal government, Envision Edmonton, the airport authority or Yes For Edmonton.  Unlike the petition records, reports, proposals, letters and emails traded internally and between these organizations, Darren’s blog entry (and Todd Babiak’s column) exist outside the purview of these involved parties.  As an individual, Darren is merely exercising his right to free speech, a right we are proud to respect in our society; his is only one opinion amid a vast sea of others, and is thus, ostensibly, transient.  And yet it has indelibly made its mark within this discourse, and could be potentially damaging to other individuals and organizations (some of which I’ve just mentioned), particularly as local residents make their way to the ballot box.  So how do you classify the blog entry?  How do you control it?  Is it even worth qualifying as a record worthy of notice?  Considering the furor it created in my Twitter feed, and more generally in the community of players and swirling informational landscape surrounding the Edmonton City Centre controversy, it’s clear that it has forced itself into the debate for better or worse.

One way to deal with the blog entry as a record is to litigate.  According to Darren’s most recent update, Mayor Mendel’s representation has begun to do just that, by threatening legal action for slander [4].  Given Darren’s anonymity, the veracity of the claim is highly dubious, but such a move would certainly be an option for Mandel.  According to Babiak’s column, the Seattle Times is also concerned for being associated with Darren, particularly since no “Darren Holmes” has ever written for them.  The Times would be within their rights to sue Darren for lying about his connection to the newspaper.  Envision Edmonton should also be anxious about being associated with this person, as the episode continues to play out on the public stage, since for many readers it might seem that Darren represents their cause; since any truth to Darren’s credentials has been refuted, such an association could be very damaging for Envision.

Two more methods of dealing with the blog present themselves.  First, to respond to it in kind in a public format, as Babiak has done with his column in The Edmonton Journal.  The other is to try and ignore it; “don’t feed the trolls” is a common saying in web culture that refers to people that comment online for the sole purpose of being inflammatory.  Neither of these methods can make the blog entry go away, however, and even litigation can’t erase the impact it has already had on public perception.

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References:

[1] darrensbigscoop.  (2010, October 13.) Catching Up. Darren’s Big Scoop. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://darrensbigscoop.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/8/

[2] Babiak, T. (2010, October 13.) Blog from fake reporter doesn’t add to airport debate. The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://www.edmontonjournal.com/business/Blog+from+fake+reporter+doesn+airport+debate/3662096/story.html

[3]Babiak, T. (2010, October 12.) Anonymity, Fraud and No Fun. That Internet Thing. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://communities.canada.com/edmontonjournal/blogs/internetthing/archive/2010/10/12/anyonymity-fraud-and-no-fun.aspx

[4] darrensbigscoop. (2010, October 7.) Developer’s on Final Approach For Downtown Airport Land. Darren’s Big Scoop. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://darrensbigscoop.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/developers-on-final-approach-for-downtown-airport-land/

Living on a fish island…

((Note: I started writing this post last Friday and then just forgot about it.))

I had the strangest dream ((last)) Wednesday night.  I dreamt I was in a bubble under the sea.  Atlantis.  The décor was that of a 5-star hotel.  The Hilton Aquatique.  The soundtrack for my dream was Rush’s Limelight.

Ever since that dream I can’t stop listening to Rush. ((Well, I’ve moved back to Iron & Wine, now))

Let’s do a closing of the tabs, à la Neil Gaiman.

#1- So Archie is tying the knot.  As one twitterer put it, “it’s a sad day for lovers of crappy comics everywhere”.  Let’s be honest though.  Archie isn’t complete failure, he has some decent academics, some better athletics, he could probably make it into a nice college.  But the Andrews are your typical middle-class family, and Riverdale’s been hit just as hard as anywhere else in the US by the current economic downturn.  The Lodges, on the other hand, pretty much own Riverdale.  Archie’s just being practical.  His fiancée’s father has the connections and the money.  Not only could he get placed in a fancy school, but he might finally trade in that old jalopy for a reliable, sporty-looking vehicle.  A hybrid.  Or an SUV.  Whatever.  He’s making the smart choice.

#2-Bill #44 Twitfest.  In general, I think Twitter is a great medium within which to introduce items for political debate.  Note the following observations made by various provincial politicians: Continue reading

Mobile Gutenberg Banned for Lewdness

Eucalyptus, an iPhone app designed to make electronic texts like those on the Project Gutenberg online archive more easily accessible, was banned by Apple last week.  Apparently, among its 28,000 out-of-copyright titles, Gutenberg contains an 1883 translation of the Kama Sutra.  Nevermind that anyone can navigate to the Project Gutenberg website using iPhone’s Safari browser, or that you could obtain it via several other ebook apps.  Said Eucalyptus developer James Montgomerie to The Guardian:

“I’d never even thought about searching for it before. You have to type either “kama’ or ‘sutra’ before it appears. It doesn’t seem likely that they were searching for something else and yet it seems absurd that they were searching for that.”

Then, on Sunday, Apple changed its mind and notified Montgomerie that Eucalyptus would be sold to users (Apple backtracks on iPhone sex ban | guardian.co.uk).

Apple really needs to figure out what they want to do in terms of what should and should not be made available for the iPhone.  Clearly the recent fallout regarding the baby-shaker app has got people jumping over at Apple.  They either need to make it clear to consumers that they shouldn’t be held responsible for the content of third-party programs, or set specific guidelines for developers about what they’ll sell in the app store.  When it comes to censorship there are no easy answers, but ignoring the question until it goes away just seems irresponsible.

The Internet: Fundamentally transforming our brains

((As an aside, watching the Oscars and Wall-E just won best animated feature.))

The Guardian | The digital revolution risks changing the way we think

Jackie Ashley

…is the new way of social interaction actually changing the brains, and indeed the minds of a generation, and if so, what might that mean?

… We know from neuroscience that the brain constantly changes, physically, depending on what it perceives and how the body acts. So Greenfield suggests that the world of Facebook is changing millions of people, most of them young.

Greenfield argues that a shorter attention span, a disregard for consequences in a virtual everything-is-reversible world ((I bet sirdavid wishes it really was an everything-is-reversible world… sadly, not always the case)), and most importantly, a lack of empathy may be among the negative changes. She quotes a teacher who told her of a change in the ability of her pupils to understand others. She points out that irony, metaphor and sympathy can all be lost in cyberspace. ((I would disagree with this point; while maybe some of the nuances of the verbal medium are lost, everything that can be communicated textually can be communicated in cyberspace. So are we saying that metaphor and irony are harder to express in text? Oh, well sure, naturally that makes sense. What?))

There is also the question of identity. An intern working for Greenfield told her: “In a world where private thoughts and feelings are posted on the internet for all to see, it’s hard to see where ourselves finish and the outside world begins.” Where is the long-term narrative in a life reduced to a never-ending stream of bite-sized thoughts ((each roughly 140 characters in length))? Even clever writers end up “twittering” a burble of banalities.

… Digital culture has brought us a wider conversational democracy (good), which suffers from short attention span and is too self-referential (less good). There is no answer to this. The new world is here to stay. It is part of who we are becoming and how our minds are adapting. If you opt out of it, you cut yourself off…

On the broader points (the fact that digital communication is transforming the way we think, that the culture of the internet– in the main– promotes a shorter attention span and a penchant for self-reference) I agree with Ashley. The article is rather circular, though, presenting the argument that the most effective communication is physical and face-to-face, talking about how with the current events taking place globally we need more honest “IRL” debate, without coming right out and saying the Internet is seriously compromising the chance of this (I leave to you whether that’s actually the case or not– I don’t think so). While Ashley compliments Susan Greenfield for raising the long-term effects of digital social media, she never really gives those long-term effects any real consideration; seriously, what will happen in a world that can only communicate in 140-character blurbs when we need to solve such important problems as global warming, national security, and energy use?

But then, I’m not totally convinced that the digital revolution has the downside Ashley and Greenfield are suggesting. Short attention span, sure, but what about the thousands of bloggers out there that daily share their opinions– often carefully thought-out and meticulous– in cyberspace? What about video-bloggers on youtube, and podcasters on iTunes? …I think the big issue at stake, the most important part of us that is affected by the use of social media, is the one of identity. It’s too early to tell, I think, whether we’re looking at something greatly beneficial or mostly detrimental, but it’s important to recognize (and I think Ashley agrees with this) that whatever the changes are, we are changing the way we think by using this technology.

Anyway. To end as I began:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UblUO0LjPUg

‘New York’ Talks Twitter

Biz Stone and Evan WilliamsThis article in New York Magazine is worth a read, whether you’re a Twitter devotee, or a microblogging cynic (as a former member of the latter and a current member of the former, I can say it presents a pretty balanced picture of what Twitter is all about.) Thanks to mastermaq for tweeting it.

New York | How Tweet It Is

… From Twitter’s initial public debut as the best way to find the parties at South by Southwest in 2007, we’ve gone from hackers taking over Barack Obama’s and Britney Spears’s feeds to Republican operatives spending their post-election-malaise retreat bragging about who had more followers, to the Mumbai attacks, when users trapped in the Oberoi Hotel were transmitting messages that chronicled the ongoing madness. Twitter executives are proud of the Mumbai aftermath; Forbes called it “Twitter’s moment,” and Stone’s face lights up when it’s mentioned. “Twitter is not about the triumph of technology,” Stone says. “It’s about the triumph of the human spirit.”

I posted about Twitterers taking advantage of Twitter to communicate during the T.O. blackout a couple weeks ago. It’s a minor example compared to Mumbai, or the most recent unrest in Gaza (which has also developed a vast community of Twitterers). But for something less than two years old, and such a basic premise as fostering a culture of sharing in bite-sized bits that fit in a single text message, it’s surprising the kind of impact it has had so far, and continues to have. There’s a lot of people who study these forms of social media that look at Twitter and see something that should have been obvious– to the point of being mundane– revealed to be the next big evolution in how to interpret and disseminate information.

The reporter, Will Leitch, goes on to talk about how a Twitterer named Krums was the first to witness the crash of US Airways Fligh 1549 as it happened, and how Twitter became ground-zero for that particularly news item even as the New York Times and other news agencies scrambled to cover the story. Krums got a shot of the plane crash and his first thought was to share it on Twitter. And interestingly enough, as Leitch later discovers, Twitter didn’t even notice a spike in traffic.

“That’s only for huge shared experiences, like the inauguration, or Mumbai.” Twitter had unleashed something … and its executives were completely unaware, as its system worked on its own, without them.

Facebook Fraud

CNN.com | Fears of imposters increase on Facebook

facebook(CNN) — Without his input, Bryan Rutberg’s Facebook status update — the way friends track each other — suddenly changed on January 21 to this frightening alert:

“Bryan NEEDS HELP URGENTLY!!!”

His online friends saw the message and came to his aid. Some posted concerned messages on his public profile — “What’s happening????? What do you need?” one wrote. Another friend, Beny Rubinstein, got a direct message saying Rutberg had been robbed at gunpoint in London and needed money to get back to the United States.

So, trying to be a good friend, Rubinstein wired $1,143 to London in two installments, according to police in Bellevue, Washington.

Meanwhile, Rutberg was safe at home in Seattle.

OK, I’m only going to say this once. If you see a status message from me asking you to wire me money somewhere you didn’t even know I was going– DON’T DO IT. Seriously.

While it’s somewhat alarming that this sort of thing is happening, it’s somewhat more alarming that people are falling for it. It’s kind of like the Nigerian email scam all over again.