Tags: digital literacy*

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  1. I started taking Latin by accident, thanks to a scheduling error in my first year, but it is the best mistake I have ever made. I now see that in today’s digital world, the language is more necessary than ever to teach us critical thinking and powerful expression.

    For centuries, Latin was at the core of western education precisely because it trains you to assess information critically, articulate ideas and convey them eloquently. As an inflected language, reading Latin involves inspecting the ending of each word to determine its syntactic function. Being able to break down and rebuild sentences — that is, being able clearly to comprehend or construct a thought — is a skill that translates well into English.

    Latin’s greatest use may lie where English fails in an age when thoughts become jumbled into 140 or 280 characters. Ideally, we would learn to think and write like the Roman authors. Julius Caesar was renowned for his clarity in writing, perhaps born out of his experience as a military general. Cicero brought down the Catiline conspiracy against the government through four extensive speeches using stirring rhetoric. Read these masters and you will discover a rich legacy of literature that makes most Twitter feeds look like cave paintings.

    It is ironic that the digital age should suffer from its own success. Language is powerful, but it has been subsumed into a revolution of liking and disliking, binary options rather than articulate responses.

    In a society in which we are increasingly unwilling to listen to each other, the classics may offer the greatest hope of recovering not merely a shared civility, but the ability to use our own language.
    https://www.ft.com/content/73f75fb4-da8f-11e7-a039-c64b1c09b482
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  2. Myanmar has been a technologically backwards authoritarian state for much of the past 50 years, with less than 1% of the country connected to the net, until 2015, when the country held its first elections in decades, a moment that was swiftly followed by a relaxation in telcoms controls and widespread access to the internet via mobile devices.

    50,000,000 people are now able to get Facebook, in other words. The net has delivered a complex basket of social changes, among them a revival of the country's ugly, murderous history of ethnic cleansing, fueled by blood libels about minority Muslims attacking the Buddhist majority. The new incitements to violence are travelling hand in hand with news about Trump and his promise to end Muslim migration into the USA. Trump's election is being used to normalize and justify ethnic cleansing movements in Myanmar ("We should do like America and do it here too. No more Muslims!").


    As was the case in earlier eras of the internet's history, these new users equate the net with the service they use the most (once it may have been "Netscape" and "the net"; then "the web" and "the net"; then "Google," etc) -- they use "Facebook" and "internet" interchangeably. This is due to increase, as Facebook has sold the carriers on its "Free Basics" system -- a net discrimination deal with the mobile carriers, who take bribes from Facebook to exempt the company (but not its rivals) from their data-caps.

    The racist extremists in Myanmar are using Facebook to forge alliances with xenophobic movements elsewhere in the world.

    Sheera Frenkel's piece on the rise of Facebook, the internet and xenophobia in Myanmar is a fascinating and detailed look at the complex and often unique circumstances of the country's high-speed entry into the networked world: from the division in the kinds of script used to represent written Burmese to the legal crackdown on parodists who attain notoriety by shooping politicians' heads onto Hollywood stars' bodies.

    Wirathu rose to prominence as part of a group of extremist monks once known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, and then the “969” movement. Today, they are called Ma Ba Tha, after their Burmese acronym. Since the end of military rule, monks have assumed an increasingly public role in the largely Buddhist country. Wirathu, and the Ma Ba Tha movement, have denied any role in the Buddhist lynch mobs, which, in recent years, have killed more than 200, and displaced more than 150,000 of the country’s Muslims, who make up roughly 4% of the total population. Civil society groups allege that the state’s security forces have fomented recent outbreaks of violence against the Rohingya. But there is no denying that Ma Ba Tha’s bashing of Muslims as “cruel and savage” is often repeated by those who want to see all Muslims expelled from Myanmar — and they admit that their anti-Muslim stance has gained its largest following through Facebook.

    This week, following news that Trump’s administration was being staffed with hardliners, Wirathu released a statement hailing Trump’s White House as a victory in the fight against “Islamic terrorism.”


    “May US citizens be free from jihad. May the world be free of bloodshed,” Wirathu wrote in a public statement. It was one of many Trump received from figures across the world who appeared to feel emboldened by his win.
    https://www.buzzfeed.com/sheerafrenke...orld?utm_term=.ys2Z9p7PeZ#.sewdrNl1Od
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  3. One way to think of today’s disinformation ecosystem is to picture it as a kind of gastrointestinal tract.

    At the top end — the mouth, let’s call it — enter the raw materials of propaganda: the memes cooked up by anyone who wants to manipulate what the media covers, whether political campaigns, terrorist groups, state-sponsored trolls or the homegrown provocateurs who hang out at extremist online communities.

    Then, way down at what we will politely call the “other end,” emerge the packaged narratives primed for widespread dissemination to you and everyone you know. These are the hot takes that dominate talk radio and prime-time cable news, as well as the viral Facebook posts warning you about this or that latest outrage committed by Hillary Clinton.

    How do the raw materials become the culturewide narratives and conspiracy theories? The path is variegated and flexible and often stretches across multiple media platforms. Yet in many of the biggest misinformation campaigns of the past year, Twitter played a key role.

    Specifically, Twitter often acts as the small bowel of digital news. It’s where political messaging and disinformation get digested, packaged and widely picked up for mass distribution to cable, Facebook and the rest of the world.

    This role for Twitter has seemed to grow more intense during (and since) the 2016 campaign. Twitter now functions as a clubhouse for much of the news. It’s where journalists pick up stories, meet sources, promote their work, criticize competitors’ work and workshop takes. In a more subtle way, Twitter has become a place where many journalists unconsciously build and gut-check a worldview — where they develop a sense of what’s important and merits coverage, and what doesn’t.

    This makes Twitter a prime target for manipulators: If you can get something big on Twitter, you’re almost guaranteed coverage everywhere.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/31/te...eed-misinformation.html?smid=tw-share
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  4. This is a technological problem. It requires us also to think realistically about how people understand and share information in the digital age: feelings are as important as facts. Identity is as much a motivation as integrity. These are not necessarily ‘bad’ things. But they are not how mainstream news media and politicians used to think about information.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, there is a commercial and technological context to fake news, but ultimately it is a political issue. We have to understand ideologies of information. For anyone dealing in information, ethics is now not an add on. It is integral to the information economy. Trust is the currency of networked media. Around fake news we have a remarkable opportunity to get it right.

    Firstly, we have to get this in perspective. I think a lot of the reaction to ‘fake news’ has been a moral panic. Much of what we – and Trump – calls fake news or post truth or filter bubbles – is simply what we disagree with or feel threatened by. I’m not sure we’d be having this debate amongst ‘liberal elites’ if Hillary had become president and the UK had voted to Remain.

    In the UK, fake news has had less purchase. Possibly because we already have a partisan media and our public is used to journalists, politicians and other communicators bending the truth to suit agendas. That’s not a bad thing if its transparent. Opening up news media to more diverse perspectives and sources allows for a more robust, diverse debate where the public has more say.

    But the best debates that produce the most sustainable policy outcomes must at some point return to reality. Democracy needs evidence for accountability. There may not be a single truth, but there are such things as facts.
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/2017/03/...st-thing-thats-happened-to-journalism
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  5. They forgot that the world doesn’t run on information. People don’t make decisions based on truth or facts. They don’t spend their money based on data.

    The world runs on feelings.

    And when you give the average person an infinite reservoir of human wisdom, they will not Google for the higher truth that contradicts their own convictions. They will not Google for what is true yet unpleasant. Instead, most of us will Google for what is pleasant but untrue.

    Having an errant racist thought? Well, there’s a whole forum of racists two clicks away with a lot of convincing-sounding arguments as to why you shouldn’t be so ashamed to have racist leanings.

    Ex-wife leaves you and you start thinking women are inherently selfish and evil? Doesn’t take a creative Google search to find more than you would ever need to believe that women are biologically inferior.

    Think Muslims are going to stalk from school to school murdering your children? I’m sure there’s a conspiracy theory somewhere out there that’s already confirming that.

    The internet, in the end, was not designed to give people the information they need. It gives people the information they want.

    And sadly, there’s a huge difference.
    Echo chamber cartoon by David Byrne
    By David Byrne

    For instance, I badly want to believe that the Trump administration is floundering and is on the brink of collapse all but a month into its tenure. And without asking, Facebook dutifully shows me articles validating this desire every single day.

    Yet, when I force myself to visit conservative websites, to look at polling data, to dig into primary sources and look at historical analogs, I see that this probably isn’t true. That we’re not in a clown car careening off a cliff. And if we are, Trump probably isn’t the one driving it, he’s just the hood ornament.

    But the fact that I’m most easily given the information that confirms my fears and quells my insecurities—this is the problem. This same network of systems designed to make me feel good every time I open my laptop is the same network of systems that is disconnecting me—disconnecting us—from the rest of our country and often from reality itself.

    Economics 101 teaches us that when there’s an oversupply of something, people value it less. If we wake up tomorrow and there are suddenly 3 billion extra lawnmowers in the US, the price of lawnmowers will plummet. If suddenly everyone had a Louis Vuitton bag, nobody would care about Louis Vuitton anymore. People would throw them out, forget them, spill wine on them, and give them away to charities.

    What if the same is true for information? What if increasing the supply of information to the point where it’s limitless has made us value any particular piece of information less?

    The problem is, as far as I can tell, the internet and its technologies don’t deliver us from tribalism. They don’t deliver us from our baser instincts. They do the opposite. They mainline tribalism into our eyeballs. And what we’re seeing is the beginning of that terrifying impact.

    This is despite the fact that war, violent crime, and authoritarianism are at their lowest points in world history, and education, life expectancy, and income are at their highest in world history.2

    It doesn’t matter, everyone thinks the world is going to hell in a handbasket anyway.

    And if everyone is feeling this way at once, despite the realities, it can’t be because the radical left is winning or the radical right is winning or the patriarchy or communists or Muslims or anarcho-fascist-ballerinas are winning.

    It can only be because our information is losing.
    https://markmanson.net/everything-is-fucked
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  6. NESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) have launched their Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy. Their strategy aims to being together the fields of information literacy and media literacy into a combined set of knowledge, skills and attitudes required for living and working in the 21st century.
    Media and Information Literacy recognizes the primary role of information and media in our everyday lives. It lies at the core of freedom of expression and information – since it empowers citizens to understand the functions of media and other information providers, to critically evaluate their content, and to make informed decisions as users and producer of information and media content.
    http://www.informationliteracy.org.uk...ium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork
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  7. We’re losing trust in numbers, especially statistics. Their sheer volume and variety can be overwhelming. In Politico’s recent roundup of Trump’s popularity figures, for example, the approval numbers among nine polls ranged from 36 percent to 54 percent. Add the hangover that many still suffer from the misleading presidential election predictions, and it's not surprising that people are starting to tune out data altogether, or simply interpret them in ways that support their beliefs.

    I don’t know whether this will lead to a full-blown crisis of democracy, but I think it’s already fair to place at least some of the blame on big data. Algorithms developed by companies such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. enable partisan confirmation bias. They tailor our online environments not to the truth, but to the specific information we search for or click on. This can undermine our understanding of, and trust in, objective scientific and historical facts.

    Here’s an extreme example: Dylann Roof claimed in his manifesto that it was a Google search for “black on white crime” that led him to massacre nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015. Think about that search term. What kinds of texts will perfectly match “black on white crime," as opposed to, say, “statistics on crime rates by race?” Naturally, Roof got links to racist web sites with their own alternative facts -- just as a search for “who really killed JFK” will, more often than not, lead to conspiracy sites.

    When I typed the phrase “Was the Hol” into Google, the search engine auto-completed to “Was the Holocaust real?” Of the top six search results, four were Holocaust-denying sites.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articl...t-big-data-try-googling-the-holocaust
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  8. The OECD's 2011-2015, 33 country, 215,942-person study of computer skills paints a deceptively grim picture of the average level of computer proficiency around the world -- deceptive because it excludes over-65s, who research shows to be, on average, less proficient than the 16-65 cohort sampled.

    95% of the US population, 93% of Europeans and 92% of Asians can't do "level three" tasks like "You want to know what percentage of the emails sent by John Smith last month were about sustainability" -- tasks where "use of tools (e.g. a sort function) is required to make progress towards the solution. The task may involve multiple steps and operators. The goal of the problem may have to be defined by the respondent, and the criteria to be met may or may not be explicit."

    Jakob Nielsen's commentary on this makes the point that much of the most basic skills required to work in the tech industry are well beyond the grasp of nearly everyone who will use the products those technologists are designing.

    What Most Users Can Do

    If you want to target a broad consumer audience, it’s safest to assume that users’ skills are those specified for level 1. (But, remember that 14% of adults have even poorer skills, even disregarding the many who can’t use a computer at all.)

    To recap, level 1 skills are:

    * Little or no navigation required to access the information or commands required to solve the problem

    * Few steps and a minimal number of operators

    * Problem resolution requiring the respondent to apply explicit criteria only (no implicit criteria)

    * Few monitoring demands (e.g., having to check one’s progress toward the goal)

    * Identifying content and operators done through simple match (no transformation or inferences needed)

    * No need to contrast or integrate information

    Anything more complicated, and your design can only be used by people with skills at level 2 or 3, meaning that you’re down to serving 31% of the population in the United States, 35% in Japan and the UK, 37% in Canada and Singapore, and 38% in Northern Europe and Australia. Again, the international variations don’t matter much relative to the big-picture conclusion: keep it extremely simple, or two thirds of the population can’t use your design.
    https://www.nngroup.com/articles/computer-skill-levels
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  9. Now what can be done? Certainly the explanation for Trump’s rise cannot be reduced to a technology- or media-centered argument. The phenomenon is rooted in more than that; media or technology cannot create; they can merely twist, divert, or disrupt. Without the growing inequality, shrinking middle class, jobs threatened by globalization, etc. there would be no Trump or Berlusconi or Brexit. But we need to stop thinking that any evolution of technology is natural and inevitable and therefore good. For one thing, we need more text than videos in order to remain rational animals. Typography, as Postman describes, is in essence much more capable of communicating complex messages that provoke thinking. This means we should write and read more, link more often, and watch less television and fewer videos—and spend less time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/60...iscourse-because-its-too-much-like-tv
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  10. Preteens and teens may appear dazzlingly fluent, flitting among social-media sites, uploading selfies and texting friends. But they’re often clueless about evaluating the accuracy and trustworthiness of what they find.

    Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college. The study, set for release Tuesday, is the biggest so far on how teens evaluate information they find online. Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source.

    More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help. And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.

    Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are taking steps to prevent sites that disseminate fake news from using their advertising platforms, and Twitter Inc. is moving to curb harassment by users. But that won’t get rid of false or biased information online, which comes from many sources, including deceptive advertising, satirical websites and misleading partisan posts and articles.
    Evaluating the Credibility of News Sources
    As part of Stanford University’s study of students and online news, it asked middle schoolers which of the four tweets, above, were the most trustworthy. More than half of the 204 students responding trusted Lisa Bloom’s tweet more the one from NPR, noting it had the most information. A sample student response: ‘The best tweet for information is the first one because it actually shows him resigning in a picture, and it gives a caption saying that he is resigning.’ ENLARGE
    As part of Stanford University’s study of students and online news, it asked middle schoolers which of the four tweets, above, were the most trustworthy. More than half of the 204 students responding trusted Lisa Bloom’s tweet more the one from NPR, noting it had the most information. A sample student response: ‘The best tweet for information is the first one because it actually shows him resigning in a picture, and it gives a caption saying that he is resigning.’ Photo: Stanford History Education Group

    A growing number of schools are teaching students to be savvy about choosing and believing various information sources, a skill set educators label “media literacy.”
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/most-stud...-fake-stanford-study-finds-1479752576
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