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Category Archives: Social Media

Nalaka’s take on responding to ‘fake news’

At a forum on Media and Development in Berlin yesterday, my friend Nalaka Gunewardena (who moderated a discussion) brought on a fresh perspective to the problem. It’s not about the tools per se that we could use to fight Fake News. It’s also about education, alliances and policy reform, .

We must also look for the symptoms in the loss of trust in journalism, he said. The need is to build structures that enhance and nurture quality journalism. In other words, create trustworthy messengers before trying to fix (or block) the pipes through which the messages flow. Plus the need to influence policy and literacy.

This is a lot more nuanced than just clamping down on media platforms or discrediting the sources – reactive steps.

So let’s get pro-active about a problem that didn’t arrive yesterday, and won’t go away soon.

I encourage you to read Nalaka’s post about this.

 

 

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Trolls, bots, and memes become parents’ new nightmare. So what’s the solution?

A friend recently asked me if someone should be putting together a source for parents who have to address so much in the lives of their digital natives. I have a few go-to websites that we use as teachers, but was struggling to find a good hand book.

First two of the best web-based resources I recommend.

COMMON SENSE MEDIA – This is a wonderful, deep trove of information that is updated with plenty of topics (plus short videos) on such from phone addiction, and fake news, to privacy tips and how to navigate the difficult world of plagiarism, copyright, password protection, oversharing etc.

EDUTOPIAAnother great place for articles on technology skills such as coding, academic skills being taught such as note-taking, problem-solving, state standards, digital citizenship etc.

But the reality is that almost every week, children are bombarded and confused by new issues. One week it’s plagiarism, the next it is memes, and add to that the constant misinformation through bots and trolls, followed by the news related to cyber-bullying or inappropriate behavior that pops up on TV or their social media feeds. The search engines and social media platforms are often gamed by bots, and tricked by pranksters, but who has time to inform the kids about these fast-moving events?

So the sad thing, as I had to tell my friend, was there is no handbook. Just like there was no user-guide when we first got onto the early Internet. However that Internet was a place we went to, consciously logging in to it, or “dialing up” to it. Today, that place isn’t somewhere we visit – it visits us. Students who grow up with it have to navigate it on their own. It’s like giving them the keys to the car, before they go to driving school, expecting things to be alright on the road.

But of course there is one user-guide. It’s unpublished. It’s called Parenting.

 

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Cyber-warfare – a new definition is overdue

Used to be that cyber war was considered actions of an adversary to take down a system using the Internet. Like crippling a financial system, hacking into and holding hostage a web site, compromising power and communication grids etc. That definition  is really old now!

As authorities uncover Russian interference – specifically the work of trolls, fake social media accounts, and even advertising piped through Facebook, Twitter and Google – we should understand that cyber warfare is more subtle, and has outgrown the old definitions. It is about disrupting the behaviors, and messing with the minds of citizens. Before we show our irritation with foreign culprits, we should be unhappy with how we citizens are easily manipulated by what is online.

The glue that holds us together appears to be easily dissolved by what passes for ‘information.’ As the Philadelphia Inquirer story reveals, we are experiencing high-tech cracks and wedges to undermine us. They worked because of a critical mass of people who unthinkingly re-tweet and share posts and sponsored content. Content that few care check where the source of the post is.

Consider this sponsored ad (featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer story). It looks so silly, and poorly crafted that you’d think any person with some common sense would not even read it, let alone pass it along to others. Variations of these include chain-letters, and memes that no one knows the origin, but often accompanies a statement like “Could I hear an amen?”

For the record I never respond with an amen, for two reasons. The word is a statement of approval or concurrence reserved for prayer. It’s not the linguistic equivalent to the Like button. Also, someone’s rant does always not require public approval to make it more valid. You can still be a friend whether or not you agree with someone’s pet peeve. And for heaven’s sake (pun intended), don’t Like or re-tweet this post unless you a read it in its entirety.

Cyber war is no longer just about attacking hardware or infrastructure. It’s about unhinging us through the things that pass through the pipes that connect our hardware. It’s not about a denial of service, but about a denial of common sense.

 

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Fighting Technoference? Buy a goldfish

I brought up the word earlier –Technoference. It’s one of those Urban Dictionary words that smacks us in the forehead but eventually creeps into our vocabulary –like ‘Dweeb,’ ‘Fudgel’ and ‘Thunking.’  So I decided to devote my Nov column in LMD magazine to it.

So what’s Technoference, you ask?

Besides having to actually read the damn column, I’m betting you already experienced it. Have you ever had a conversation with a teenager, only to have her pause you in mid-sentence and pull out a phone to fact-check something? Thought so!

Once you get off your Snapstreak, let me know your thoughts on it.

 

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Starry, starry, nights worth watching!

No, not Vincent’s. This is courtesy of the heavens. Particularly the meteor shower from Orion, and debris from Halley’s comet.

Of course one must stay up past midnight until dawn on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately one needs less light pollution to experience the shower.

I’m interested in this because, by some coincidence, around the week of my annual SPACE DAY event in school, we always seem to have a gift from above. It puts things in perspective.

For best places to watch,you could check this ‘Dark site finder.‘  Unfortunately Phoenix area, and Colombo, seem not dark enough.

 

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Social Media

 

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How indispensable could Alexa be?

I have been curious about Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, purely from a tech perspective. Also it’s interesting to keep an eye on where AI is going. It’s easy to be cynical, because a piece of always-on hardware that ‘listens’ to everything going on in your home all day is well, a bit creepy.

Not that it worries millions of iPhone users who also have an AI agent, Siri, just waiting to be asked something.  But these devices are prone to being hacked, besides invading one’s privacy. (I know of several people who have a sticker over the camera on their laptop lid, for good reason. Hey, Facebook’s Zuckerberg does!)

So a few days ago I tested Alexa in a friend’s home. He’s been using it a lot –he asks Alexa what’s the best route to work, and to play music off his playlist etc. I asked Alexa a simple question, “Alexa, How long will it take to get to the Moon?” Without missing a beat Alexa responded with an answer (3 days) qualifying it with something about development of rocketry. The next few questions a bit predictable, such as asking for the bio of a country singer, and to play some of Keith Urban’s music. When Alexa got stumped, it was probably my accent, or it did not get the context right.

But my friend says he asks Alexa to add items he will need in the store to his shopping cart, and picks up the list on his phone when he is in the store. He recently installed a smart thermostat so it is feasible that one day he could ask Alexa to change the temperature (and his wife could ask Alexa to change it back!) But as we brainstormed how it might change our lives I wondered, once the fascination (of talking to a piece of hardware) wears off, if we might find Artificial Intelligence too useful to ignore.

For instance, I would love to be able to ask Alexa or Google Home to:

  • Forward my article to LMD magazine, but please change the last sentence to (and I could dictate it). It would save me from logging back onto the computer, and opening my email etc.
  • Send a Text alert to my friend in Worcester (whose phone number I have forgotten) about an upcoming event
  • Buy a copy of a (name title of book) from Amazon, use Prime, and pay for it with my gift card, not a credit card.
  • Print a copy of my recent Lesson Plan on a black-and-white printer, double-sided, on Monday morning by the time I get to school

Will that day come soon? Are we there now? Is this too much information to be put out there in the cloud? Will Keith Urban send my daughter an autographed T-shirt? Just kidding!

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Social Media, Technology

 

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When a speech gets waterlogged.

Pity the speechwriter on the White House payroll. I envision the person banging his or head on the keyboard, every time the boss speaks. The most recent being Trump’s description of relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this. This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.”

Trump’s speechwriter must be probably wondering:

  • Why state the obvious in a tragedy caused mostly by water?
  • Why heap on adjectives such as ‘big’ and ‘ocean’?

“This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean.”

Perhaps he believed that things might have been different had it taken place in a small ocean? Leaves us scratching our heads if it’s possible the real estate mogul knows of some islands surrounded by something other than water? (Blue Gatorade, perhaps?)

Whatever it is, my sympathies go out to Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior speechwriter, who’s probably right now trying to tell the boss to stick to the teleprompter. Or at least run a phrase through a cliché-extracting machine.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2017 in Media, Social Media

 

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