This just in, breaking fake news!

For Week 1, I’m also going to be reflecting on the concept of disinformation & crap detection.

The internet is a beautiful place… a beautifully dangerous place, that is.

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Just like the fictional world of Avatar, the Internet is a land filled with beautiful creatures and people that want to destroy them.  Tons of information lives within the internet through big news websites, personal blogs, and online forums. A quick google search reveals that the internet has at least 1200 petabytes of data on it.  For reference, your phone probably has between 32 gigabytes to 128 gigabytes of disk space for photos and other things you keep on it.  1000 gigabytes equate to 1 terabyte, and 1000 terabytes equate to 1 petabyte.  That’s an absurd amount of data.

With all of this data, it’s important to remember that not all of it is true. But people on the internet would never lie! Of course not, my dear reader… of course not.  Just as slander and libel are two very real things in the physical world, misinformation exists just as prominently in the virtual world.

Some would say that misinformation is even more common on the internet than in real life.  I’m not one to disagree with that statement; it’s flat-out easier to say something about someone on the internet anonymously.  It’s one of the dangers of social media: cliques and circles can form instantly and become a wrecking ball that never stops swinging.  At least back when computers weren’t as integral to life as they are now, it took real actual time for word to spread across friends about news that had broke.  At the same time, this exact danger is also a great benefit for those who utilize it.  People who want to ruin the reputation of a certain target can do it with stunning ease.  A more honest person could utilize that as a ‘counter-attack’ of sorts, producing truthful information just as fast as the misinformation spreads.

Either way, misinformation is a big deal.  There exists a frighteningly large population of the internet that come to real tangible conclusions based on information that is not true.  I want to believe that this population consists of technologically-illiterate people who don’t know better, because after all we all learned in school to get your facts straight before doing anything with them.  If it turns out that my assumption is correct, then it’s important to see the distinction between physical and virtual information.

In the real world, information comes across through quite a few forms of media: radio, newspaper, local businesses, etc. In a small town, even the reputation of the person sending this information comes into play as to the validity of it.  Point being, information in the physical world is scrutinized just a little bit more than info in the virtual world.  Let’s not forget that it’s not impossible to lie to someone’s face in real life… it’s just a lot harder than lying to their username.

 

But what about social media?  It’s the same thing… the internet does not discriminate.  In every corner of it, you’ll find the opportunity to deliver some grade-A misinformation if you feel so inclined.  After all, the internet is filled with anonymous personalities hiding behind the mask of an avatar.

 

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The Power of the Attention Economy

For Week 1, I’m going to be reflecting on the concept of an attention economy.

In this new age of technology, we have a dangerous amount of things begging for our attention.  In just about every aspect of life, we’ve got advertisements and other people trying to listen in on your day-to-day tasks.  Every social media platform you use also uses you.  As a wise man on the internet once said, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

Let’s not be too frightened by our new technological overlords.  Even before social media, information was always a critical resource for businesses to acquire.  The downside it that now it’s just easier because our attentions are so easily granted.

Imagine attention as a resource.  There’s a maximum capacity of attention one person can give.  It’s not like this person doesn’t have full control of their own capabilities to focus on certain things, but there is a very real amount of effort associated with this.  Reading a dense book requires more attention than one that you are instantly enticed to read (hint: it has pictures).

As technology has evolved, and social media with it, we’re now experiencing more places to focus our attention.  It’s not inherently bad, but what social media has done is take the great feeling of reaching out to old friends and socializing to an entirely new level.  Most, if not all people, enjoy friendship in some form.  The same people also enjoy socializing with their friends as a form of continuous bonding with others; a way to share their experiences of the world.  Socializing makes people feel good (check out a study here), so it’s no surprise that social media amplifies these feelings.  That’s why it acts as the highest drawer of attention.

The real question is simple: Is being completely enveloped in social media a bad thing?  There’s no easy answer, as expected. This question will continue to pop up in future posts as well.  As previously stated, social media isn’t inherently a bad thing… but what if you’re really into it?  Socializing and connecting with others has a lot of incredibly important benefits, notably getting your name and reputation out to people you’ve never met.  As a college student, I think it’s critical to be able to have that opportunity.  Thinking of attention as resource again, if a person were to spend most of their attention on social media, it becomes a game of determining what other part of their life suffers.  Something has to give, and that appears at first glance to be the problem with social media.  Just like when the internet was created, we were given no rules for social media. Nobody else had done it before.  We just had to do what felt naturally right to do, and that may have consequences we didn’t expect.  Once we can figure out how to handle social media’s attention requirements without siphoning from other places, it’ll get easier for everyone involved to utilize it effectively.

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Some things never change…

Guess I’m back!  It’s been three years, but I’m back.  I’ve learned a lot.  Time to put it to use.