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News Literacy

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4. Distributors

A guide to reading (and sharing) news in the "post-truth" world.

The Web Dystopia

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In this 22 minute TEDTalk from September 2017, techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci shows how artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms organize your access to political and social information. How might powerful people use AI to nudge beliefs and votes? And what can we do about it?


Everyone in the tech industry is in denial. We think we’re making the world more open and connected, when in fact the game is just: How do I drive lots of engagement?  --Tristan Harris, Google Design Ethicist

YouTube Nudging to Extremes

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73% of Americans use YouTube.* According to several recent articles, the YouTube video recommendation algorithm nudges people towards extremes. For example, if you watch a video on vegetarianism, you might see several recommended videos on veganism. 

*Smith, A. & Anderson, A. Social media use in 2018. Pew Research Center, March 1, 2018. 

Facebook: Shady Ethics

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68% of Americans use Facebook*. Facebook has become well-known for harvesting more data about users than most users are aware of, and using this data to customize the Facebook feed and advertisements. It has also released unknown amounts of user data to 3rd-party app developers and data harvesting research firms such as Cambridge Analytica. Unlike Twitter, which makes its data open to researchers, Facebook is secretive both about its data and its algorithms. Wondering why particular ads or shares end up in your feed? It's anybody's guess.

*Smith, A. & Anderson, A. Social media use in 2018. Pew Research Center, March 1, 2018. 

Google: Glossy but Biased

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By unbundling news articles from their origins on news sites, Google minimizes contextual clues for credibility. Search results are determined by algorithms considered by many to be objective, but algorithms are made by humans, which means existing biases are baked in.

Twitter: Social Media Lab Rat

24% of Americans use Twitter.* Many studies about information networks on the web use Twitter as an experimental subject. Why? Because Twitter is one of the few social media tools that makes its data available to scholars for large-scale studies. It's also well-known for the presence of "bots": automated twitter accounts that do everything from finding and reposting rhyming tweets to boosting the media signal of political partisans.

*Smith, A. & Anderson, A. Social media use in 2018. Pew Research Center, March 1, 2018.