Archive for the 'Media' Category

Is WhyDontYouTryThis.com a Trust-Worthy Website?

I’m trying to check out WhyDontYouTryThis.com.    This site seems to be getting a lot of traction, especially in Facebook postings.   Their articles have almost irresistible “Wow” factor.

So far I can’t find who they are.   (If you have info please let me know.)

Their website provides zero info about who owns, runs, or edits the site.

Their whois listing is completely private, registered by proxy.

Google searches come up empty about ownership.

I have found a few blog posts like this one who aren’t impressed by their accuracy: http://secretspaceman.com/2013/08/the-laws-of-internet-bias/

The author of the post above inspected WDYTT’s story sources and found biased distortions on the part of Whydontyoutrythis editors in reporting those sources.  (I have not verified his conclusion.)

Most of their articles seem anti-big government and big-corporations, anti-GMO, anti-big-pharma, etc.  And yet they also have other articles that claim to have evidence that Global Warming theory and research is biased and wrong and full of lies, for example this article:

Who are the Deniers Now? Record Ice Growth in 2013.”

And these also:

“NASA Report verifies Carbon Dioxide actually Cools Atmosphere”

And Now It’s Global COOLING! Arctic Ice Cap Grows By 60% In A Year

I can’t help wondering if their anti-big-corporation and spiritual miracle articles are baits to get progressive cause supporters to read anti-global warming articles.  But wondering isn’t enough to reach a conclusion.  If you know more about them, please let me know.

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Expansion of choices reduces diversity???

I just read an article from The Nation, by Colin Robinson (via Alternet.com):

How Amazon Kills Books and Makes Us Stupid

In summary, Amazon’s dominance of the book market and their intense drive to reduce the costs of books are having these effects:

  • Drastically reducing the number of independent book sellers.
  • Reducing the income of publishers, and especially authors.
  • Making it more and more difficult for authors to produce well-crafted and thoroughly researched books.
  • And reducing cultural diversity by overwhelming customers with choices.

This last point is the most surprising – and sounds the most paradoxical.  How could more diversity of choice reduce cultural diversity?

Embedded in the middle of the article is this explanation:

According to industry statisticians Bowker, just over 172,000 titles were released in 2005. Last year “traditional” output had risen to 288,000 titles, a significant enough increase by itself. But adding what Bowker describes as “self-published” and “micro-niche” books, the total inflates to a staggering 1 million new titles in just twelve months.

“Many would argue that the efflorescence of new publishing that Amazon has encouraged can only be a good thing, that it enriches cultural diversity and expands choice.

“But that picture is not so clear: a number of studies have shown that when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming. In this situation people often respond by retreating into the security of what they already know.

“As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, ‘When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what’s easiest to evaluate, rather than what’s important to evaluatethe safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top.’

Actually, this phenomenon isn’t really the fault of Amazon, but is rather part of the effect of making it easier and cheaper for individuals to create their own content, i.e., to self-publish.   It’s of course not just happening in the world of books, but in all manner of media and content, including newspapers, reporting, editorials, and reviews, film, video, and photography, music, etc..

This is an incredible expansion in creativity and expression; and at the same time, this expansion has clear effects of creating echo-chambers where we, “the masses” who are now “personalized” are clumping together like never before and having less and less thoughtful exposure to ideas beyond those that we ‘naturally’ prefer and seek out.

So these are not new reflections.

But still, what are the answers?   How can we break through this paradox of explosions of expressions and choices that somehow create an implosion of diversity and dialogue?  (Actually, it’s not an implosion of diversity, as much as an explosion into huge and small fragments that appear to have not much to do with each other.)

Somehow the “answers” will have to be the creation of common experiences that invite curiosity, openness, and simple kindness.   Curiosity mixed with kindness can bridge differences, without eliminating differences.

What kind of experiences would these be?

As a designer of social technology, I can only think that, among other things, these experiences have to include radically new ways  a) to manage attention overload without killing serendipity, and b) to discover “content” that is rewarding – even deeply fulfilling – without relying on naturally clumping algorithms like “Show me more like this one” — or “Show me – books, movies, ideas, etc – that other people like who like the same kinds of stuff I like.

Honestly, with algorithms like that, what can you expect other than bigger and bigger clumps?

Five Causes of Media Inaccuracy – illustrated by reporting of the Iranian election protests

In her piece published yesterday about the reporting of the current Iranian “Green Revolution”, Cynthia Boaz identified five causes of media inaccuracy:

  1. Intentional misrepresentations:  Spinning, twisting, distorting, or outright making things up for the purpose of bolstering a particular ideology, political party, or other limited interest.
  2. Sloppy or hasty reporting:  “…the inability or unwillingness of reporters to engage in serious investigative or assiduous on-the-ground reporting.  For example, when in doubt – where information is sparse or of questionable veracity, and official (government) forces are being challenged by nongovernmental forces, media tend to default to the perspective of the officials, regardless of regime type or ideology.”
  3. Fragmentation, which “involves covering the story in isolated, seemingly unrelated pieces”, which when taken together give a very different impression than a deeper reporting of the whole system would reveal.
  4. Dramatization, which “occurs when the news is encapsulated in short, sensationalistic bits intended to provoke an emotional response on the part of the news consumer.”   This seems to be close to the “intentional’ type of bias, since it serves the narrow interests of the reporting agency.
  5. Euphemism, for which Boaz gives the example of using the phrase “’huge crowds in Iran” which can then give the impression that these “crowds” are disorganized, spontaneous types of groupings, rather than strategic, organized and disciplined.

I see the distinctions, and it is important to understand them.  However, these five causes can still basically be lumped together as either grossly intentional, or as less intentionally lacking a holistic viewpoint.  Lacking a holistic viewpoint can be attributed to effects that may be out of the reporter and agency’s control, such as lack of access to sources or lack of funding; or else they can be attributed to factors that are directly the fault of the reporting agency: lack of competence (sloppiness), or lack of integrity (e.g., a desire to appeal to sensation-seeking consumers in order to be noticed and sell).

In the case of reporting on the Iranian election demonstrations, Boaz states that several of these types of media errors have together given the World the idea that the demonstrations have been chaotic, unplanned, isolated acts that are often violent.  In contrast, she says that

“These people are for the most part technologically and strategically savvy, especially when compared to the hardliners and mullahs that make up the ancient regime in Iran. They have studied the nonviolent struggles in Chile, South Africa and Serbia. They understand the dynamics of civil resistance and the power of simply withdrawing individual complicity in oppression. These are the people whose “tweets” and Facebook “status updates” the world is getting live via digital media…”

And that in contrast to what is mostly reported,

“the reality is much richer and more potentially encouraging. The Green Revolution is not just a series of ad hoc protests against a political theft, it is a story of widespread resistance to ongoing oppression. It is not the repression and violence that is most interesting about the news coming from Iran, it is that people continue to resist despite the repression.”

I would love to see more reporting about the intelligent and conscious components of this resistance.  How much in depth reporting is even possible in a country that obstructs investigation and punishes dissent?


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