Battling fake news with schema.org

More from The Economist, who’ve made a prototype of a tool that estimates the standing of a publisher based on the data about themselves that they make available using structured data:

In simple terms, here’s how our idea works from the perspective of a news reader: imagine that you stumbled upon an article via social media or search. You’ve never seen this site before and you have never heard of the publisher. You want to be able to validate the page to make sure the organisation behind the news is legit. You simply enter the URL of the page into our tool and it produces a score based on how much information the publisher has disclosed about itself in the code of its web page.

A few immediate thoughts:

  • This wouldn’t be impossible to game, but the extra work involved might make it slightly less easy or appealing to pull the web equivalent of the Twitter egg account move: set up a basic WordPress site with no information with the sole purpose of writing and sharing fake news stories for ad revenue.
  • As well as being an end-user action, platforms could adopt some of these checks (among many, many other signals) when determining how to rank content in news feeds and search results.
  • It could also be a quality factor for ad networks when determining where to place adverts.

Confessions of an Instagram Influencer

On Bloomberg, Max Chafkin (with a little help from a couple of agencies) turns himself into one of those horrible Instagram lifestyle/fashion brand-human-hybrids:

A week later, after a haircut the price and duration of which I refuse to share, I met Marcel Floruss and Nathan McCallum, two of Socialyte’s professional clients, at Lord & Taylor to borrow some outfits. The two men are opposites in almost every way. McCallum is compact and favors ripped jeans and piercings, and Floruss is lanky and clean-cut. Both are cartoonishly handsome, and both (I noticed this later when I checked out their Instagram work) have amazing abdominal muscles. “Constantly,” Floruss said, when I asked him how often he takes pictures of himself. “You sell part of your soul. Because no matter what beautiful moment you enjoy in your life, you’re going to want to take a photo and share it. Distinguishing between when is it my life and when am I creating content is a really big burden.”

[…]

By dinnertime, I’d posted a second picture and had acquired a few dozen likes and roughly three followers. That’s actually not bad for somebody with an almost nonexistent presence on Instagram, but it was discouraging to me, because I would need at least 5,000 followers to have any hope of making money. That night, I signed up for a service recommended to me by Socialyte called Instagress. It’s one of several bots that, for a fee, will take the hard work out of attracting followers on Instagram. For $10 every 30 days, Instagress would zip around the service on my behalf, liking and commenting on any post that contained hashtags I specified. (I also provided the bot a list of hashtags to avoid, to minimize the chances I would like pornography or spam.) I also wrote several dozen canned comments—including “Wow!” “Pretty awesome,” “This is everything,” and, naturally, “[Clapping Hands emoji]”—which the bot deployed more or less at random. In a typical day, I (or “I”) would leave 900 likes and 240 comments. By the end of the month, I liked 28,503 posts and commented 7,171 times.

John Tucker’s zine-making history

Internet pal John Tucker:

I began making zines when I was a student in Manchester. I moved to Manchester aged 20 as a feckless Welsh lump with no discernable skills and underwent a four year larval process that produced a half-decent laboratory scientist and a reasonably capable self-publisher. Here’s how I did the second of those two things.

This is a great post, walking though John’s previous zine projects, working out that the creative process isn’t ‘the real work’:

Thinking back on this hard, I remember every step in the process feeling like the “real work”; drawing the damn thing, that’s the real work! The pure, creative process of putting ideas to page, right? Wrong. As difficult as that is, that is – at least – the thing that people will picture you doing if they ever pick it up and read it. The real work comes after. There is nothing creative about waiting in a dry print-shop reception for the thing to be pulled from a memory stick and onto a thousand individual sheets of paper, nor is there anything artistic or divine about operating a guillotine or a stapler. And there is certainly no creative majesty in cycling around Manchester, red-faced and annoyed. I definitely remember a few points on the dropoff route – chaining my bike to a guard rail for the fifteenth time, sweating out the cigarettes I’d rattled off to get through it (I was also intensely unfit at the time, largely due to the cigarettes) – feeling like this was, in fact, the real “work”. Which of course it was. Without the last push through all the shit, you remain one of those people who’s been threatening a zine for years and never goes through with it. As horrible as it is to have InDesign crash for the third time, taking your layouts with it, that’s what you have to do to do things, and not just be somebody who gives it the big one but still has the default GoDaddy page on their website.

Jumping to the conclusion (which you shouldn’t, you should read it all):

In conclusion to this year’s iteration of this post, making your own publications is a satisfying, infuriating, cathartic, horrible, wonderful enterprise. If you want to frustrate yourself smart about something – anything – then learning by doing is really the only way. If you’ve been considering self-publishing, it’s definitely doable – I’ve done it, and I’m definitely not the least qualified or most delusional person who’s ever done it. And as much as doing it sucks, it sucks a lot less than not doing it.

Here’s an Instagram time-lapse video of one of the pieces in John’s latest work, Handsome Devil Tattoos, a collection of illustrated tattoo concepts based around the work of Morrissey and The Smiths. I’ve got a copy and it’s great:

The most valuable Nintendo game

Justin Heckert, writing for ESPN about the NES game Stadium Events:

None of this would’ve happened had Jennifer Thompson not gone thriftin’. This was in April 2013, and she was browsing clothes and $1 DVDs at the Steele Creek Goodwill in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, when she noticed it behind the glass counter. The video game title sparked a memory, a Yahoo article about the rarest games in the world. Jennifer carefully drove her ’99 Honda Accord across the street to McDonald’s, just to use the restaurant’s Wi-Fi to make sure she hadn’t been wrong. She then crossed the street again and purchased the game for $8 from the $30 she had in her bank account, praying the clerk wouldn’t recognize what it was and stop her.

When she took it for validation to a used video game store in Charlotte, the young man behind the counter rustled open the plastic bag and beheld the game — pristine in its cardboard box covered by much of the original cellophane — coughing the words “Oh my god.” He offered her all the money in the register for it. She turned him down.

I know a fair bit of Nintendo history and lore, but hadn’t ever heard of this game. The story is an interesting one, with a nice twist when someone has the opportunity to flood the market and eliminate the game’s value.

On a related note, I’m stupidly excited for the forthcoming Super Mario Run for iOS.

The Economist’s Medium experiment

Adam Smith, The Economist’s Deputy Community Editor, writing about Medium on Medium:

Since we were new to Medium, and publishing there in order to find people who were new to us, we decided not to promote our publication on other social platforms. After connecting our Twitter account to our Medium user account — to capture our Twitter followers who also use Medium as followers on Medium — we didn’t drive any traffic to it from Twitter. Or even Facebook. We wanted to see the publication grow organically within Medium.

[…]

The crucial number is how many new people saw our content. We totalled up the page views for Democracy in America on our website and on Medium. Those on Medium represented around 5% of the total. We’re happy with this. Think about all the infrastructure in economist.com, such as all the other content we publish there beyond that single blog, and the fact that we drive so much social traffic to it all day every day. Economist.com is very busy and heavily used. Our Medium publication was publishing one post per day at most and received no promotion. So we think that 5% number looks pretty good: within that 5% are thousands of people who would not have consumed Economist content if they weren’t on Medium.

These seem reasonable numbers and it’s inspired me to start republishing some of OpenLearn’s longer-form articles to Medium.

(Also, of course his name is Adam Smith.)

Cooperation against fake news

I’ve spent the past few days reading almost exclusively about the rise, dissemination and impact of fake news.

It’s not a new topic—I’ve enjoyed reading John Hermann, Mike Caulfield, Caitlin Dewey and Jeff Jarvis (among others) for some time. But Trump’s victory has turned it from a curiosity into a dangerous force.

Jarvis has co-written a list of 15 suggestions for platforms to adopt or investigate. This stands out to me as particularly important:

Create a system for media to send metadata about their fact-checking, debunking, confirmation, and reporting on stories and memes to the platforms. It happens now: Mouse over fake news on Facebook and there’s a chance the related content that pops up below can include a news site or Snopes reporting that the item is false. Please systematize this: Give trusted media sources and fact-checking agencies a path to report their findings so that Facebook and other social platforms can surface this information to users when they read these items and — more importantly — as they consider sharing them. Thus we can cut off at least some viral lies at the pass. The platforms need to give users better information and media need to help them. Obviously, the platforms can use such data from both users and media to inform their standards, ranking, and other algorithmic decisions in displaying results to users.

These linked data connections are not difficult to implement but they won’t happen without us asking for them. Platforms simply aren’t interested.

Same for this idea, also on the list:

Make the brands of those sources more visible to users. Media have long worried that the net commoditizes their news such that users learn about events “on Facebook” or “on Twitter” instead of “from the Washington Post.” We urge the platforms, all of them, to more prominently display media brands so users can know and judge the source — for good or bad — when they read and share. Obviously, this also helps the publishers as they struggle to be recognized online.

A key issue that Caulfield has repeatedly noted is that Facebook doesn’t really care whether you read articles that are posted; just whether you react to them, helping the platform learn more about you, in order to improve its ad targeting:

Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t think the content is the main dish. Instead, it monetizes other people’s content. The model of Facebook is to try to use other people’s external content to build engagement on its site. So Facebook has a couple of problems.

First, Facebook could include whole articles, except for the most part they can’t, because they don’t own the content they monetize. (Yes, there are some efforts around full story embedding, but again, this is not evident on the stream as you see it today). So we get this weird (and think about it a minute, because it is weird) model where you get the headline and a comment box and if you want to read the story you click it and it opens up in another tab, except you won’t click it, because Facebook has designed the interface to encourage you to skip going off-site altogether and just skip to the comments on the thing you haven’t read.

Second, Facebook wants to keep you on site anyway, so they can serve you ads. Any time you spend somewhere else reading is time someone else is serving you ads instead of them and that is not acceptable.

The more I read about this, the more dispirited I become. The those of us who care about limiting fake news need to gather around a set of ideas and actions—Jarvis’s list is the best we have so far.

How social media broke our democracy

Mike Caulfield:

I could not sleep last night at all. So I organized my notes I’ve been taking over the last year on the problem of doing politics in distributed feed-based systems.

I know this election was about so much more than that (so much more), and our problems are so much deeper. But I remain convinced that even if social media is not the fire or the fuel of Breitbartian racism it is in fact the oxygen that helps it thrive and spread.

There are 537 pages of notes in this PDF, and it may not be immediately clear what each has to do with the book, but in my head at least they all relate. They are worth a read.

[pdf]

Wow—this is fantastic, and exactly what I was getting at in my earlier post about indiscriminate collecting. I’ve started using DEVONthink to collect and organise my notes and web clippings. I hope to get to a point where I have a similar collection. Not only does it help my understanding of concepts, but it enables me to make unexpected connections between them.

Explore religious buildings in London: 360° videos

I’ve just completed a video project for The Open University where viewers take a guided tour round 7 of London’s principal religious buildings in full 360° detail. The videos are embedded at the bottom of this post.

Why we made the videos

Here’s what Prof. John Wolffe, an academic I worked with, said:

These short videos are designed to replicate on screen the experience of visiting seven of London’s principal religious buildings through the use of 360° technology. Each building is introduced by a leading member of the community associated with it.

Although Christianity has long lost its historic religious monopoly, it remains the largest religious tradition in London, and has indeed seen some resurgence in recent years. Hence three out of the seven buildings are Christian ones. St Paul’s Cathedral represents the Church of England, still the national church with residual ties to the state although actively supported only by a minority of London’s Christians. Westminster Cathedral and Jesus House represent the two numerically largest Christian groups, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals. The latter have grown particularly rapidly since the turn of the millennium.

The other four buildings represent London’s (and the UK’s) four largest religious minorities. The early eighteenth-century Bevis Marks Synagogue is a striking physical reminder that religious diversity has a long history in this country dating back to the readmission of the Jews in 1656. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have also had a longstanding presence in London, although major purpose-built places of worship such as the Neasden Temple, the East London Mosque and the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara have only appeared in recent decades.

These buildings offer just one approach to the study of religion. They do however enable one to begin to appreciate some comparisons and contrasts between major traditions. To take the study further one needs, among other things, also to be aware of the countless smaller and inconspicuous places of worship to be found all over London and other towns and cities; to look at the rituals and practices taking place both in these buildings and in many other places; to understand the role of sacred texts and images in religious life; and to reflect on the nature and significance of religious experience. We should also balance the rich ‘insider’ perspectives offered in these videos with more detached academic analysis and remember that the rich internal diversity of religious traditions means that other ‘insiders’ might have different perspectives from the speaker in a particular video.

These films therefore serve as a ‘taster’ for a new Open University module, A227 Exploring Religion: Places, Practices, Texts and Experiences which will be offered from autumn 2017, and will pursue all these issues in depth.

Issues with publishing and embedding

This was a fun project! Despite the hype around 360° videos, there remains several issues with publishing and embedding them on OpenLearn, the OU’s site for free learning:

  • The videos display correctly when played on YouTube on desktop machines in Chrome.
  • On mobiles and tablets, they work fine in the YouTube app, but not on mobile browsers. They display in their ‘unstitched’ state. Imagine the 360° video as a sphere, then flatten it out. It’s not attractive or useful.
  • Even on a desktop, when the YouTube videos are embedded on a site, they usually (but not always) display unstitched.
  • Uploading them to Facebook helps! They can be embedded on other sites without any noticeable problems on desktop browsers. Except…
  • They don’t play in mobile browsers. The videos don’t even appear.
  • Another option is to use Google VR, but there are more bugs and issues for various browser/OS combinations.
  • OpenLearn itself isn’t responsively designed, making it harder for mobile users in general. We’re addressing this as part of a relaunch and redesign later this month.

It turns out that making 360° for all users is harder than the platforms would have you believe. There doesn’t seem to be a single way to present the videos to all users across all devices.

I’ve had to include some clunky advisory text on the OU site that some people probably won’t even notice. I’m yet to widely promote the videos on OU accounts until I can find an better way to do this.

Watch the videos

So, the videos below are embedded from Facebook. If you’re using a mobile or tablet, they may not play correctly or display at all. You can try opening the YouTube playlist in the YouTube app.