Journalism vs. social media April 25, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
In a recent posting on the Boston Marathon bombings, the relationship between traditional news media and social media was raised. In particular, Michael Skolnik of GlobalGrind.com argued that the bombings showed how news media were on the back foot in their competition with social media. How can journalists compete with Tweeters in terms of gaining attention when Twitter provides so much information so fast?
And the news seems to just get worse for the news. For example, hackers broke into the Associated Press’s Twitter accounts and posted a fake news item about bombs detonating in the White House and injuring President Obama. The fake bulletin sent markets into a brief downfall:
The latest hack was by far the most significant: the single AP tweet stunned investors and effectively wiped out $136.5 billion of the S&P 500 index’s value in a matter of minutes.
Robert Charette at IEEE Spectrum notes that the market slide may have been the result of automated trading algorithms that react almost instantly to machine-readable news stories. Charette further notes that Bloomberg news service plans to incorporate Tweets into the information considered by these algorithms. It seems that the traditional news media is getting cut out of the loop.
However, the situation may be saved if news writers are replaced by algorithms. Companies like “Narrative Science” already have software that can write passable news stories, at least in certain fields of discourse such as sports reporting. With Moore’s Law in view, it should not take long to cut reporters out of the loop entirely, enabling news services to produce stories as fast as social media junkies (and trading algorithms) can parse them.
This situation may seem like an out-of-body experience for some journalists, as they become bystanders in their own field. Or, perhaps the problem is that we are starting to view the news as just the quickest source of the most information, which networked computers are better at delivering, instead of the considered analysis of events, which people are still better at.
Boston Marathon bombings and social media April 23, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, some attention has been focussed on the role of social media in the subsequent events.
This NPR piece discusses the vitriol that characterized some of the response:
Both the Boston FBI and the Boston Police Department have chosen Twitter as one of their main ways to communicate with the press and the public, but in addition to the useful information they gathered by these means, many Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and comment sections of news stories have been littered with threats, slurs and hate speech directed at Muslims or anybody with a perceived connection to the suspects and a lot of that was happening even before they were identified.
In short, the police used social media as a way of disseminating and collecting information as a part of their investigation. The general public used it to follow the situation, to intervene in it, or, in some cases, to exploit it for their own purposes.
The discussion raises two points. In the first, it is clear that some social media users took the opportunity to “troll” for attention, that is, to say inflammatory things in order to garner attention for themselves. In the second point, the discussants contrasted the social media response with that of the news media. An advantage of social media, e.g., Twitter, is that it provides immediate feedback. An advantage of news media is that it can be more accurate. Of course, the news media did make a number of errors in their reporting. But then, some social media responses seemed ill-considered; e.g., Reddit General Manager Erik Martin apologized for the crowdsourced “witch-hunt” conducted by users of his site.
Michael Skolnik of GlobalGrind.com draws the following conclusion:
This will be a day that we will remember as media will drastically change in this country and traditional media have to figure out how to compete with real time news.
It is true that the news media needs to get people’s attention to persist as a business. It is not clear that the news media should become more like social media. It does not seem like a good idea to conflate the roles of social media and police. Should social media be conflated with the news? Or, would we be better served if the two were differentiated? How?
Faster, higher, Twitter August 14, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
We have posted a number of items about technology at the Olympics in London. In particular, these posts concerned the use of technology within the sports themselves. Of course, not all the Olympic technology stories were played out on the field. Here are a few that concern technology at the Olympics but in other arenas.
In the US, the biggest off-the-field story would have to be NBC’s decision not to carry events live. To the disgust of many Twitterers, NBC preferred to present the Games on TV during primetime in the US, which comes around hours after the events have actually occurred in London. (The network did, however, stream the events online.) This irked some viewers because the outcomes of the events were usually known before they were broadcast, thus ruining the suspense. Presumably, NBC chose this form of coverage because the Olympics are expensive to cover and primetime is when the network can recoup the most money in advertising for doing so.
Guy Adams, journalist for The Independent, had his Twitter account suspended, apparently for revealing the email address of NBC Olympic president Gary Zenkel in a tweet critical of NBC’s Olympic coverage. Twitter’s rules prohibit tweeters from publishing personal information, such as personal email addresses. However, the email address that Adams published was already available on the Internet, through Google search, and was for NBC’s corporate site, that is, nbc.com. Also, it appears that Twitter may have provoked the situation by alerting NBC to the Tweet so that the network could complain and get the offending account suspended. NBC hosted a special Olympics Twitter feed in partnership with Twitter, so it seemed as though Twitter might, in effect, be censoring tweets in order to prevent its partner from looking bad. Twitter has since retracted the suspension and apologized.
The London Olympics also featured it share of memes. I have already commented on the viral video of Stephan Feck mis-diving into the pool. It turns out that many Photoshop users were also watching the Olympics, and used their skills to produce many hilarious pictures with Olympic athletes inserted.
Finally, British PM David Cameron has announced that the anti-doping testing center built for the Olympics will become the Phenome Centre for genetic research:
The Phenome Centre project will use a portion of the lab’s equipment to analyse patient and volunteer samples to look for biological markers of disease present in the human phenome.
Usually, the material legacy of an Olympic games consists in new sporting venues and housing from the Olympic Village. A medical research center seems a laudable legacy, and also suggests how much doping and therapy tend to overlap in medical technology.
Can Twitter tell fortunes? March 23, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
Two studies have been reported that provide investors with good news and bad news regarding the Twitter microblogging service.
It seems, on the one hand, that Tweets about companies can be used to predict the performance of their stocks. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, found that they could outperform the Dow Jones Industrial Average using an analysis of Tweets. The number of separate discussion threads about a company provided a good guide to the trading volume in that company’s stock. Furthermore, the tenor of the Tweets provided a pretty good prediction of whether the stock price would go up or down. Positive talk indicated an upward movement, and negative talk a downward trend. Unfortunately, since the research looks only at recent trading data, it is not clear how well the model would generalize to other market conditions.
Now, on the other hand, recent research conducted at Princeton suggests that Twitter cannot be used effectively to predict the box office performance of movies. Whether or not a movie lived up to its hype, as suggested by approvals and disapprovals on Twitter, was not enough to determine its box office success (defined as a revenue of at least $50 million). It could be, though, that a better measure for the mood of Twitter on movies would be more valuable for marketers.
Powerful forces will try to reverse the situation. Once traders realize that Twitter can predict stock prices, they will adjust their trading behavior until the market index catches up with the Twitter index. Once marketers realize that Twitter tattle does not determine movie revenues, they will adjust their marketing efforts to be more effective in getting Tweeters into theaters. Will these efforts succeed? Perhaps not even Twitter can tell.
Flurry of McDonalds stories January 26, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
An article from Business Insider relates how McDonalds has pulled a marketing campaign after it turned sour. The campaign invited Twitter users to Tweet their #McDStories, but it did not specify that the stories should be limited to praise. The result included some off-colour commentary from people about their McDonalds experiences. I will let you pause and savour a couple before we continue.
Beyond the LOLs, it is interesting to note that this is not the first time such a thing has happened to McDonalds. A few years ago, a McDonalds website devoted to customer relations got into a similar situation, with posters asking some off-colour questions and getting apparently serious, marketing-style answers. I will just quote one question-and-answer here for your consideration:
I love McFlurry, but whenever I eat it, my skin turns red and chapped, my mouth stings and I have difficulty breathing. The problem seems to be getting worse. Should I continue eat it in the hope that I might harden myself, or is there some other explanation? Do you put poison in McFlurry?”
There is absolutely no poison in the McFlurries. If you are having some particular kind of reaction when you eat a McFlurry, then it would be advisable you discontinue purchasing and eating them immediately, and speak to your doctor about the symptoms you are having.
In this blog, we often discuss cases showing how technology has changed society in some way. In this case, however, it seems that little has changed. More particularly, McDonalds has always been dousing rumours that its food is insalubrious or not composed as advertised. For example, an article from the Christian Science Monitor in 1979 shows the restaurant chain squashing a pair of unsavoury rumours. The first rumour held that McDonalds burgers were not 100% beef, as advertised, but rather contained ground-up worm as filler. Not true, the company replied:
The worm rumor, which began in August last year, had swelled by November to such proportions in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana that the company held a press conference in Atlanta to refute it. Sales were down 30 percent in four Atlanta stores….
This rumour has the earmarks of an urban legend, especially the kind where something disgusting is imputed to a common food.
The press conference helped to squash the worm rumour, as the article notes. The second rumour, however, was more diabolical:
It wasn’t so simple with the earlier rumor, the one alleging that between 5 and 50 percent of the profits from McDonalds were contributed by its founder, Ray Kroc, to the San Francisco-based Church of Satan.
This rumour somehow got started in a Baptist Church in Akron, Ohio.
… the minister printed the allegation in his parish newsletter. “It went in a chain from newsletter to newsletter,” explains Mincer, who says it circulated from denomination to denomination. “Some church leaders were preaching from the pulpit against McDonalds.”
This rumour also has the appearance of an urban legend, this one spread through mimeograph, kind of duplicator often used for low-ciruclation newsletters at the time.
The moral of this little tale seems to be that the human need to spread gossip is persistent and resilient. Whether by word-of-mouth, mimeograph, blogs, or Twitter, salacious stories will appear and circulate. For McDonalds, the challenge will be in choking them off rather than inadvertently nourishing them.
Twitter terrorism and terrible twits. January 10, 2012Posted by Scott Campbell in : Uncategorized , comments closed
Just before 2011 ended, two Twitter news items caught my eye: Twitter lawsuit threatened over alleged Hezbollah aid (CNN) and Police fight back against tweets that reveal RIDE checkpoints (Globe and Mail). The first article is essentially asking if Twitter is somehow aiding and abetting terrorism and terrorists. Apparently, several groups recognized by the US government as terrorist organizations have Twitter accounts with several thousand followers, and another group complained:
“It has come to our attention that Twitter Inc. provides social media and associated services to such foreign terrorist organizations,” Darshan-Leitner wrote. “Please be advised that (doing so) is illegal and will expose Twitter Inc. and its officers to both criminal prosecution and civil liability to American citizens and others victimized” by Hezbollah, al-Shabaab and other foreign terrorist entities.
I came across this news item via another website, where the discussion seemed to tend towards the idea that Twitter, like all technology, is neutral and cannot be held accountable for what people do with it. A terrorist might also find a hammer useful, but nobody is threatening Craftsman tools with lawsuits. This is a fairly common perspective among those with an instrumentalist view of technology: tools can be neither good or bad, the only values that matter are those of the people who use a tool and in how they use it for good or bad.
My take on this, however, is that Twitter does contain values. Famously, it promotes condensed bursts of information which are limited to 140 characters, rather than more lengthy bodies of text that can, presumably, carry more information with greater nuance, analysis, detail, reflection and so on. Moreover, anyone can use Twitter: an account is free, the software is free, and there are many different ways to access the social network without much restriction. There are no official moderators, and Twitter is a private company. Another value then is of freedom of communication, of a democratic technology with its users (or citizens) having a high degree of freedom, without central control or oversight. And so, Twitter is not entirely neutral. It is compatible, and strongly linked with particular and preferred views of the world. Certainly, Twitter would not exist in the same way without those values.
I see these values reflected in the second article, which describes the use of Twitter by civilians to broadcast the location of drunk-driving checkpoints:
On major holidays, Twitter lights up with a flurry of tips on avoiding breathalyzer-wielding officers. In the past month alone, users in several Canadian cities have set up accounts for the sole purpose of aggregating these tweets. Those who do it argue they are simply helping sober drivers avoid traffic tie-ups. Police say such actions could cost people their lives. They have little legal recourse, however, prompting one web-savvy Toronto cop to take to Twitter in an effort to shame people out of thwarting his fellow officers.
The article explores why an obstruction of justice charge would be legally difficult, though it goes unsaid that the police simply don’t have the power to censor or moderate Twitter accounts. Instead, they must join the network, more or less as equals with other users, and attempt to subvert the process by shaming tipsters, who soon acquire a number of brief Twitter-like labels: “dirtbags,” “losers” and “drunk driving fans.” Not only is the technology value-laden, but it encourages certain patterns of use.
I should think that similar analysis could easily be carried out with Facebook to demonstrate various built-in values related to personal privacy (or the lack thereof in the modern world).
The 2011 election May 3, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
Information technology is becoming ever more important for elections in Canada, as the recent federal election has made clear. Here are some of the interesting developments in that respect from the latter days of the election.
(Image courtesy of Dean Shareski via Wikimedia Commons.)
One blast from the past of infotech comes from the good old autodialer. Apparently, citizens in some ridings, including my own riding of Guelph, received taped phone calls telling them that the location of their polling station had been changed. The calls purported to be from Elections Canada. Of course, Elections Canada would not move polls in the final days of the election, nor would they autodial voters to tell them so. The purpose of the calls seems to have been to misdirect voters so they would not vote. Naturally, attempts to prevent voters from voting contravenes the Canada Elections Act. We can only hope that the complaints are investigated and the perpetrators charged.
There was also a kind of civil disobedience action against another provision of the Canada Elections Act, namely section 329 that prohibits the disclosure of poll results before all the polls in the country have closed. Such a ban goes against the grain of the use of social media by citizens to discuss election results as soon as they are available. As a result, many citizens planned to openly flout the law, e.g., by Tweeting their local results immediately. In fact, an aggregator of such Tweets, TweetTheResults.ca has been set up to ensure that anyone can easily find the illicit tweets.
Why does Canada have such a law, anyway? One obvious concern is that of fairness to voters on the west coast. Election results from Atlantic and Central Canada are available to them before their polls close. These voters may receive the news that a government has been elected before they are even able to cast their ballots. That could leave them feeling disenfranchised. Or it might just leave them confused, as US voters were during the 2000 federal election there as the TV networks mistakenly called that election twice: first for Gore, then for Bush. That must have confused voters in California as it occurred when their polls were still open. Of course, with the staggering of voting times in Canada, there is little opportunity for BC voters go get the news and then abandon or rush to their ballot boxes.
Robert McDermid, professor of Political Science at York University, raises another justification for the anti-publication law, which is to arrest the spread of disinformation about polling results. Originators of the law feared that telegraphy could be used transmit fake poll results in order to influence voters in the west coast. The same concern could certainly be applied to the ‘net, where disinformation can spread rapidly. However, as he points out, the opportunity to spread fake results after voting counting in Ontario and Quebec (where there are a lot of seats at stake) to BC before their polls close is on the order of 10 or 15 minutes. That is hardly enough time to make a significant difference for voters in BC.
On the whole, it appears that fake information spread during an election but before the polls open (see the first point) is the greater issue.
Finally, a company called 270soft.com has written a computer game version of the 2011 election. That’s right: Now you can experience the thrill of being Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, …, and run for office in the virtual version of Canada. The game sounds like it has some versimilitude:
The campaign moves forward one day at a time, with myriad tactical options available each turn. You can review statistics for individual ridings and target and set up ground operations for specific seats, choose to research important issues and create ads based on what you think the electorate cares about, and recruit famous crusaders who will pound the pavement for your party. You can also change your party’s platform, try to spin news stories, and travel to various regions to fundraise and barnstorm. Results are posted at the end of every turn in the form of news headlines and a list of activities carried out by all parties that day.
What about designing the attack ads? That’s where the real election action takes place! It also makes me wonder if computer simulations will become a routine part of electoral politics. That is, will political parties try to use such simulations in order to help set their campaign strategies? Their platforms? The timing of the election? Perhaps we’ll see in 2015.
Will this Tweet be on the test? February 9, 2011Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100, STV302 , comments closed
How might political revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt be connected to internet Usage Based Billing in Canada? Why, the power of social media and networks of course!
It has been fascinating watching revolutions unfold half a world away — thanks largely to power of electronic mass media, live video, commentary and analysis can be had as event transpire. Even when governments try to pull the plug, information can escape and the people can still march. That suggests an important lesson about the apparent relevance of social media and maybe Facebook and Twitter aren’t as significant as we in the West would like to think. As Malcolm Gladwell recently observed about the protests and changes underway in Egypt,
There are a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications … but surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.
While not everyone is happy with Gladwell’s understanding of social networks and media, here his observation does not seem controversial.
What about the 2009 Iranian “Twitter Revolution”? Again, not everyone thinks that social networking sites are the keys to a cyber-utopia or human rights panacea. Evgeny Morozov has studied the relationship between technology and authoritarian governments, and his recent book and writings have pointed out that a) technology is not new to rebellion–Xerox machines were used to organize Polish anti-communist protests, to say nothing of the printing presses and books that have driven countless others –so we should avoid overestimating the role of the technology dujour, and b) these tools are not limited to the disaffected masses. Dictators can and probably would use them to their own advantage. For instance, most social networking services seem to decrease privacy and many have begun incorporating geolocation services. These are features the 21st century’s Che Guevaras might rather avoid, at least if they wanted to retain their freedom. Tracking individuals is almost too easy these days.
Personally, I really don’t know if “The Revolution will be Twittered”. Can political change happen in 140 characters or less?
I guess it can if you are Canada’s Industry Minister Tony Clement. Famous for his fast fingers at home or in Parliament, he has been known to twitter about personal events and major policy decisions, and to even hold impromptu political debates in the twitterverse. And when the CRTC announced a new Usage Based Billing policy not too long ago, it was Clement’s twitter that announced that his government would review and likely overturn that decision. All of which might explain why he has been crowned the Tory Twitter King.
Hmm. Is this the new way of government, or is it just an old-fashioned policy leak? And if Clement would live by the sword, he might die by it as well: he has been made to look foolish in Twitter-land. And while there might be a few hundred people who read Hansard for kicks, thousands subscribe to Clement’s Twitter feed, correspond with him very publicly, and the archives are readily accessible.
To an extent, this discussion turns on the issue of whether technology is “just a tool”, something that comes up quite a bit on this blog. But what came to my mind, in keeping with Cameron’s rumblings earlier this week about the future of education, will lectures soon be twittered? (No, I did not miss the irony that these thoughts are being published on a blog.)