A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Culture Category

The lovely, lovely First Draft Coalition has been doing some excellent work in unpicking the roots of the real “Fake News”, before that phrase got co-opted. In particular, research director Claire Wardle has expended on work by Elliot Higgins to define the reasons why people create misinformation and disinformation, taking his “4 Ps” up to “8 Ps”:

  • Poor Journalism
  • Parody
  • to Provoke or ‘Punk’
  • Passion
  • Partisanship
  • Profit
  • Political Influence or Power
  • Propaganda.

Our consistent vulnerability

Misinformation and Disinformation

Why is this so important? Readers of this blog are surely intelligent, critical thinking people of the world, not prone to being influenced. Well, you more be more vulnerable than you think, as Claire points out:

When messaging is coordinated and consistent, it easily fools our brains, already exhausted and increasingly reliant on heuristics (simple psychological shortcuts) due to the overwhelming amount of information flashing before our eyes every day. When we see multiple messages about the same topic, our brains use that as a short-cut to credibility. It must be true we say — I’ve seen that same claim several times today.

Any student who has had the misfortune to come in my orbit for the last couple of years has had verification as a critical skill drummed into them, and journalists are a key part of that. But we need a more sceptical, more critically thinking populace, too:

We all play a crucial part in this ecosystem. Every time we passively accept information without double-checking, or share a post, image or video before we’ve verified it, we’re adding to the noise and confusion. The ecosystem is now so polluted, we have to take responsibility for independently checking what we see online.

And the work First Draft are doing to understand and unpick the ecosystem are a useful weapon in this fight.

Dale Beran has written a fascinating and compelling long read, drawing a direct line from 4chan springing to life from Something Awful’s forums, to the rise of Trump.

And the bridging factor? Milo. He took the GamerGate movement and connected it up with the burgeoning alt-right via Breitbart, effectively giving Trump another demographic in his electoral coalition. And he did it by battening onto what the Anons were most ashamed of, and making them proud of it:

Here Yiannopoulos has inverted what has actually happened to make his audience feel good. Men who have retreated to video games and internet porn can now characterize their helpless flight as an empowered conscious choice to reject women for something else. In other words, it justifies a lifestyle which in their hearts they previously regarded helplessly as a mark of shame.

It leads to the fascinating conclusion that this part of Trump’s base know that he wasn’t deliver for them – but that’s OK, that’s what they expect. They’re just in it for the lulz.

4chan’s value system, like Trump’s ideology, is obsessed with masculine competition (and the subsequent humiliation when the competition is lost). Note the terms 4chan invented, now so popular among grade schoolers everywhere: “fail” and “win”, “alpha” males and “beta cucks”. This system is defined by its childlike innocence, that is to say, the inventor’s inexperience with any sort of “IRL” romantic interaction. And like Trump, since these men wear their insecurities on their sleeve, they fling these insults in wild rabid bursts at everyone else.

I was familiar with many elements of this story – but I’ve not seen them so well connected before.

Seth Godin:

The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.

There’s nothing more “get off my lawn, damn kids” than decrying dumbing down – but this a cogent and persuasive version. Thought-provoking.

It’s entirely wrong, and it’s the road back to the cave. The way we got out of the caves and into modern civilisation is through the process of understanding and thinking. Those things were not done by gut instinct. Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something. You’re not necessarily right – but you’re more likely to be right than someone who’s not spent their life studying it.

Professor Brian Cox, quoted in *The Guardian*

Fake New York Times story gets over 50,000 views

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need to teach critical thinking:

A webpage that masqueraded as a New York Times article and claimed that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had endorsed Bernie Sanders for president circulated widely on social media on Monday.

The fake news article, which mimicked The Times’s typefaces and design and included the bylines of two of the newspaper’s political reporters, appeared with the headline “Warren Endorses Sanders, Breaking With Colleagues.”

And by “circulated widely” they mean “50,000 views and 15,000 shares”. We’re so programmed to take something easily mimicked – a site design – as a mark of authority, that we can be fooled.

(I wonder how many hastily-deleted “aggregation” rewrites of it there are?)

Tinder rates the desirability of its users with an algorithm

Tinder is judging you:

You might not realize it, but anyone who’s used the popular dating app is assigned an internal rating: a score calculated by the company that ranks the most (and least) desirable people swiping on the service. The scores are not available to the public, but Tinder recently granted me access to my own—and I’ve regretted learning it ever since.

There’s a small part of me that wishes I’d had something like Tinder when I was a 20-something. It would have helped me deal with my crippling nervousness about admitting that I fancied someone – and I’d certainly have got laid more often. But stuff like this makes me very glad I married before the rise of the dating app.

Imagine Tinder selling on this data, so people can target the “desirable elite”…

The social networks of Star Wars, visualised

Some of us are looking forward to Christmas, and some of us are looking forward to the new film in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens. Meanwhile, I decided to look at the whole 6-movie cycle from a quantitative point of view and extract the Star Wars social networks, both within each film and across the whole Star Wars universe.

Movies, social network analysis and data visualisation, meet they do.

Why really bad decisions get made about open plan offices

It’s because the people making the decision don’t have to use the space:

Let’s start with the fact that the folks often making the space decision are managers who already don’t spend much time at their desk because they are, by necessity, in meetings all day. They’re already in a quiet and private conference room where they can focus on the task at hand. They (we) don’t intimately understand the daily tax of constantly being interrupted because they (we) are not living it on a daily basis.

The genius that is Carrie Fisher

Probably the best thing about The Force Awakens right now, is that fact that it’s brought Carrie Fisher back into the public eye:

When asked about losing weight for the movie, Fisher threw the question back at Robach, calling the topic “a stupid conversation … but you’re so thin, let’s talk about it. How do you keep that going on?” Meanwhile, Fisher’s beloved bulldog Gary sat on a separate director’s chair with his giant pink tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. (Fisher: “The tongue wasn’t out of his mouth before he saw the movie, and now…”) At one point, Fisher pointed out that Gary fell asleep during the interview, causing Robach to say through tears of laughter, “This is a low moment for me and my interviewing skills.”

H/T: Thibault Lemaitre

I’ve had two truly memorable interviews in my life. In one, one of the interviewers was clearly drunk, and her colleague was more interested in giving her the stink eye than in interviewing me – yet I got the job anyway.

In the other, for a place at university, the professor was clearly enjoying it hugely. Finally she turned around, and said that I had the place if I wanted it, as she was delighted to interview someone switching from studying physics at Imperial to english literature at QMW (now QMUL).

“I’m so bored of interviewing people with double English and History,” said Professor Lisa Jardine. And then she gave me my second chance at a university education in a way that completely changed my life.

She died at the weekend, and we are poorer for it.

Memories of Lisa Jardine

Professor Lisa jardine

Image courtesy of The Royal Society

Her lectures were free-flowing and rambunctious. She talked with us, not at us. It made her lectures one of the highlights of my week, and has deeply influenced my own lecturing style, now I have my own little foothold in academia.

She never scheduled anything for her undergrads before 10am while I was there because “she had teenagers and knew there was no point”.

She brought a human, likeable face to academic success – and rigour – and that, along with her recruitment policies (favouring mature students and those from unusual background) made for a dynamic English Department. Yes, English Department – she was head of that department when I studied under her. Not History. Not Science. But that’s the thing about polymaths – they don’t respect the boundaries of these categories.

Many of her obituaries have highlighted this side of her character:

She could properly be called a polymath, fluent in five languages and, as comfortable with the sciences as she was with the humanities, the breadth of her scholarship and the depth of her understanding of so many subjects was awe-inspiring.

But it was obvious to all of us who studied under her. She was far more interested in the work that the games of position or form. She carried with her an intimidating – but inspiring – mix of enthusiasm and rigour. But most of all, she instilled in me healthy disrespect for the artificial ramming of knowledge and investigation into the little boxes we call “disciplines”. In that, she set the stage for my current “career”. And for that, I will ever be grateful to her.

I last spoke to her on my graduation day, where, as we shook hands on stage, I said “I didn’t expect to do this well.”

She gave me a huge grin, and replied: “I didn’t, either.” And then her grin grew wider. And that meant a lot more to me than the 2:1 I’d just been awarded.

Back in 2009, I blogged about her for the first Ada Lovelace Day. And in the years since I’ve enjoyed her books and her broadcasting. But most of all, I’ve made deep use of the lessons that she taught me that had nothing to do with English Literature.

RIP Professor Jardine. And thank you.