Fake vs Real. Truth vs Lie. We make them out to be much more binary then they are, especially on the internet of 2019. And simple checklists once used for determining credibility of online sources are rather inadequate.

Can we apply some digital alchemy to better make sense of the relentless flow of information?

See how convoluted it can be to unravel what sounds like a credible claim about spiders?

Welcome to the Inversion

We will be reading (and annotating) this article in more detail for our work this week, but consider this thought from How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually (NY Magazine):

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t “truth,” but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real.

So Easy to Share

Consider how often images like this sweep through our social media streams, text messages, emails.

It looks like a little bit of social justice in action, right? Is this something you might be likely to share? It looks legit. Or harmless.

As we will see in a walk through the resource we are relying heavily on here, we can and ought to use simple-to-learn alchemy-like moves to dig a little bit deeper.

A few questions for class (and twitter):

  • How do we decide if what we read is real?
  • How quickly do we make these decisions? Based on what?
  • If it’s shared by someone you know is that enough?
  • Why is it important to know what is real?
  • When you were a younger student, how did they teach you to evaluate your sources on the internet?

So if you think shopping cars surrounding a car are harmless, think how it plays when powerful politicians retweet messages built upon images used out of context (more examples).

Or read Douglas Rushkoff’s rationale for not retweeting sensationalized tweets:

That’s why we can’t respond intelligently or compassionately to photos on a news feed. We can only react — impulsively and usually prejudicially. This is raw footage. We were not there. It may be compelling to look at — particularly if it triggers our knowledge of real racism, oppression, and violence. But this is also why we have real journalists, on the ground, skilled at investigating a story and determining what happened — so we don’t have to rush to judgment.

Knowing how to decipher, decode, and sniff out questionable shared content is a critical digital alchemy skill.

Four Moves and a Habit

Infographic from American Association of State Colleges and Universities, based on design by @eduquinn

We will be making use of the “Four Moves” approach from the Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers by Mike Caulfield who writes volumes on the topic, see for example Recognition Is Futile: Why Checklist Approaches to Information Literacy Fail and What To Do About It for examples of the Four Moves in action.

What are these moves?

What people need most when confronted with a claim that may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something Mike Caulfield has decided to call “moves.”

Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process. They are associated with specific tactics. Here are the four moves this guide will hinge on:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

And the habit refers back to the post linked above from Douglas Rushkoff about avoiding the tendency to retweet/reshare- check your emotions:

The habit is simple. When you feel strong emotion–happiness, anger, pride, vindication–and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, STOP. Above all, these are the claims that you must fact-check.

To see how one of the moves works on the shopping cart image above see the steps taken in Tracking the Source of Viral Photos. This case is a simple example how photos and video are used out of their original context in repeatedly shared stories that look “truthy” but have veered from the path of the original item.

We want you to have a sense when you are on the road into Fakeville and how to avoid that town.

Follow the examples under the “Contents” in the Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers to work through the process.

Doing the Moves

Let’s put the Four Moves into practice.

In class, we will work in small groups to apply the technique to examples from the Four Moves blog https://fourmoves.blog/ and see if you can find an origin or indicator of how reliable the original story is.

Keep track of the efforts made, sites and methods used as you go through the steps. Share the results of your efforts in the NetNarr Somniporta.

Studio Visit with Anne-Marie Scott

Our conversation tonight is with educator and technology leader Anne-Marie Scott from the University of Edinburgh. We asked her ahead of time for some thoughts about the state of the internet and her strategies for being there.

Anne-Marie Scott (Feb 12 @6:30pm EDT)

Anne-Marie Scott (Feb 12 @6:30pm EDT)

Our second studio visit for 2019 is with Anne-Marie Scott (@ammienoot on twitter. Follow her!), Deputy Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh . She is a longtime Trustee of the Mansfield Traquair Trust (a...

Anne-Marie will be joining us at 6:30pm ET (check for local time). You can watch here (and this will be the archive after the conversation):

Kean students will watch in class, but if anyone wants to join the hangout from where you are, please sign up for a seat.

What to Do This Week

We have tasks for you to do outside of class. Keep looking into the darkness!

Data Detox

We continue to work through the steps of the Data Detox program.
**This week complete Day 3 Being Social and Day 4 (Searching and Surfing) activities of the Data Detox.

Do Not Track Documentary

Take in another episode of the web documentary Do Not Track.

**Watch Episode 2 of Do Not Track this week Breaking Ad, to get a better understanding of what lies behind all this tracking we are looking at.

Accepting cookies is a part of our digital life. If we said no, would the Internet still work? Let’s trace the economic origins of online tracking.

Annotating The Fake Internet

Do a closer reading of the article we referenced in the top of this post, How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually. but this time follow this special link to get to the article.

Do you see the < button in the top right? Is that familiar? Yes, it is the Hypothes.is tool we introduced earlier. Click the button to open the tool.

No one in the world has annotated this article! Let’s change that.

Review the whole article first, then select one of the sections under headings The Metrics Are Fake, The People Are Fake, The Business Are Fake, The Content is Fake, Our Politics Are Fake or We Ourselves Are Fake that seems the most interesting to you. Add an annotation to the headline indicating you will contribute to it (see example).

The research as much as you can about the facts or statements in that section. Follow all the links. Annotate the heck out of your section to add details, resources, related details.

Add to Your Field Guide Report

Choose a web site / resource you came across in the previous activity to write up in your blog as new Field Note report.

Your short blog post should share something that you think might be useful as we work towards our goal of writing a collaborative Field Guide to Surviving the Internet Darkness.

Include in your post the link to the item with a short summary, why it is relevant, and some kind of rating (0-10 where 0 is darkest and 10 is lightest) as to how optimistic it makes you feel. Tag each post fieldguide (one word). Why? This will make it easier again for you to find your own posts in your blog, and we can all collectively see what we do as a group of alchemists.

Daily Digital Alchemies (DDAs)

Complete at least two Digital Daily Alchemy activities this week. Make sure you are including both the @netnarr account and the daily specific tag #dda*** in your responses on twitter.

And as you participate in the DDAs, note that we “track” you on the leaderboard. If you click your twitter name, you have your very own personal archive of DDA responses.

Blogging This Week

Summarize all of your activity, thoughts, fears, reflections about fake vs truth in the 2019 Internet as a weekly summary post on your blog (be sure to tag/categorize/label these posts as weeklies. Why? We can see them all here http://netnarr.arganee.world/tag/weeklies/.

Got GIF?

Fake Aubrey Graham GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Alan Levine
Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person. A 1990s pioneer on the web and early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at CogDogBlog.com. His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet. He and his dog enjoy the peace of a little home in Strawberry, Arizona.

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