Category: Internet

The Silent ‘M’

The Quippery

English has 13 letters that are, at times, silent. A ‘B’ might as well disappear when it is at the end of a word if it follows an ‘M’. ‘C’ is not pronounced in the ending ‘scle.’ ‘D’ disappears in handkerchief. E, G, GH, H, K, L, N, P, S, T, U and W may also be silent on occasion.

Readers should also be aware that when a media campaign tries to generate mass hysteria, based on nothing but purposefully vague and unsubstantiated claims, the ‘M’ in ‘Masses’ can also be silent.

Social media makes it incredibly easy to spread false or misleading information.

Facebook’s algorithm, which tends to only show users content they agree with, makes the company complicit in spreading falsehoods. That feeds into people only seeing particular viewpoints or sources, which allows for these kinds of sites to be circulated with much more frequency.  Facebook needs to create a “check this source bar” that would display information about a story’s origin. We have to remove the barrier for people to fact-check what they’re sharing. [That is], If we can even get them to read what they’re sharing.
– Quartz report on the work of Melissa Zimdars –

Algorithms – Do They Have a Hidden Agenda?

The Quippery

The Quippery
When you ask Google or Bing or Duck Duck Go to find something for you, how does ‘it’ filter the results? How do advertisers, retailers and financial markets make  decisions on what product to offer you? How do banks decide who to offer a loan or a bank card to? How do insurance companies determine how to assess risk and set prices? How do employers and dating sites use personality tests to find matches? The answer is, they use Algorithms!

An Algorithm is a set of detailed instructions that are fed into a computer program to deliver a result, or set of results from the information that it is given.

On the internet, Algorithms determine what we see first, or most. For example, when I input the letters ‘do’  into Google search, the autocomplete algorithm suggests ‘donald trump, ‘dominos’ and ‘donald trump news’. The search engine Duck Duck Go  and Yahoo suggest ‘domino’s pizza’, ‘dorothea hurley bongiovi’ and ‘donald trump’. Bing suggests ‘domino s’, download chrome’ and ‘download google chrome’ before getting to ‘donald trump twitter’.

Why do they all choose such similar suggestions? It is because search engines look for what they believe is most relevant – which is the highest frequency of a search term and the way that pages containing that term link to other pages in the Web.

There are other factors at work too. Because Algorithms are written by people, it is not uncommon for those people to write their personal bias into the algorithms:

The dustup over Facebook’s “trending topics” list and its possible liberal bias hit such a nerve that the U.S. Senate called on the company to come up with an official explanation, and this week COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company will begin training employees to identify and control their political leanings.
– Nanette Byrnes, Why We Should Expect Algorithms to Be Biased, MIT Technology Review, June 24, 2016 –

Sometimes algorithms are simply mercenary in nature. Facebook may claim that its algorithm is personalized for your benefit, but it would be fair to say that Facebook’s algorithm is also optimized for Facebook, and thus for the advertisers.

More disturbing – it has been demonstrated that people’s emotions can be controlled by algorithms built into their social feeds. In 2012, Facebook  and data scientists from two Universities (in a study that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) tweaked the news feed algorithms of roughly 0.04 percent of Facebook users, or 698,003 people, for one week in January. During the experiment, half of these people saw fewer positive posts than usual, while half  saw fewer negative ones. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced  more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite occurred. (In a note of contrition, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the decision to manipulate the content without the users consent might have violated some principles of academic research…)

It is one thing to know and accept that sites like Google or Facebook (both are primary news sources for people under 35) can manipulate what you see and potentially control how you feel. Are you also willing to accept that they could also be isolating you from other viewpoints, thus exacerbating your biases?

If you believe, as I do, that trending news can often be incomplete news –  will you search for better information if you see ‘Red Flags’ like the following?

– does the story  contain facts that seem to be inflated?

Example from Greenpeace USA: “The Arctic is one of the most unique places on Earth. It spans eight countries, is home to more than 13 million people… Fact check: The National Snow and Ice Data Centre, which is supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says “In total, only about 4 million people live in the Arctic worldwide.”

– is the story attempting to appeal to your emotions, or to the emotions of young people who may not be old enough to understand the inaccuracy of the story?

Example: Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, soliciting donations for the Suzuki Foundation, did a “live from the North Pole” broadcast in front of some faux Arctic scenery in 2011. “Santa’s workshop is sinking! Climate change is melting the snow and ice and the rising water is getting too close for comfort. Santa must relocate – fast – to make sure all the nice boys and girls still have a happy holiday.”

– does the headline contain exaggerated language that attempts to make you fearful?

Example: “Sir John A. Macdonald: 5 Frightening Facts About Our First Prime Minister” – Rachel Décoste, Huffpost –

– does the story swear at someone or make derogatory comments?

Example: “Soon enough, he will be alone, surrounded only by his admiring fellow racists. But he will still be governing from the Oval Office. It bears repeating. Americans got what they asked for. And it oozes.” Opinion piece on Donald Trump from Neil Macdonald, for CBC News

Who is to blame for the dismal state of journalism today? Do you think Algorithms  have played a role in forming your opinions or  have they impacted your life in other ways?

Follow this link to read my list of related quotations: Algorithms

Over the Top Writing Makes me do Just the Opposite

ocean rocks trees

You’ve probably seen some of these ‘over the top’ words in Post Titles on the internet. They are supposed to be so enticing that you will click through to read the story. Here are some of the most common superlatives:

Utterly Strangest
Outrageous
Amazing
Groundbreaking Truth
Astonishing
Incredible Bombshell
Awesomely Stunning
Unbelievable (or You Won’t Believe Your Eyes)
Insanely Gorgeous
Impossible
Absolutely Unbeatable
You’ll Never Guess
Ridiculous
or Jaw Dropping

for stories, that will

Blow you away
Be to Die For
Take Your Breath Away
Change Your World
Freak You Out

because

well, OMG – This is Genius!!!

This style of writing has just the opposite effect on me – I simply refuse to click through to read it.

Just this once, though, I’m going to use words from the list above to describe my photos for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge (which is Opposites.) These photos were taken on a trip to the Hawaiian Islands.
ocean rocks trees

OMG! The scenery was to die for! My jaw dropped as I watched the waves crash onto the rocks. Bombshell – that soft looking water can crush the hard looking rock into sand!

cooled flow plants

I was freaked out by how this once hot flowing magma could become, like, just the opposite – cold and hard! Unbelievable!

The Quippery
That ends my attempt at this writing ‘style’ – would you add any words or phrases to the list above?

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Media Bias and Knowledge – The Truth is Out There

There are things I know I know.
And things I think I know – but don’t.
Things I know I don’t know.
And things I don’t know that I don’t know.
The Truth, for me, is a moving target!

The QuipperyI think it is safe to say that my blogging days would have ended several years ago if I had stuck to writing about things ‘I know I know’! ‘Shopping’ for things I don’t know is why it takes me so long to write a blog post. I look for facts and arguments, then test them to see if they are congruent, consistent, coherent, and useful truths.

Mark Twain once said that “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Thanks to the internet, this observation is more applicable now than it has ever been.

Traditional news media has been supplemented with a vast array of online media sources and opinion journalism. The pressure to produce reactions and opinions at a greater and greater speed has resulted in a ‘media bias’ that attracts and holds a ‘true believer’ audience. This doesn’t always mean they are ‘impartial’, ‘well-balanced’ and ‘truthful’ reports.

I think this is why the role of the blogger is important. Often bloggers are the ones who descend upon media misinformation and set the story straight! They are part of the New Age of Journalism that is thriving online.

12-canada-goose-in-tree-1While I play a very small and almost invisible role as a Blogger Journalist, I was reminded of the importance of that role and my search for truth when one of my posts was referred to on a Gratefulness Forum. The members were discussing beauty in nature, and someone eventually posted a photo of a Canada Goose in a tree. One of the forum members researched whether this was something Canada Geese did very often, and found my post called A Lofty View. I know that Geese do this!

One little Truth at a time – this is how the bloggers of the world are making a difference.

 

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
– Donald Rumsfeld, while serving as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense

Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that the home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of rules and set tasks.
– G.K. Chesterton –


What ‘Truth Crusade’ is near and dear to your heart?
What have you contributed to the accumulated knowledge of a particular subject?

Post 533

Security – A New Year – Time for New Passwords!

Happy New Year to you all!
Do you have a List of Resolutions?
Thought about adding ‘New Passwords’ to that list?

The Quippery

In 2011, The Car Guy’s Yahoo Mail account sent out invitations to most of his contacts to use Viagra. After hours of looking for a breach, I realized that the account had been hacked through Yahoo itself. We secured the account with a new password, but the whole episode was a good reminder of why it is a good idea to change passwords frequently, and have different passwords for different accounts.

Strong passwords are also highly recommended. Some sites require specific combinations, though not quite as rigorous as this password protocol that I made up:

The Car Guy and I developed and memorized a few mnemonic phrases. They form the first part of our passwords. The second part of each password varies from site to site. We’ve memorized most of them, but keep them all in a database (without the mnemonic part) for those days when we can’t find our car keys, let alone remember a password…

Do you have a Password ‘System’?

Post 526