Tag Archives: Facebook

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

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It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better- much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

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A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

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And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

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So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

Israel’s Government Is Paying College Students to Spread Pro-Israel Propaganda on Social Media

A lot of the discussion and debate about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been taking place on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources.

In light of that, I think it’s important for people to know that social media is by no means immune to government propaganda. Far from it in fact.

Back in August of last year, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the Israeli government would be giving scholarships to college students who, “engage international audiences online” by posting pro-Israel tweets/statuses etc. online.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AP)

“This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,”

the statement said.

Students at each university are organized into units. At the top is the chief-coordinator, who gets a full scholarship. Under the chief-coordinator are three “desk coordinators” in charge of language, graphics and research who receive lesser scholarships. Then there are student “activists” who receive, “minimal scholarships”.

The program is run by Danny Seamen, an Israeli public diplomacy official who drew the ire of Muslims in the region when he posted the following status on his personal Facebook page:

“Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan mean that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?”

Danny Seaman, who is in charge of the program (Photo: Flash90)

Despite the fact that Israeli officials condemned the status, calling it “unacceptable” and saying that it didn’t, “reflect the position of the Israeli government,” Seaman somehow still ended up in charge of the social media propaganda campaign.

Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the volunteer social media recruits in a video conference shortly after the announcement. He said,

“We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front… We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies.”

It’s not the first time that the Israeli government did something like this. Just a year earlier, a Palestinian blog reported that Israeli students were being paid $2,000 for posting pro-Israel messages online for five hours a week.

I agree whole-heartedly with Netanyahu that we must “fight for the truth” and “refute the industry of lies”. But you don’t do that by bribing college kids to post pro-government sound-bites, and you definitely don’t do it by putting a man in charge who has proven he cares more about inciting anger and hate than he does about spreading truth.

Read the original story from the AP here.

Why Students Chose to Shock Themselves Rather Than Sit Alone With Their Thoughts

We live in a world saturated with sensory stimulations. From our cell phones to our laptops and TVs, almost our entire day is a marathon of sights and sounds, all competing for our increasingly short attention spans.

So you would think most people would enjoy the opportunity to get away from it all and gather their thoughts. But a recent study from the University of Virginia found quite the opposite.

In fact, many of the participants even started giving themselves electric shocks as their time alone dragged on.

Psychologist Timothy Wilson led the study, which was recently published in the journal Science. He had this to say about the results:

“I think many of them were trying to shock themselves out of boredom… It’s just a sign of how difficult (being alone with one’s thoughts) can be for people…. This isn’t something that most people find really enjoyable.”

Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia

For the study, 55 college students agreed to give up all distractions (like cell phones, tablets and mp3 players) and spend between six and 15 minutes in a sparsely furnished room on UVA’s campus. Afterwards they were asked to rate their enjoyment on a scale of 1-9.

The average rating was pretty much right in the middle. In other words, the average student was pretty much indifferent to the idea of  spending a few minutes alone.

The results also meant that half of the students rated the experience as unpleasant. But the most unsettling findings involved the electric shock.

Before entering the room, participants were given an electric shock on their ankle so that they could gauge how painful it was. They were then told that they could shock themselves again during their time alone if they wanted to.

Of the 55 participants, 42 said that they would be willing to pay to avoid being shocked again. But shockingly (pun intended), 18 of these 42 students (~43%) ended up shocking themselves anyways.

It seems that the students decided that even a jolt of pain was worth it to break the boredom of their seclusion.

Wilson was definitely surprised by the results. It baffled him that it was so difficult for the students to use their brains to entertain themselves:

“All of us have pleasant memories we can call upon, we can construct stories and fantasies.”

But he thinks that the unfamiliar environment (ie. an empty room) throws off our normal thought processes:

“I think it’s an issue of mental control. The mind is built to engage in the world and when you give it nothing to engage it, it’s hard to keep one train of thought going for very long.”

Wilson added that he didn’t think the phenomenon was a modern one, because there were complaints of people not taking the time to sit and contemplate as far back as ancient Roman times.

Personally, I think this is a pretty weak justification for his hypothesis. Ancient Rome was a very advanced society for its time, but it was a far cry from our modern world technologically.

The average Roman had to spend a much larger portion of their time doing typically grueling physical labor, leaving them physically exhausted at the end of the day.

In our modern world, many of us still come home from work exhausted, but it’s more a result of brain exhaustion than the overworking our bodies.

Also, we have become extremely dependent on our mobile devices in the last decade or so. It’s become instinct for young people to check Twitter/Facebook/Instagram any time we get bored, and I think the students in the study experienced some withdrawals when they no longer had access to this digital crutch.

Whatever the case may be, the results of the study should make all of us take a look at our own lives and see where we can find time to reflect and make sense of all the information we process in this fast-paced world.

The average brain is only able to process seven pieces of information at a time (this is why phone numbers are an area code plus seven numbers). Our smartphones alone constantly take up a significant portion of these seven slots (thinking about your texts, a picture you just Instagrammed and a Tweet you just read is already 3 of those 7 slots).

This is why it’s so important to make time to sort through your thoughts, free of any other distractions. You may be surprised at what you find in your own mind when you take the time to listen.

Read more from CTV here.

Should People Be Outraged By A Texas Tech Cheerleader Hunting Big Game In Africa? (Poll)

Don’t forget to voice your opinion by answering the poll questions at the end!

Kendall Jones is a 19-year-old from Cleburne, Texas, a small town about 45 minutes southwest of Dallas. When she was nine, she started following her father on his big game hunts in Africa.

Kendall quickly took a liking to the hunts, and at the age of 13, she shot her first animal: a White Rhino. From her Facebook:

“Although I had many other opportunities to shoot animals I wanted to save it for the Big 5, so the first animal I ever shot was a White Rhino with a .416 Remington!!”

Kendall poses with her White Rhino. Click to enlarge

The Big 5 Kendall mentions refers to the five African animals coveted most by hunters: the rhino, the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the lion.

Since then, she has checked off the other four, as you can see in the pictures below.

Kendall with a Cape buffalo. Click to enlarge
Kendall, who describes her hunts as “fair chases”, with the near threatened African leopard. Click to enlarge
Kendall poses with a male lion. Click to enlarge
When this photo of Kendall with a large bull elephant sparked outrage, she defended herself by pointing out that the meat helped feed hundreds of families. Click to enlarge

Kendall’s “About” section on her Facebook page says that she’s, “looking to host a tv show in January 2015″ about her hunting adventures through Africa.

Ironically, she has gained the public spotlight because of a recent online petition that has asked Facebook to, “Remove the page of Kendall Jones that promotes animal cruelty!” The petition, posted just over a week ago, has already garnered over 45,000 signatures (its goal is 50,000).

Another petition, posted to the website change.org a few days later, calls her out for using her hunting to expand her social media influence and adavance her entertainment career and asks that she be banned from hunting in Africa completely. It has nearly 3,500 signatures.

Kendall with a white springbok. She captioned this photo: “Another harvest for today. White springbok, it’s 1 of the 4 color shades of this animal! And let me tell you it’s one of my favorite kinds of meat so far!”

In her defense, Kendall argues that her hunting is about conservation. She writes,

“Controlling the male lion population is important within large fenced areas like these… Funds from a hunt like this goes partially to the government for permits but also to the farm owner as an incentive to keep and raise lions on their property.”

So while many may find what she’s doing distasteful, it’s actually not illegal. Big game hunters pay the government’s of African countries for special permits which allow them to hunt the animals.

These permits are often auctioned off, with a large portion of the proceeds supposedly going to help wildlife conservation efforts in the region. I say “supposedly” because anyone who knows Africa knows that a lot of money never gets where it’s supposed to go.

One of the biggest problems with illegal poaching is that many wildlife agents, customs officials, and government leaders are already being paid-off by wealthy and powerful mafia-style poaching rings, so it would be extremely surprising if this corruption doesn’t also exist in the extremely lucrative permit auctions.

Satao, one of the world’s most iconic elephants who was recently poached for his massive tusks. Click this image to read that story

Personally, I think killing any animal (especially one as rare and majestic as the great beasts of Africa) so you can pose with it for social media attention is a pretty selfish thing to do. Sure, certain populations (like feral hogs in Texas, for example) do a lot of damage to the environment and ought to be controlled.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people wanting to document their kills for themselves, but parading the dead bodies of some of our most threatened species doesn’t send a message of conservation and protection, in my opinion.

However, as I said earlier, it’s perfectly legal. And I’m not sure whether people being offended by the pictures is a good enough reason to remove them from Facebook (which is full of offensive content), let alone ban her from Africa.

Let me know what you think by answering the three poll questions below.

Read the original story from the Daily Mail here.

If you’re interested in knowing just how threatened these different animal species are, you can look them up on World Wildlife Federation’s Endangered Species Directory.

Facebook Just Manipulated the Emotions of 700,000 Users Without Informing Them

When you sign up for Facebook, you have to agree to a whole laundry list of fine-print terms and conditions (which almost nobody ever reads). One of the things you consent to is Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which gives Facebook the right to use your info for, “…troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Well, it seems that Facebook has taken full advantage of the “research” portion of that agreement. A study published two weeks ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that Facebook recently carried out an experiment that involved manipulating user’s emotions.

Basically, Faceobook wanted to know if removing sad, angry or otherwise negative terms from a user’s News Feed would affect how happy or sad the statuses they posted were.

So they randomly selected 689,003 users and tweaked the computer algorithms that determine what pops up on your News Feed. Some of the users were fed primarily neutral to happy information and stories, while others were fed primarily neutral to sad or depressing information.

It probably comes as a surprise to nobody that the users who were fed more negative information tended to post more gloomy statuses.

Congratulations Facebook, you proved something that 99% of 5th graders could have probably just told you.

But what about all of the users who Facebook intentionally made sad? Some serious questions have been raised about the ethics of the experiment.

Any experiment that receives federal funding has to abide abide by a code of rules known as the Common Rule for human subjects. The Common Rule’s definition of consent requires the researchers to give the test subjects, “a description of any foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject.”

Facebook clearly didn’t abide by that standard, but since the test wasn’t federally funded, they are technically exempt. However, the PNAS also has its own set of rules for publication. Unfortunately, they seem to have bent or broken a few of them to publish the Facebook study.

Most notably, PNAS‘s guidelines for publishing require that a study abide the principles of the Helsinki Declaration, which states that test subjects must be,

“…adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail.”

Clearly, manipulating the emotions of 700,000 oblivious users is a blatant violation of this principle. With most people getting the bulk of their news and information on Facebook, it’s pretty unsettling to find out that they’re doing mass psychological testing on us.

Read the original story from Slate here.

We’re Losing the Ability to See Things In the Long Term. And It’s Slowly Destroying Us

The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.

Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.

To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.

Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.

For one, there’s a shitstorm of questionable or straight up fake content out there that is designed to take advantage of our headline abuse.

The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.

The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):

sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy

So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?

The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.

Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.

The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.

See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.

First they have to get you mad that their primary opponent isn’t extreme enough in their political views. That’s pretty much how the Tea Party emerged and how Eric Cantor, who was on his way to House Majority Leader, lost to an economics professor from Randolph Macon College (Cantor spent more on steak dinners than Dave Brat did on his entire campaign).

People were mad that Congress has been ineffective and Cantor, who had realized the only way to get things done was to compromise with the Democrats, was blamed for being to weak of a conservative. People were mad that he didn’t “stand up for his ideals”, whatever that means these days.

Eric Cantor, Republican House member from Virginia

Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.

Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.

Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…

The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.

Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).

Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.

Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.

Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.

Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.

Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?

When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.

But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.

That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.

But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.

Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.

The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.

This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how  the market has performed in the past few months .

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The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.

The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.

We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.

It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.

Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.

We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.

New Study Finds That Fake News Websites Have Made Americans 50% Dumber Since 2010

I’m really sorry to disappoint you but there’s no real study. I made it up because I thought the headline would make you more likely to read this. It’s a trick being used more and more often lately, but most websites won’t admit the lie straight off the bat like I just did.

If you use Facebook fairly regularly, chances are you’ve been conned at least once by a “satirical” website. I put satirical in quotes because what these sites do is a dagger in the side of all the real satirists out there.

The Onion, founded in 1988 in Chicago, was the first major satirical news outlet. Their stories were clearly fake, but they gained readers because the writing was clever and genuinely funny.

This shit is not the Onion. Excuse my French but it’s my job as a journalist to tell the truth as I see it, and the truth is, what these sites are doing is shit. They are exploiting ill-informed, gullible yet passionate people by intentionally generating “news” designed to take advantage of our most powerful emotions.

One of the largest of these new websites is The Daily Currant, a site that refers to itself as “The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record”.

This completely joke-free “satire” website got famous after a fake article they wrote about a New York pizzeria owner refusing Mayor Michael Bloomberg a second slice of pizza (because of his proposed ban on large sodas) made it onto the front page of the Drudge Report.

Another great example of this sleazy fake journalism is this recent story published by the website National Report. The headline: Texas to Pass “Name Your Fetus” Bill.

The article talks about a new law passed by the Texas legislature that forces women getting abortions to,

“…not only hear their fetus’ heartbeat, but must also come up with male and female baby names, speak with at least one faculty member from the local school district, and examine no fewer than 30 baby photos.”

The article also claims that any woman who gets an abortion will have to write a letter to a judge explaining her reasons for getting it, and that the judge could recommend her name and photo be published in an online abortion registry.

To a well-educated person who keeps up with government and politics, this article throws up a number of red flags pretty quickly, but to someone who is passionate about this issue and simultaneously ill-informed on it, these red flags are almost a welcome sight: they are confirmation of the belief that the Texas legislature (and conservatives in general) are waging a draconian war on women’s rights.

These political devils and male chauvinists must be exposed! This information must be shared with the world! And just like that, the lie spreads. That article is only two weeks old and already has over 3,000 shares and over 14,000 comments on Facebook.

The worst part is the 112 responses on the actual article. The moderators made sure to censor any comments revealing that the story is fake, and passionate people from both sides clash in an insane series of conversations which includes tidbits like this one:

…and this one:

These conversations may sound ridiculous to you, but go read the rest of the comments for yourself. Real people are having real conversations, feeling very real feelings of anger and hate towards one another, all based off of a fake piece of news.

There are other examples, like Empire Sports recent trolling of UFC fans, when they claimed longtime announcer and former Fear Factor host Joe Rogan would be stepping into the ring.

Just last Thursday, Empire News (Empire Sports’ parent site) posted a story with the headline: Obama Signs Bill Forgiving All Student Loan Debt.

Despite the fact that this headline may seem pretty fake to most, Empire News (like most of these sites) combines good, journalistic-sounding writing with a total lack of humor to make gullible readers mistake these supposed “satire” sites for reliable news sources. The student debt article is at 24,678 shares and 44,177 likes on Facebook already.

I know a lot of you are probably thinking, ‘Hey, if people are dumb enough to believe those fake stories, that’s their problem.’ Well, the fake sources are getting more sophisticated, and even intelligent people are falling for the trap.

Recently an article entitled “Big Hospital Finally Telling the Truth About Cancer” claimed to have obatined a “Cancer Update” e-mail from world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital. The supposed update made a number of false claims about cancer (like “everyone has cancer cells”), but cleverly mixed in some legitimate elements of holistic treatment, like carefully monitoring your diet.

The result? 634,366 likes, 474,147 shares and 335,023 comments on Facebook, as well as 6,012 shares on Twitter and 6,416 on Pinterest (the website has since removed the article).

And this doesn’t account for the hundreds of sites that re-posted the fake information on their own pages. I even considered posting about it on here until I read all of the overly bold claims it made.

It took a snopes.com debunking and an open letter on Johns Hopkins official website to stop the infection, though a lot of damage has already been done.

With more and more people gaining access to modern technology, we get an increasingly large amount of our information from social media, relying on others to share good, reliable stories so we don’t have to find them ourselves.

Worsening the problem, a Washington Post survey from March found that,

“roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.”

Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat (which measures realtime traffic for sites like Upworthy), recently added,

“We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading [the content].”

Image courtesy of The Guardian

These websites know that most people never even put in the time to read an article, let alone investigate its accuracy, so they design their articles specifically to push our most sensitive buttons.

The admins of some of these sites are making $100,000+ a year selling ad space on their sites, and the minimal amount of writing they do is all, quite literally, a bunch of made up shit.

Social media has been great in terms of increasing the voice of the individual and helping to break some of the media monopoly that was built during the rise of television, but it has also had the unintended consequence of increasing the amount of false info out there.

So how do we fight this growing monster of lies and targeted misinformation? Well, there’s a few things we have to stop doing on Facebook.

First off, if a headline catches your eye because it seems unbelievable, chances are it probably is. Don’t let your desire for the story to be true override your logic and skepticism.

If you are skeptical about a claim, try searching key phrases from the article on Google, adding the word “fake” or “satire”. People call out these stories for being false pretty early on, but you usually won’t find the debunkings on social media.

But by far the single most important thing you can do is to STOP sharing, commenting on or even liking links unless you are willing to vouch for what is in them. Don’t let others judge credibility for you.

With major media outlets become increasingly more like the tabloids in their sensationalist journalism, it’s going to be up to us, the individuals, to demand credibility and accountability from our news sources.

Otherwise, we may soon live in a world so saturated with falsehoods that the truth will become virtually impossible to extract.

NOTE: All of the specific stats on social media shares came from sharedcount.com. You can use this site to check the total number of shares for any public web address.

5 Quick Thoughts on All This Donald Sterling Business (Opinion Piece)

1. This Story Isn’t Really About Racism

The first thing I did when I started doing research for this piece was to search “donald sterling racist” on google. However, I changed the date range to only find results from before January 1st of this year. Google came up with over 600 results. A sampling of the best:

  • A Deadspin article from last July about Jeff Pearlman, who is writing a book about the NBA in the 80s. For the book, he talked to former Clippers GM Paul Phipps. Phipps told a story about when Rollie Massimino, who was coaching for Villanova at the time, was being interviewed by Sterling as a replacement for recently-fired Clippers coach Paul Silas. Massimino called Phipps the next morning and angrily informed him why he would be passing on the job:

“Here’s this guy [Sterling]… and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.’”

Rollie Massimino and his 1985 Villanova National Championship team
  • An ESPN article by Jamele Hill from 2009 in which she started off like this: “Donald Sterling makes Rush Limbaugh look like Martin Luther King Jr.” She discussed the $2.725 million judgment Sterling had just been ordered to pay for his second federal housing discrimination lawsuit. She also quoted one of his property managers from the proceedings of the case- he said Sterling, examining a newly acquired property, explained that it smelled because,

“All the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”

  • An ESPN article from all the way back in 2006 when my homie Bomani Jones (who had one of the best responses to this whole thing) broke the original story of the lawsuit which would eventually result in the massive judgment Jamele Hill wrote about in 2009. He also talked more about the first lawsuit, in which Sterling settled with the 19 plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount (he also had to pay $5 million in attorney fees). One of my favorite excerpts from Bomani’s piece (remember this is from 2006):

“It’s not Sterling’s job to bring attention to his ethical transgressions. That’s the job of the media. And as it relates to Sterling, we have dropped the ball. In American sports, issues of race are unavoidable. But when we turn our attention to those issues, we tend to do so in discussion of sensational topics. And we do so with little more than passing interest. We’re more concerned with people saying stupid things, transgressions that even undeniable racists could criticize. People from every walk of life are entitled to slam someone for talking too much. In Sterling’s case, we’re confronted with racism in its most problematic form. And up until now, we’ve said very little.”

ESPN analyst Bomani Jones has been trying to tell us how racist Sterling is for a long time…

This last quote makes my first point perfectly. Nobody cared when a rich old owner of a historically bad team was actively trying to keep minorities out of the apartments he owns, but a 15 minute conversation where he says a few racist things out of anger and jealousy is what brought the ship down.

The rise of social media has expanded our access to information and different viewpoints, but it has also prostituted our media. All major news outlets have detailed data on what types of stories are the most likely to “go viral” on the internet, and they adjust what they cover and how they cover it to try to tap into this virality potential.

This story was big not because Sterling was “caught being racist”, but because the way in which he was caught created a perfect, real-life drama of power, money, sex and scandal: billionaire NBA owner, caught on tape, super racist soundbites, recorded by his mistress who happens to be half black and half hispanic.

Everybody on social media during the scandal

There were so many bizarre aspects to the Sterling story that every new piece of information just seemed too ridiculous to be true. We had to click the links to see for ourselves. The media was just drooling all over their keyboards. Updates couldn’t come fast enough.

And THAT is why we put Donald Sterling in the stocks of the Facebook town square and threw digital rotten vegetables at him. Not because we didn’t like that he was a racist, but because the crazy way in which he revealed his racism to all the people who didn’t know about it (or care about it) before the TMZ tape made the scandal a “trending topic” on Facebook and Twitter for a little while.

2. V. Stiviano Is The Most Interesting and The Most Vile Character In This Story

The striking and enigmatic V. Stiviano: the woman with only an initial for a first name who has been skating around with a strange visor on since the scandal broke…Well, actually she does have a first name…she used to at least. Apparently she was Maria Vanessa Perez until 2010, when she changed her name because she hand’t, “been fully accepted because of my race.”

A recent (and strange) picture of V. Stiviano…

She was getting millions of dollars in gifts ($1.8 million apartment, two Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Range Rover, and bundles of cash, among other things) from her sugar daddy Don Sterling, so why would she want to set him up all of a sudden?

Nobody seems to know. But it’s worth noting that on March 7th, Sterling’s real wife, sick of seeing Stiviano with all of the toys and money that her husband showered upon her, filed a lawsuit which accused Stiviano of, “engaging in conduct designed to target, befriend, seduce, and then entice, cajole, borrow from, cheat, and/or receive as gifts transfers of wealth from wealthy older men whom she targets for such purpose,” (apparently you can’t just call someone a gold digger in a lawsuit).

Rochelle Sterling with her husband (Image: Reuters)

Now what happened between then and the TMZ tape is pretty hazy. Some people think Stiviano threatened Sterling to do something about his wife’s lawsuit and simply followed through when he refused. Some people think she made the tape as insurance in case she got in over her head. Stiviano’s lawyers have said she was not the one who released the tape to the media, and TMZ has declined to comment on their source or whether they paid for the tape.

This past Friday, Stiviano sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters of 20/20- it was the first real interview she had done since the tape was released. I guess real is the wrong word, though. The interview is an 18-minute audition for Stiviano’s future acting career. She tries her hardest to come off as the sympathetic young woman who is the only one who truly understands this monster with a heart of gold. The only problem is, she’s just a terrible liar and is very obvious when she is reciting scripted soundbites.

The journalism in this whole piece is also awful. Specifically, Walters fails to ask the two most important unanswered questions: if Stiviano is Sterling’s biggest supporter, why would she have recorded the conversation, and if she didn’t give it to the media, who did? Instead, Walters endlessly probes the nature of their relationship, trying to get Stiviano to reveal some sex secrets. Then she asks her a series of basic questions about whether or not she thinks Sterling is a racist and all that jazz. Yet another example of the media caring more about sensationalism than information.

This story is about a clever, silver-tongued young woman who seduced a rich, ignorant and vulnerable old man, a man who spent his whole life doing and saying whatever he wanted. It was only a matter of time before Sterling’s combination of bigotry, infidelity and reprehensible behavior caught up to him. His downfall just happened to take the form of a slender half black half Mexican woman with an exotic look, a pornstar voice and an insatiable appetite for wealth.

To me, Stiviano is the more vile of the two main actors in this drama. Sterling has never cared much about hiding his ignorant views, and has been silent for the most part since this story broke. Meanwhile, Stiviano is trying to take the moral high ground by playing not only the victim but also the merciful, gracious young minority woman who still believes Sterling isn’t truly racist at heart.

This is why she irks me more than Sterling- she’s pretending to be the lone protagonist in the story after compromising the two most fundamental aspects of her identity: her womanhood and her ethnic heritage. She sold both of these things out when she decided to play mistress for a racist old man in exchange for her luxury lifestyle.

(By far my least favorite part of the tape was hearing her tell him she would change her skin color if she could. Finding out why she changed her name didn’t help her case either.)

3. Sterling Didn’t Really Lose

A $2.5 million dollar fine is nothing to Donald Sterling (Forbes put his net worth at just under $2 billion). And even if the NBA succeeds in forcing him to sell his team, he will still be winning for a number of reasons.

First, it’s a good time to sell. In the past year, two sub-par NBA teams in small markets have been purchased above market value: the Sacramento Kings ($534 million) and the Milwaukee Bucks ($550 million).

Not only have the Clippers recently become a title-contender and huge TV attraction (Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan’s dunk-shows draw in a lot of viewers), but they are located in the second largest city in the country with a population more than three times larger than the cities of Sacramento and Milwaukee combined.

So, despite only being valued at around $600 million, most experts believe the Clippers will sell for closer to a billion dollars, 80 times more than the $12.5 million Sterling paid for the franchise in the early 80s.

If he were voluntarily selling the team, $200 million of that billion would go to federal taxes and another $123 million would go to California state taxes. However, a stipulation in the federal tax code states that money received from a forced sale or other “involuntary conversion” cannot be taxed (the idea being you shouldn’t have to pay taxes on something you didn’t want to sell in the first place). So, Sterling might walk away from the transaction with a fat, tax-free check.

4. The Game Has Changed

Regardless of how racist and ignorant the things that Donald Sterling said were, we also need to be upset that he was illegally recorded in his own home and nobody seems to being doing much to prosecute the person responsible (whoever that may be). If this had been a court case, everything that Sterling said on the tape would have been immediately thrown out as evidence, since taping a private conversation without the other person’s knowledge is a serious crime.

But this case was tried in the court of public opinion, where those things don’t matter. And that’s why I say the game has changed: public figures no longer enjoy the luxury of privacy. You can buy a secluded estate, get encrypted phone numbers and IP addresses and take every precaution to maintain your privacy, but you never know when a random comment you make could be discreetly recorded or a private e-mail message hacked.

And regardless as to how illegally your words were obtained, the court of public opinion is a bloodthirsty mob that cares little for your loss of privacy. No matter how much explaining, contextualizing or apologizing you do, the damage will be done. People don’t remember the truth that emerges after the scandal, they only remember the scandal itself.

How many people remember this? How many people remember that they were found totally innocent at the end of it all?

Think seriously to yourself: how many times have you said something in a private setting, whether angry or joking or drunk or whatever, that you know would destroy your public image if it suddenly became a trending topic on the internet? If your answer is never, you’re probably lying to yourself. Which brings me to my last point…

5. We Need To Stop All This Moral Relativism 

How many people would have cared about the Donald Sterling tape if he wasn’t an NBA owner? Not many. Besides the hollywood scandal allure, people were drawn in by the hypocrisy of a racist man owning a predominantly black team in a predominantly black sport. But the incoherent spoken racism heard on the tape is infinitely less consequential than the institutionalized racism of the housing discrimination issues from Sterling’s past.

We get mad when we think we have to, and then choose to ignore the things that actually should make us mad. Many of the same people who I have seen patting themselves on the back for criticizing Sterling’s racism would be quick to say institutionalized racism is a thing of the past if I started arguing in favor of affirmative action, for example. Do you really think Sterling is the only rich old white man who doesn’t want young minority families in his apartments?

One of the biggest reasons why race still persists as an issue today is because of large-scale issues like housing discrimination or the practice of funding public schools through property taxes (ensuring that the poorest schools get the least funding). But when people try to do things to correct these issues on a large scale, they run into barriers. Why? Because people are only willing to deal with problems if it means they don’t have to sacrifice anything.

Sterling was a perfect example: everybody who wanted to show how un-racist they were could simply jump on Facebook and blast the NBA owner for his phone conversation. Writing a status cost a person to show how “anti-racism” they were without actually costing themselves anything.

But what if they had been one of those people living in Sterling’s apartments? How would they have reacted to the discrimination lawsuits in 2003 and 2006? Would they have been publicly criticizing him for his housing discrimination if it meant more young minority families moved into the complex?

Or take the school funding example. Everybody was all for providing more funds to poor schools until they found out that some of those funds would be coming from the richer schools in upper-class neighborhoods. Then, all of a sudden, it became socialism and “class warfare”.

So my final point is this. Don’t say that you really care about a problem unless you’re willing to sacrifice something of your own to fix it, because all of the rabble-rousing pretenders in the crowd make it much harder for the people who actually do care to be heard.

 

Is the Internet Making Our Brains Read Things Like Computers Do?

You’re on your Facebook or Twitter account and click a link that catches your eye. The link is to an article about something you’re interested in, but when you see that the article is more than a few sentences long, you decide that rather than reading through it, you’re just going to skim through it looking for any intriguing words or phrases that might make you pause and even read a section. If you don’t find anything in the first 30 seconds or so, you usually move on to the next interesting-looking link.

This experience of restlessness while reading and the constant need for new stimulation is shared by the vast majority of people who use the internet regularly. Maryanne Wolf, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Tufts University and author of the recently published book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, thinks that this phenomenon is actually damaging our capacity for reading things in depth, saying,

“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,”

Cognitive neuroscience professor Maryanne Wolf (Photo: Tufts University)

Data collected regularly by the market research company eMarketer estimates that the average American adult spent 5 hours or more on the internet every day, up from just 3 hours in 2010.

In the same way that the rise of round-the-clock cable TV networks spurred the emergence of sound-bites, Wolf argues that the Internet is creating a culture of “eye-bytes”: short, often abbreviated pieces of info (tweets or Facebook statuses, for example) that we can quickly consume and move on to the next eye-byte.

The fundamental difference between the way we read things internet and the “deeper” reading that we use when reading a novel for example, is that deep reading is linear while internet reading is non-linear.

Diagram showing where different aspects of the reading process take place in the brain- click to enlarge (Image: Sally Shaywitz)

Let me explain. When reading a novel, our minds works linearly- the novel progresses from the top to the bottom of each page, and from one page to the next in a consistent, relatively uninterrupted sequence). But online text often includes multiple hyperlinks to other sites or articles, as well as being full of videos and ads, both of which can easily distract us from the article we are trying to read.

So, our brains have adapted to scan through these online pages (in a manner similar to the way computers scan documents), seeking out key words or phrases that capture our interests and might convince us to read a specific section of the text, follow a hyperlink or watch a video on the page.

Our brains are extremely malleable, which is why they are able to quickly adapt to relatively modern phenomenon like the explosive emergence of the internet. But some worry that the brain’s plasticity will stunt the development of deep-reading skills in young children, who are increasingly learning to master their parents electronic devices at a very young age (often before mastering even the most basic of reading skills).

An infant playing with an iPad (Photo: henriksent/flickr)

Wolf points out that there is no reversing this trend now, and rather than trying to fight it,

“We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age. It’s both. We have to ask the question: What do we want to preserve?”

Read more from The Washington Post here.

 

Why Did Venezuela Just Block the Internet and Kick CNN Out of the Country?

Starting at the beginning of this month, Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez, two senior opposition figures have been calling for Venezuelans to take to the streets to protest the country’s worsening conditions and the government’s lack of action.

Anti-government demonstrations (Photo: Reuters)
Anti-government demonstrations (Photo: Reuters)

These worsening conditions include:

  • Runaway inflation- the inflation rate has risen by more than 50% in the past year
  • Food scarcity- basic food items like milk and harina pan, a type of corn flour used to make arepas (similar to flatbread), a Venezuelan staple
  • Continued rise in crime- when Hugo Chavez to power in 1998, the murder rate in Venezuela was 19 per 100,000, now it’s at 79 per 100,000, up from 73 per 100,000 just last year

Many opposition figures believe that Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, is simply a puppet of the Cuban government.

President Nicolas Maduro (Photo: Washington Post)
President Nicolas Maduro (Photo: Washington Post)

On February 12, Leopoldo Lopez, writing on a Venezuelan news site, said that,

“We need to vote but we also need to take to the streets, protest,”

calling for nationwide peaceful protests. However, those protests became violent when an armed group of vigilantes on motorcycles attacked anti-government demonstrators, leaving four dead.

Leopoldo Lopez turns himself into government authorities (Photo: Alejandro Cegarra/AP)
Leopoldo Lopez turns himself into government authorities (Photo: Alejandro Cegarra/AP)

Since then, the situation has quickly spiraled out of control, becoming increasingly violent with deaths on both sides.

The Venezuelan government has already gained a reputation for media censorship. A recent report from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas estimated that censorship in the country increased by a whopping 87% in 2013.

As the demonstrations began gaining momentum, CONATEL, Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator, ordered the country’s cable stations to drop Colombian broadcaster NTN24, the only impartial news station left on Venezuelan TV.

Demonstrators fill the streets
Demonstrators fill the streets

In the last week, the government has blocked Facebook, Twitter and a number of other websites, censoring anything that they see as anti-government.

On Thursday, the government revoked CNN’s work permits and kicked the news organization out of the country for promoting “war propaganda”. President Maduro announced the move in front of a pro-government audience saying,

“Enough war propaganda. I do not accept war propaganda against Venezuela. If they do not rectify things, get out of Venezuela, CNN, get out.”

One of the CNN images that sparked outrage from Maduro (Photo: Lucas Jackson- Reuters)
One of the CNN images that sparked outrage from Maduro (Photo: Lucas Jackson- Reuters)

Later that day, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the government-owned internet service provider CANTV had cut off traffic to San Cristóbal, the capital city of the state of Tachira, where much of the anti-government protest has been centered.

Marianne Díaz, a lawyer and founder of the activist group Acceso Libre, spoke with Vice about it:

“We know it was a government mandate because last night, President Maduro gave a speech (a mandatory broadcast in all radio and TV stations) where he (amongst many other things) threatened Tachira, saying he would ‘go all in’ and that we ‘would be surprised’ of what he would do, and then internet was cut and tanks went in.”

Protestors help wash blood off the face of an injured man (Photo: Alejandro Cegearra- AP)
Protestors help wash blood off the face of an injured man (Photo: Alejandro Cegearra- AP)

For a great summary of the situation in Venezuela, check out this Huffington Post article.

Read the full story on the internet censorship from Vice here.

Feature photo courtesy of Fox News.