Month: February 2018

Essay 1

How trial and error, not coddling, taught me how to recognize fake news

 

Last year, I got totally bamboozled by a fake news story.

In my defence, I’m usually great at catching on to when something is fake/satire. Nowadays, I check sources, cross reference, and refuse to share a news story until I’m sure about what kind of news it is. But on August 11, 2017, I woke up, started scrolling through Facebook, and came across this:

 

I instantly believed it. I know, in retrospect I was a complete idiot. But I had just woken up and my sleep-addled brain fell for it. I don’t tend to share things on social media, or even like people’s posts. That day was no different, though I did tell my mom and sister about the story. Neither of them believed it, of course. But even after I clicked the post and went onto their website, I was still confident it was real.

It’s ridiculous that I fell for this satiric story, but how many others did, too? In what ways can this post be perceived as believable? And why exactly did I end up falling for it?

 

 

You just don’t know

Maybe you’re young and you haven’t gone out a lot. Maybe English isn’t your first language, or you don’t know the geographic layout of Vancouver well. Most native speakers know that cougar can mean an animal or an older woman who fancies younger men. Most city slickers don’t know how impossible it is for a cougar to get all the way to Granville Street. People who club every weekend are probably aware that The Roxy is known as a cougar bar.

You need this kind of basic knowledge to immediately pass off this article as satire if you first saw it in a little shared block of text on your Facebook page. This is something that Mike Caulfield discusses in “Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?”

If you don’t have this innate knowledge of things, though, you’d want to look at the article more closely. I know that Caulfield claims that “it’s not by doing something, it’s by knowing something” we can reach a conclusion as to whether or not something is fake news. But I think that’s ridiculous. We need to do research and fact-checking if we want to gain knowledge. We don’t just inherently know everything when we age, as he implies. To check a source, all you need is a chunk of time and the ability to type things into Google.

The first thing I did that morning after seeing the article and telling my mom and sister was Google “Cougar attack Vancouver.” When nothing other than the Burrard Street Journal immediately showed up, then I got suspicious. I didn’t have to paste the link into Snopes (which wouldn’t have worked anyway because Snopes didn’t cover this site).

 

 

 

After being questioned on whether or not this was real, I simply had to stop, think, and wake up a bit more to find the answer.

 

Let’s look closer

If we wanted to pick apart this article further, there are simple steps we could take. It’s a fairly recent article, and it looks like it’s from a reliable news source, the Burrard Street Journal. But even looking slightly closer at that, you can see that a shorter form of that would be the BS Journal which should send off red flags.

 

 

Clicking on the article takes you to their site (which, coincidentally, has almost the exact same layout as one of my favourite news sites). You might notice the article has hyperlinks, but each one leads to a disclaimer that the journal is all satire. This is stuff that I could easily catch if I wasn’t still half asleep. Also, Justin Trudeau standing beside a sign that says “Welcome to Peopleitoba” seems a bit sketchy, too.

“In reality, most literacies are heavily domain-dependent, and based not on skills, but on a body of knowledge that comes from mindful immersion in a context,” Caulfield says.

But I didn’t really need to mindfully immerse myself in anything. I clicked two things to get the answer I needed. That’s a skill, not some wisdom I could have only acquired if I was an old man. He also says that “It’s by learning [digital literacy] on a granular level that we form the larger understandings.” Look, Caulfield, I don’t have time to learn anything on a granular level anymore; I have a full-time job and take three university classes. Every day, I make mistakes and learn from them. That’s all I have time to do.

 

I was sleep deprived (what’s new?)

The first thing many people do when they wake up is go on their phone. 66% of them are young people aged 18 to 24, according to a survey done by ReportLinker. Of course, many people wake up groggy. If they’re picking up their phone and scrolling through Facebook, there’s a high chance they’ll come across a shared news story. (Or at least there was a high chance before the algorithm changed. More on that below.)

This was me last year. I wasn’t lacking some sort of incredible wisdom. I was just tired, as many of us are. A recent Aviva study reported on by Global News and CTV News tells me that Canada is the world’s third most sleep-deprived country.

 

Why we can’t have nice things

It’s no surprise that after Trump won the election and people started pointing fingers at who was resposible, Mark Zuckerberg decided to bundle up Facebook families into little isolated homesteads and cut them off from news with his new algorithm. Instead of posting a simple list of precautions someone should take before sharing a news story as real, he cut us off from news altogether, and now all I can see on my feed are my Hungarian relatives selling their furniture and petting their dogs.

Sure, it’s crazy that people believe some of the crazy stories that are being spread across the web. Maybe everyone’s just too tired and busy to check if a news story is real or not. Or maybe it’s just that “between reality and the bubble of fantasy news stories, these are tough times for satirists,” as a Maclean’s article describes.

Satire is a powerful way to ridicule society. In some ways, it can be just as important as any other news. But when we read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal in class, people thought that Swift was serious about eating babies. Why? My guess is that people have been exposed to so much news, fake and real, and a lot of the fake stories are just as ridiculous as the real. I mean, how can this possibly be real?

 

 

I can imagine Swift turning over in his grave.

Reality is ridiculous. And so are fake news stories. But I still want to read both. Now that we’re aware that misinformation can be spread around just as quickly as information, we need to be able to look at both and think critically about which is which. I don’t want Facebook to censor news from me. I want all kinds of news popping up on my feed so every article I come across can be a critical thinking challenge.

I also don’t want to be told that I need to study how to recognize which is which on a “granular level.” All I need to be told is think before I share. Be critical. I don’t want to be coddled by Facebook or walked through digital literacy one baby step at a time. I need to learn these things myself. We all do, even if it’s through trial and error.

America already elected a yam to hold office. We are more aware of fake news now than ever before because of this event. I shared fake news with two people before I realized it was false. I was ridiculed. But I’m glad I thought a real cougar walked into a Vancouver bar a year ago, or else I never would have learned how to be diligent about fake news.

~

Works Cited:

Caulfield, Mike. “Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?” Hapgood, 19 Dec. 2016, hapgood.us/2016/12/19/yes-digital-literacy-but-which-one/.

Joseph, Rebecca. “Canada Third Most Sleep-Deprived Country: Study.” Global News, Corus News, 29 Oct. 2016, globalnews.ca/news/3033503/canada-third-most-sleep-deprived-country-study/.

ReportLinker. “For Most Smartphone Users, It’s a ‘Round-the-Clock’ Connection.” ReportLinker Insight,    ReportLinker, 26 Jan. 2017, www.reportlinker.com/insight/smartphone-connection.html.

The Associated Press. “Is Satire Still Possible in an Era of Fake News?” Maclean’s, Rogers Media, 1 Feb. 2017, www.macleans.ca/society/is-satire-still-possible-in-an-era-of-fake-news/.

The Burrard Street Journal. “Panic At Vancouver Nightclub As Wild Cougar Wanders In Forcing Evacuation.” The Burrard Street Journal, 8 Aug. 2017, www.burrardstreetjournal.com/vancouver-cougar-attack-shock-in-nightclub/.

Peer Review 2 — Hey, It’s Helen

This week I’m delving into Helen Tan’s website called Hey, It’s Helen. My first impression is that Travis Gertz’s fears in his article “Design Machines: How to survive in the digital apocalypse” came true…It seems as if little has been changed from the original template on Helen’s website. The digital machines have taken over!

As I explored her site, I turned to her process posts to find out what’s up. It seems she’s been struggling with the technical aspect of building her website. I can understand this. I struggled with my site for many hours to get things just right. Helen, if you need any help, hmu.

That said, I really like the template that Helen chose, and I’m sure she’ll soon post some content that the design will complement. The typography she chose is very light which gives her site a clean and professional look. I noticed there’s a tab called “Let’s talk about money” and I think the website’s aesthetic will go well with post about budgeting help or finances or whatever cool stuff Helen might be planning.

The layout and structure makes the site easy to navigate. The tabs encompass loads of interesting topics such as “education” and “health.” Some social media integration is found on the right side of her site. There’s an Instagram feed, but nothing to see there yet. Either way, I’m sure some photos will tie into the rest of the website well. It’s also promising to see that Helen’s Instagram has over 100 followers without a single post! I think that it’s a great idea on her part to start gaining a public so once she does start using her site more, she’ll have a ready-made audience.

There’s not much customization going on yet, but she has already made a really cool sign-off for herself. At the end of her posts/comments, I notice she says, “It’s Helen, and it’s ___.” (In the blank she puts in another word such as “frustrating.”) I think this is a great little brand thing that’ll help tie posts together in the future.

Other than that, I believe that Helen is off to a pretty good start. As soon as she learns more about how to use WordPress to her advantage, she’ll be making great things!

 

Process Post 5

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The audience for a yarn bombing site

The first reason I chose to make my website a yarn bombing site is because I desperately want to be a part of a crafting group. Ever since I start crocheting, I’ve wanted to find people who also like to crochet/knit and yarn bomb stuff. Unfortunately, the only crafting club I was able to find in downtown Vancouver was strictly “for the elderly” as the woman at Barclay Manor Seniors Centre told me politely as she shut the door in my face.

By creating a yarn bombing website, I want to show people that it’s easy and fun to make yarn graffiti, and maybe they’ll be willing to join me in my adventures. Hopefully my outreach to fellow crafty souls will be increased through my digital platform. My imagined audience is made up of people (of all ages) who are passionate about crafting or at least admire this kind of art.

When I think about people like that, I imagine that they want a fun, visual site that can inspire them. I guess I assume this because it’s what I would want. I would want a welcoming home page with a fun, interesting picture that invited people in.

I want my website to evoke the feeling opposite to what I felt when I was shut out of a crafting group because of my age. After all, the digital world is apparently “…terrifying for those who are intimidated by youth…” because we get our own platforms and freedom to do things we can’t do in real life, according to Danah Boyd. And yes, us youth sure are intimidating. Watch me crochet flowers onto a pole. Roar.

Why are people intimidated by youth, though? Is it because we’re seemingly further from death? Who knows. But my imagined audience informed me that I shouldn’t appear intimidating if I want to have an audience at all. Being friendly and open is the first step to attracting people, right? I even try to use funny gifs. People love funny gifs.

I’ve also try to make my writing clear and easy to read. Who wants to read boring shit? Or posts with long academic words in them? (Oh, sorry, we’re in university. I meant to say stuff with “sesquipedalian utterances” in them.)

That’s another thing I hope to avoid in my site. Bullshit. I’m hoping my audience is one that appreciates honesty in its frankest form. I don’t want to pretend I’m some super-capable, anarchist yarn artist or whatever. I just like to make things. And I like other people seeing what I make turn up in unexpected places. Most of all, I hope my audience will want to do the same kind of thing. Maybe then I can finally start a crafting club.

“Texts themselves do not create publics, but the concatenation of texts through time,” said Michael Warner. My yarn bombs here and there won’t do much; but if I can reach an audience and inspire yarn works through time at SFU, maybe then there will be an impact.

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“8. Searching for a Public of Their Own.” It’s Complicated, by Danah Boyd, Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 213–227.

Warner, Michael. 2002. “Publics and Counterpublics.” in Quarterly Journal of Speech. 88.4.

Process Post 4

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Reviewing a Website’s Design Choices and Reflecting on My Own

One of the only websites I visit frequently for fun is The Peak’s site. For those of you who think print is dead (or that newspapers are “boring” @that one guy in class), The Peak is SFU’s student-run newspaper. Students can submit their work to the paper and get it published for money. It’s pretty sweet.

I’ve noticed that their front page has a very detailed setup without looking cluttered. This might be because, unlike other news websites, its very photo-heavy, rather than text-heavy. I get a haeadache if I stare at CBC News’ crazy home page too long.

On the other hand, The Peak’s logo at the top is really small compared to the huge photos, making it seem a bit lost. I also feel that some of the photos weren’t meant for the display boxes they’re in. I often notice they’re cut off near-completely or cropped weirdly. I do like the use of negative space, though, and how simple the menus are. 

Scrolling down, I’m almost always surprised by the digital version of the paper issue they have on the stands that week on the right. Why is it so hidden? You’d think it would be one of the site’s more important aspects. Other than that, I like how they’ve laid everything out to the very bottom the site. Everything is there, and the excess is only sometimes a little overwhelming.

The posts themselves have an appealing look, with big, legible font accompanying every article. There are often many helpful hyperlinks, and some of the articles are web-exclusive that you wouldn’t find in the papers on campus. Unfortunately, some of the website’s pages are outdated. I guess a problem with having too many categories and pages is losing track of them. Overall, I think their website design is clean and easy to navigate, which is perfect for a newspaper.

***

Using the feedback I got from the peer review and the tips we got from our design lecture, I made some modifications to my site. I made my About section a bit more about me and started adding captions to some of my photos to give them more depth. I’ve also been playing with fonts to see which will work best on my website, though it’s always overwhelming to scroll through the options. I’m also working on the slider on my homepage since at the moment, it does not work well for mobile phones.