Tracking Facebook: The Job of a Real Journalist Is Stressful, Alarming

September 30, 2018

Want to know what the life of a “real” journalist is like? Navigate to “Exposing Cambridge Analytica: ‘It’s Been Exhausting, Exhilarating, and Slightly Terrifying.” Here in Harrod’s Creek we believe everything we read online, whether from Facebook, the GOOG, or the Guardian.

The write up is unusual because on one hand, the virtues of being curious and asking questions leads to “terrifying” experiences. On the other hand, the Guardian is just a tiny bit proud that it made the information available.

I learned:

Cadwalladr’s reporting led to the downfall of Cambridge Analytica and a public apology from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who was forced to testify before congress. Facebook has since lost $120 billion from its share price.

That’s nosing into Elon Musk Tweet territory.

I knew social media was a force, but these are big numbers. Perhaps newspaper advertising will reach these heights with “stressful, alarming” assignments for the “real” journalists?

I learned:

It’s got easier every time I’ve published – sunlight is the best disinfectant etc.

Interesting idea in a world which seems to be emulating the fiction of 1984.

I learned what lubricant allowed the “real” journalist to move forward:

I have to say that the support of readers was absolutely crucial and was one of the things that enabled me to carry on. Not just because it helped give me the confidence to keep going, but also because it helped give the organization confidence. It takes a huge amount of resources and resolve for a news organization to keep publishing in the face of the kind of threats we were facing, and the support of the readers for the story and what we were trying to do really did help give my editors confidence, I think. And I’m really grateful for that.

Does this mean that the “real” newspaper was the motive force?

If so, then “real” newspapers are positive forces in today’s world and not conduits for popular culture, sports, and informed opinion.

My thought was, “I wonder if the Babylonian clay tablet brigade voiced similar sentiments when writing on sheepskin became the rage.”

Probably not.

Rah rah for the “real” journalist. Rah rah for the newspaper.

Any rah rahs for Facebook? Nah. Bro culture. Security laughing stock. Sillycon Valley.

But Cambridge Analytica? Yeah, British with a lifeline from some interesting Americans.

Stephen E Arnold, September 30, 2018

The European Commission: On the Job with Fake News

September 28, 2018

Yes, I wondered if the giant Thomson Reuters was a victim of fake news when I read “Tech Companies Agree to Take Measures to Tackle Fake News.” Of course, TR would not fall victim to fake news; therefore, the information in the write up is spot on.

I noted this statement:

Tech companies have agreed to measures to tackle fake news and concerns that it can influence elections, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Okay, but what “tech companies.” The TR article pointed to this story titled “Tech Companies Agree to Measures to Tackle Fake News.” Is there a list of tech companies at the link destination? Nope, it’s the same story.

So the report about fake news refers to itself.

Not fake news, but it does raise these questions:

  • What companies agreed to fight fake news?
  • How will the companies fight fake news?
  • What is fake news?

Obviously self referential information is not fake, right. What’s good for traffic is definitely “real” and countable.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2018

Modern Journalism: Fact or Fiction or Something Quite New

September 21, 2018

I read the information on this New York Times’ Web page. The intent is to explain how the NYT can learn a “secret” from a helpful reader. I noted this statement:

Each tip, be it from a submission or from a source, is rigorously vetted and probed.”

I find that interesting. I wonder how the anonymous editorial about the “soft” revolt within President Donald Trump’s staff was verified.

Probably not important. “Real” journalists do not have to reveal sources when a secret tip is rigorously vetted and probed.

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, where real journalism is embodied in the local newspaper, the difference between reality and fiction is blurred. It is not thinking here; it is bourbon that does the trick.

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2018

Tips for Dealing with Content Stealers

September 17, 2018

Content on the Internet gets stolen. It is a Reddit trademark, i,e, memes. If you inhabit any part of the fandom community (visit 4chan if you want to have nightmares), then copyright content is plagiarized in fanfiction, fanart, and fan videos. Some cases of fan content have become Internet legends. What do you do, however, if you do not want your content to be stolen and how do you prevent it?

Hacker News Hosted at Y Combinator has a post about, “Dealing with a Competitor Who Is Scraping My Content and Ranking Higher.” Here is the situation:

“One of my competitors has been scrapping my site and providing service to their users without paying anything. And now they surpassed me on Google ranking. I’ve created a website which gets around 5K unique hits every day. It’s a free service for users but I’ve to pay a monthly fee to a third party service provider. Because my site is free for users and doesn’t require users to register it’s been very hard to keep up with this guy. If I change certain things, they counter it immediately and make it work. And they use several proxies to send the request, it’s virtually impossible to block based on IP. Please suggest, if there is anything I’m missing that can be done.”

There are some suggestions such as trap sheets, which is similar to paper towns, where mapmakers include fake streets and towns to identify if any steals their work. Google used something similar when they suspected that Bing was stealing its search results. The proof was in the search results pudding, Bing did scrap the results.

Google also might be helpful in getting them delisted, because the competitor is stealing the content which is illegal. Another suggestion is that the original content writer have the competitor license the original content as an extra revenue stream. Will any of these work?

Whitney Grace, September 17, 2018

Social Media and the Violence Thing

September 11, 2018

I read “Can Facebook Really Drive Violence?” Interesting question for some. The write up states:

Recent reporting has probed the link between virtual hate and real world action. But the connection remains murky.

I recall a trick one of my professors at the one horse university I attended. She substituted other words in an assertion and then asked the same question, stood back, land let the logic of 18 year olds prevail. For instance:

Does the telephone drive teenage smoking?

Intriguing because substitution can reveal the tenuousness of human logic.

Set aside the collegiate penchant for rediscovering logical reasoning. A trend can become more obvious thanks to social media and fake news. With careful selection of facts and suppositions, it sure seems as if behavior can be organized and amplified when certain types of information flow. NBC News reported that “Social Media Rumors Trigger Violence in India; 3 Killed by Mobs.”

According to the story:

“Mobs of villagers killed at least three people and attacked several others after social media messages warned that gangs of kidnappers were roaming southern India in search of children, police said Friday.

And NBC added:

“Authorities said there was no indication that such gangs actually existed.”

This “event” caught the attention of some. The Indian Government has reached out to WhatsApp and demanded that they begin filtering out fake news stories. Google and Facebook have already begun attempting to police themselves. If the Indian government’s move to take control over fake news proves successful, expect to see other nations to follow suit and put stronger demands upon social media outlets.

Ah, perception. Information flow can have an impact, just not what some anticipate.

Stephen E Arnold, September 11, 2018

Newspapers and Their Web Sites

September 10, 2018

I have no recollection of who told me this bit of folklore, but I thought of it when I read “Why Are Newspaper Websites So Horrible?”

Take a beaver from its habitat. Maybe a stream in the woods in northern Wisconsin. Put the beaver in the Chrysler Building’s old observation room with some wooden furniture. Come back in about four hours. What will the beaver do? Answer: Try to build a dam. Moral: Beavers do what beavers to regardless of the location.

Take a print newspaper with the baggage that entails. Put it in a digital environment which has been around since the New York Times put content on the LexisNexis news service AFTER it failed with its own online service in the 1970s. Think the NYT is a success? Yeah, but what if the NYT management had supported Jeff Pemberton and his team? Yeah, success might look different. Ah, what if?

The write up focuses on the implementation of the “beavers do what beavers do” behavior.

That’s lighting the garden when I need light underneath my car when I am changing its oil.

Newspapers do ads. An enlightened and wealthy owner like Barry Bingham could generate a newspaper and some electronic products of quality. But once the Bingham properties when to new owners, understand the beaver thing kicks in.

The problem is how traditional journalism, reporting the news, financing the operation, and creating the gatekeeper role with some influence.

The crazy Web sites of newspapers illustrates that result of the management of these interesting business properties. User experience? Sure.

Beavers do what beavers do.

Stephen E Arnold, September 10, 2018

Gray Literature May Face a Backlash from Professional Publishing Companies

September 3, 2018

I read “Read Research Papers Trapped Behind a Paywall With This Chrome Extension.” The write up describes a Google Chrome extension which helps a user locate a pre-publication version of a journal article. This makes veering around a paywall a little easier for some people. Here in Harrod’s Creek, we just ignore articles for which someone has assigned a price tag. We believe that ignorance is bliss, and we wouldn’t want to have our halcyon life disrupted.

The write up explains:

the extension searches for the article to see if the author has posted a free version anywhere as well.


The write up explains in a somewhat labored manner:

Important to note: This isn’t getting you around the paywall or stealing the content. Instead, what it’s doing is seeing if there’s another legal version online that you can read instead. Emphasis on the “legal” in that sentence. If there is another copy online, you’ll see a green tab on your screen letting you know.

The visual clue is a green tag. Click it and, in theory, you will see the so called pre-publication, gray version of the write up.

Beyond Search believes that some of the professional publishers will note this innovation. We hypothesize that some of these savvy executives will come up with some ideas to nuke these unauthorized versions of the publishers’ for fee articles.

Some professional publishers charge authors for the work required to take their drafts and convert them into professional publishing recurring revenues.

Authors, some of whom are academics, often have zero choice about publishing in journals owned by professional publishing outfits. Do gooder researchers often have different ideas.

Professional publishers can make life difficult because most have outstanding legal teams, a keen desire to keep the recurring revenue flowing, and a need to make sure another Google-type existential threat does not blindside them. To be fair, some professional publishers were not able to perceive how disruptive, Google-type outfits could affect their businesses until they were in the hospital after being hit by the digital trains.

If you want the Chrome extension, navigate to the source article. We don’t use Chrome, and, as I said, we don’t use content in peer reviewed journals. Why?

Sorry, like some of the work I did in my 50 year working career, I won’t talk. Move forward I say. But here’s a question for you, “How much are those must have medical and engineering journals either in dead tree or digital form?” That’s a fact worth knowing.

Stephen E Arnold, September 3, 2018

AI Poised to Take Over Writing in Surprising Ways

August 23, 2018

Long ago, it was writers who told us technology would steal our jobs. In a fit of irony no novelist could resist, the time has come and it might just be snatching up the writer’s jobs. We discovered this in a recent BGR story, “Scientists Trained an AI to Write Poetry, Now It’s Going Toe-To-Toe With Shakespeare.”

According to the story:

“The AI was trained extensively on the rules it needed to follow to craft an acceptable poem. It was fed nearly 3,000 sonnets as training, and the algorithm tore them apart to teach itself how the words worked with each other. Once the bot was brought up to speed it was tasked with crafting some poems of its own.”

The write gives an example of the computer’s work and it’s surprisingly solid. However, many experts are saying this isn’t the end of creativity. As pointed out by Scientific American, just because a computer creates something that looks like art does not mean it is actually art. That’s because people overlook the need for human expression as an outlet—something AI doesn’t have.

Let a software system create facts. Sounds like a plan.

Patrick Roland, August 23, 2018

Fake Reviews, Not Just Fake News

August 22, 2018

When shopping online, one cannot closely examine a product for oneself, so it is tempting to rely on reviews attached to its description. NPR reports, “Some Amazon Reviews Are Too Good to Be Believed. They’re Paid For.” It is a problem that we’ve been aware of for some time, and reporter Ryan Kailath observes that networks have arisen around paid reviews, doing business through social media. There are even what one might call best practices. We learn:

As Amazon and its algorithms get better at hunting them down, paid reviewers employ their own evasive maneuvers. Travis, the teenage paid reviewer, explained his process. He’s a member of several online channels where Amazon sellers congregate, hawking Ethernet cables, flashlights, protein powder, fanny packs — any number of small items for which they want favorable reviews. If something catches Travis’ attention, he approaches the seller and they negotiate terms. Once he buys the product and leaves a five-star review, the seller will refund his purchase, often adding a few dollars ‘commission’ for his trouble. He says he earns around $200 a month this way. The sellers provide detailed instructions, to avoid being detected by Amazon’s algorithms, Travis says. For example, he says, ‘Order here at the Amazon link. Don’t clip any coupons or promo codes. [Wait 4 to 5 days] after receiving [the item].’ This last instruction is especially important, Travis adds. ‘If you review too soon after receiving it’ll look pretty suspicious.’”

Outside auditors estimate more than half the reviews for certain products are not to be trusted, though Amazon disputes that conclusion. Citing Mozilla Fellow on media, misinformation, and trust Renée DiResta, Kailath notes that investing in these reviews has been paying off for many companies. Many of these firms are Chinese, we’re told, operating through the Chinese site Alibaba. They seek to penetrate US markets by leveraging Amazon’s powerful reach. Ultimately, DiResta warns, the problem could hurt Amazon’s reputation, but the company can only do so much. Meanwhile, she suggests customers turn to third-party review sites, like CNET or Wirecutter, for example. Are these sites objective? Perhaps.

Cynthia Murrell, August 22, 2018

Google and GPS Tracking

August 13, 2018

You will want to chase down the full text of “Google Tracks Your Movements, Like It or Not.” I read the AP story in Chron. Note that I try not to quote from AP stories because I have zero desire to get involved in a fair use hassle with a large entity like the AP.

The main point of the story, which I assume is accurate, is that Google tracks where its customers go. The location data functions of a mobile phone provide the stream of data. The story asserts that Google collects these data even if the user has made changes to the default settings in the mobile device to disable tracking.

My understanding of the news report is that Google says a user can disable tracking. The AP story asserts that Google is not telling the truth. Thus, the AP asserts, Google possess location data on more than one billion users.

The AP story reports that Google says it is following the white lines set forth in its configuration tools exposed to the user.

Beyond Search finds the assertions interesting. The sources cited in the article include a university researcher from Yale and a graduate student at University of California-Berkeley.

Geolocation functions are “baked in” to most mobile devices. Numerous companies make use of these data. Some companies assert that they can derive location data by cross correlating a range of user generated data inputs. Microsoft invested in Hyas, a firm which allegedly has such capabilities. Our research suggests that Amazon has a similar capability for certain customer applications as part of its streaming data marketplace platform.

Many mobile devices make it possible to obtain location data even when the device is turned off and software settings are configured to disable location information. Specialist firms can disable the GPS circuitry to create “dark phones.” One rumored device with these capabilities is produced in the Middle East. If one has a mobile with a removable battery, the device goes “dead” when power is cut off. Also, Faraday bags make it difficult for monitoring and receiving devices to capture a mobile device’s location. (One option is the Blackout Faraday Shield, and there are bags which cost as little as US$10.)

Net net: The AP story seems to be more about Google doing something in an underhanded way than about GPS data widely used by law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

Beyond Search thinks the story would be more interesting if workarounds like the Faraday bag option were explained. Informed consumers can easily protect their location if and when desired. The singular focus on Google is less useful than a broader, more informed look at GPS usage.

When you read the original AP full text story, you can decide if the write up has an anti Google bias. In Harrod’s Creek, use of GPS data is routine. Google is continuing its personalization methods which have been part of the firm’s systems and methods for many years.

Finding fault with successful online companies may be the new blood sport for traditional news and publishing enterprises anchor4ed in the world of print.

Stephen E Arnold, August 12, 2018

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