We need to pay more attention to the sources of our information and
we now need to question whether the sources are real people.
A note to my blog followers: This week’s post marks the sixth anniversary for this blog. Thank you for following and sharing my weekly posts. It all began in an Austin, Texas hotel room at the end of May, 2010. I had just completed facilitating a session at the NISOD annual conference and decided it was time I dove in to the blogosphere. Please let me know if you have ideas for future topics. Now, let’s begin year #7 for the Growth and Resilience blog.
It has become cliché to talk about the explosion of information. We’ve either seen or heard statistics like:
- 5 million pieces of content are posted on Facebook every minute.
- 72 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
- Nearly 300,000 tweets are posted on Twitter every minute.
And we could go on about the millions of emails sent, thousands upon thousands of photos and video shared on Instagram or Snapchat. Blogs, like this one hosted by WordPress.com, number in the tens of millions.
In both of my books, I wrote about basic information literacy skills. I cautioned that just because there’s a lot of information doesn’t mean that it’s good information. Even did a short video on the topic a few years ago.
The third question I pose in the video above (“How will you evaluate the information you found?”) takes on added importance today. Not only must we determine whether accurate information has been presented, we need to pay more attention to the source of the information. When I speak about source evaluation, I stress the importance of understanding bias, scope, depth, and background of a source. According to an article in the May 2016 edition of Wired, we now need to question whether the sources are real people.
Samuel Woolley and Phil Howard present an argument that bots—“spam accounts that post autonomously using programmed scripts” and fictitious names—have inundated the web. According to TwitterAudit, for instance (on May 22, 2016), @realdonaldtrump registers at 76% real and 24% “fake followers.” @hillaryclinton comes in at 79% real and 21% “fake followers.” Go to TwitterAudit.com and give it a spin. As the site itself states, this is not perfect (meaning, it too would need more vetting and evaluation as part of an information literacy exercise.) Oh, and when I typed in @stevepiscitelli, the “audit” showed 13% “fake followers.” Hmm. Note: These findings are not indicting a person or entity that it is creating the fake followers. I know I have not done that. The findings do indicate that we need to at least ask some questions about the numbers and comments concerning “followers.”
“So what’s the big deal?” you may ask. According to Woolley and Howard, “Automated campaign communications are a very real threat to our democracy. We need more transparency about where bots are coming from, and we need it now, or bots could unduly influence the 2016 election.”
And, it can go beyond election campaigns to other discourse on the web. Not only do we need to discern what is real, but we now have to pay attention to who is real. This may not be a totally new dimension as we’ve had robocalls for years. If you were around during the Watergate years you may remember the “dirty tricks” campaign associated with Donald Segretti of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon). But the stated magnitude and reach of these bots is enough to give us pause.
In a social media culture that gets wrapped up in numbers of followers, likes, shares, and views, bots add another dimension.
Read wisely, my friend.
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(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.