The different types of mis- and disinformation

From First Draft News’ post Fake news. It’s complicated there’s a useful figure that shows a spectrum of mis- and disinformation:

The scale, according to author Clare Wardle, “loosely measures the intent to deceive”.

Map these against the 8 Ps (Poor Journalism, Parody, to Provoke or ‘Punk’, Passion, Partisanship, Profit, Political Influence or Power, and Propaganda) and you start to see some mini-patterns:

New Creative Commons search in beta

Creative Commons has launched a new search tool. The search covers images from Rijksmuseum, Flickr, 500px, the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Eventually it could cover the entire Commons: approximately 1.1 billion literary works, videos, photos, audio tracks, scientific research and content in other formats. Hugely useful for web publishers everywhere.

Designing headlines to make them more useful

Nieman Lab is running their annual predictions for journalism. Melody Kramer’s piece about designing headlines caught my eye:

In other words, how can we encode as much useful information as possible in a headline? Colors, fonts, shading, size, position, pictures, interactivity, history, metadata — basically all the design elements of information encoding across multiple dimensions. Which of those are most helpful to enhancing the headline? How can we test them?

For example, could we think of a headline as something that one can hover over, and immediately see source material? Or how many times the headline has changed? Or how other publications have written the same headline? (How does that help readers? How could that help publications?)

Let’s go broader. Why are headlines text? Could they be something else? What is the most important element at the top of a page? Is it five to fourteen words or is it something else entirely?

The whole piece is interesting and (typically for Mel) full of good ideas. Later she discusses the role of text:

Do we only think of mainly-text-based solutions because of the current nature of the platforms we share on? What if that changes? How could that change? A lot of current restrictions around headlines come from social and search restrictions and it would be interesting to think about that impact and how publications might bypass them with headline-like constructs (like Mic’s multimedia notifications or BuzzFeed’s emoji notifications.) They’re take the headline space and reworking it using images. What could we use besides images? In addition to images?

This is key. We use text because, well, text. It’s demanded by the channels we use to disseminate content. As readers we can react in non-textual ways: Facebook, Buzzfeed and others allow us to offer what might be very nuanced reactions using (barely?) representative icons and emoji. But as publishers, our platforms—both those that we own and third-party sites in our extended IA—generally haven’t evolved to a point where we can implement much of what Mel imagines.

This is a shame, as there’s plenty wrong with text and how it is used. Alan Jacobs wrote a short post in November, disagreeing with another post that championed text over other forms of communication:

Much of the damage done to truth and charity done in this past election was done with text. (It’s worth noting that Donald Trump rarely uses images in his tweets.) And of all the major social media, the platform with the lowest levels of abuse, cruelty, and misinformation is clearly Instagram.

No: it’s not the predominance of image over text that’s hurting us. It’s the use of platforms whose code architecture promotes novelty, instantaneous response, and the quick dissemination of lies.

This is problematic, and brings me back once again to Mike Caulfield’s excellent take on the layout and purpose of Facebook’s news distribution:

The way you get your stories is this:

  • You read a small card with a headline and a description of the story on it.
  • You are then prompted to rate the card, by liking it or sharing them or commenting on it.
  • This then is pushed out to your friends, who can in turn complete the same process.

This might be a decent scheme for a headline rating system. It’s pretty lousy for news though.

[…]

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.

No conclusions this end, but plenty of interrelated issues to ponder:

  1. How do we (re-)engineer headlines to be more useful by revealing more information than is currently available in a few short words?
  2. How do we maintain the curiosity gap without ever-increasing reliance on clickbait?
  3. How do we continue the battle against fake news and propaganda masquerading as unbiased thought?
  4. How do we reconcile this with third-party distribution platforms that can only (barely) cope with text, and that treat content as a title and comments box only?

There’s something else in here about headlines and metadata and their role in content discovery and dissemination, and how users decide what to read and when. I was talking about this today with Richard Holden from The Economist and it’s sparked a few assorted thoughts that are yet to coalesce into anything new or meaningful. Perhaps in time.

How Google’s AMP and Facebook’s Instant Articles camouflage fake news

Kyle Chaka for The Verge:

The fake news problem we’re facing isn’t just about articles gaining traffic from Facebook timelines or Google search results. It’s also an issue of news literacy — a reader’s ability to discern credible news. And it’s getting harder to tell on sight alone which sites are trustworthy. On a Facebook timeline or Google search feed, every story comes prepackaged in the same skin, whether it’s a months-long investigation from The Washington Post or completely fabricated clickbait.

Another unintended consequence of the homogenised/minimalist publishing platform movement. See also: Medium.

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.

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 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.)

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.

Publishers stop using chumboxes

Sapna Maheshwari and John Hermann’s article for the NYT, Publishers Are Rethinking Those ‘Around the Web’ Ads:

Usually grouped together under a label like “Promoted Stories” or “Around the Web,” these links are often advertisements dressed up to look like stories people might want to read. They have long provided much-needed revenue for publishers and given a wide range of advertisers a relatively affordable way to reach large and often premium audiences.

But now, some publishers are wondering about the effect these so-called content ads may be having on their brands and readers. This month, these ads stopped appearing on Slate. And The New Yorker, which restricted placement of such ads to its humor articles, recently removed them from its website altogether.

Among the reasons: The links can lead to questionable websites, run by unknown entities.

Sounds pretty terrible for readers. Just listen to Matt Crenshaw, VP of product marketing at Outbrain, one of the companies selling these terrible ads:

“As this space has grown up, this is becoming a very significant percentage-wise revenue source for publishers. We have been told from major, major publishers that we have become their No. 1 revenue provider,” he said, declining to name specific companies.

Herrman’s erstwhile colleague at the Awl, John Mahoney, previously produced an excellent and complete taxonomy of internet chum, the term given to these awful pieces of shit.