A Field Guide to Fake News and Other Information Disorders: A Free Manual to Download, Share & Re-Use

"Recent scandals about the role of social media in key political events in the US, UK and other European countries over the past couple of years have underscored the need to understand the interactions between digital platforms, misleading information and propaganda, and their influence on collective life in democracies," writes First Draft, an online journal published by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Hence comes A Field Guide to 'Fake News' and Other Information Disorders--a free manual that helps "students, journalists and researchers investigate misleading and viral content, memes and trolling practices online." Packed with valuable data visualizations, the manual highlights a "series of research protocols or 'recipes' that can be used to trace trolling practices, the ways false viral news and memes circulate online, and the commercial underpinnings of problematic content."

A Field Guide to 'Fake News' and Other Information Disorders was co-produced by the Shorenstein Center and the Public Data Lab. Because it's published under a Creative Commons License, you're free to copy, redistribute and reuse the book. Beyond that, you can find all of the assets needed to translate and publish the guide into other languages over on this GitHub page.

via First Draft

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Will You Really Achieve Happiness If You Finally Win the Rat Race? Don’t Answer the Question Until You’ve Watched Steve Cutts’ New Animation

Illustrator Steve Cutts sets his latest animation, "Happiness," in a teeming urban environment, with hundreds of near identical cartoon rats standing in for human drudges in an unfulfilling, and not unfamiliar race.

Packed subway cars, a bombardment of advertising, soul-deadening office jobs, and Black Friday sales are just a few of the indignities Cutts’ rodents are subjected to, to the tune of Bizet’s "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle."

Rampant over-consumption—a major preoccupation for this artist—offers illusory relief, and a great deal of fun for viewers with the time to hit pause, to better savor the grim details.




The maximalist frames read like a gratifying perversion of Richard Scarry’s relentlessly sunny Busytown. As with Cutts' 80s-throwback Simpson’s couch gag: pop-culture references and visual input whip by at subliminal warp speed. 

They may also serve as an antidote to the sort of messaging we’re constantly on the receiving end of, whether we live in city, country or somewhere in-between. Check out the scene as Cutts pans up from the subway platform, 52 seconds in:

The panty-clad female model for Blah cologne’s fashionably black and white ad is emaciated nearly to the point of death.

“You’re better than laces” flatters the latest (laceless) shoe from a swoosh-bedecked footwear manufacturer, while a radiator-colored beverage floats above the motto “Just drink it, morons.”

Krispo Flakes fight depression with “the bits other cereals don’t want.”

Heaven help us all, there’s even a poster for TRUMP The Musical.

This freeze-frame scrutiny could make an excellent activity for any class where middle and high schoolers are encouraged to think critically about their role as consumers.

As Cutts, a one-time employee of the digital marketing agency, Isobar, who contributed to campaigns for such global giants as Coca-Cola, Google, Reebok, and Toyota, told Reverb Press in 2015:

These are things that affect us all on a fundamental level so naturally they’re a main focus for a lot of my work. Humanity has the power to be great in so many ways and yet at the same time we are fundamentally flawed. I think it’s the conflict between these two that fascinates me the most. As a race of beings we’ve made incredible achievements in such a short space, but at the same time we seem so overwhelmingly intent on destroying ourselves and everything around us. It would be very interesting to see where we’ll be in a hundred years. The term insanity is intriguing – it’s almost like we’re encouraged to act in a way that seems genuinely insane when you look at it objectively, but it’s often accepted as normal right now. I think we will have to evolve beyond our current thinking and way of doing things if we want to survive.

See more of Cutts’ animated work here. And while he doesn’t go out of his way to hype his online store, a gallery quality print of The Rat Trap would make a fantastic gift from your cubicle mate’s Secret Santa. (HURRY! TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!!)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Woodward Is Now Teaching an Online Course on Investigative Journalism–a Course for Our Time

Bob Woodward made his bones as an investigative journalist when he and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein blew open the Watergate scandal in 1972. Their reporting exposed the "dirty tricks" of Richard Nixon's re-election committee. Government investigations followed and the president eventually resigned.

Today we're living in another age when investigative journalism is of paramount importance. Only now it's under attack. But, take heart, Bob Woodward is now teaching an online course on investigative journalism. In 24 video lessons, he'll teach you the importance of human sources, how to gather information, how to interview people, establish facts, and build a story. He reminds us, "This is the time when we're being tested. Let's tell the truth, let's not be chickenshit." Amen to that.

You can now enroll in his course, which costs $90. But, for $180, you can get an annual pass to every course in the MasterClass catalogue. Other courses in the Masterclass catalogue include:

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Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

MIT Is Digitizing a Huge Archive of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures, Papers and Other Documents & Will Put Them Online

If you’re a linguist, you’ve read Noam Chomsky—no way of getting around that. There may be reasons to disagree with Chomsky’s linguistic theories but—as Newton’s theories do in physics—his breakthroughs represent a paradigmatic shift in the study of language, an implicit or explicit reference point for nearly every linguistic analysis in the past few decades.

If you’re on the political left, you’ve read Chomsky, or you should. Even if there are significant reasons to disagree with whatever controversial stance he’s taken over the years, few political theorists have approached their subject with the degree of doggedness, intellectual integrity, and erudition as he has. Chomsky began his second career as a political activist and philosopher in the late sixties, speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam war. Since then, he’s written majorly influential works on mass media propaganda, Cold War politics and interventionist war, economic imperialism, anarchism, etc.

Now an emeritus professor from MIT, where he began teaching in 1955, and a laureate professor at the University of Arizona, Chomsky has reached that stage in every public intellectual’s career when archivists and curators begin consolidating a documentary legacy. Librarians at MIT started doing so a few years ago when, in 2012, the MIT Libraries Institute Archives received over 260 boxes of Chomsky’s personal papers. You can hear the man himself discuss the archive’s importance in the short interview at the top. And at the MIT Library site unBox Chomsky Archive, you’ll find slideshow previews of its contents.

Those contents include the 1953 paper “Systems of Syntactic Analysis,” which “appears to be Chomsky’s first foray in print of what would become transformational generative grammar.” Also archived are notes from a 1984 talk on “Manufacturing Consent” given at Rutgers University, outlining the ideas Chomsky and Edward S. Herman would fully explore in the 1988 book of the same name on “the political economy of the mass media.” And in the category of “activism,” we find materials like the newsletter below, published by an anti-war organization Chomsky co-founded in the 60s called RESIST.

MIT hopes to “digitize the hundreds of thousands of pieces” in the collection, “to make it accessible to the public.” Such a massive undertaking exceeds the library’s budget, so they have asked for financial support. At unBoxing the Chomsky Archive, you can make a donation, or just peruse the slideshow previews and consider the legacy of one of the U.S.’s most formidable living scientific and political thinkers.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Is Fair Use?: A Short Introduction from the Maker of Everything is a Remix

Back in 2010, we began featuring a series of videos from filmmaker Kirby Ferguson. Called Everything is a Remix, the four-part video series explored the idea that (to quote from one of my earlier posts) "great art doesn’t come out of nowhere. Artists inevitably borrow from one another, drawing on past ideas and conventions, and then turn these materials into something beautiful and new." That applies to musicians, filmmakers, technologists, and really anyone in a creative space.

If you would like to watch the original series in its totality, I would refer you to the video below. Above, you can now watch a new Kirby Ferguson video that delves into the concept of Fair Use--a concept defined by the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use website essentially as "any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work." They go on to say:  "Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement."

Needless to say, fair use is an important concept if you're making your own videos on Youtube, or if you're a teacher using media in the classroom.

By the end of his short video, if you're still not clear what Ferguson means by Fair Use, you're in luck. He's giving you the opportunity to submit questions to be answered by "a real live lawyer in a follow up video." He also includes extra resources at the end of the segment.

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The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

A familiar ding comes from your pocket, you look up from what you’re doing and reach for the smartphone. Before you can think, "it can wait," you’ve disappeared into the screen like little Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist. Taken by a ghostly presence with designs upon your soul—your time, emotional well-being, creativity—Facebook. Someone has requested my friendship! You like my video? I like you! Why, I’ve got an opinion about that, and that, and that, and that…. All the little performative gestures, imprinted in the fingers and the thumbs.

Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, WhatsApp, VKontact, Sina Weibo…. Just maybe, social media addiction is a global epidemic, a collection of emotionally, socially, and politically, toxic behaviors. As Suren Ramasubbu reports, “social media engagement has been found to trigger three key networks in the brain” that make us think intensely about our self-image and public perception, create new neural pathways, and release dopamine and oxytocin, which keep us coming back for more little red hearts, tiny thumbs-ups, and diminutive gold stars (good job!).




While the nature of addiction is a controversial topic, it will arouse little disagreement to say that we live—as Georgetown University Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport writes in the subtitle of his book Deep Work—in a “distracted world.” Newport’s prescription will go down less easily. Quit, drop out, tune out, opt out, get out of the Matrix, Newport argues, more or less, in his book and his TEDx talk above. He acknowledges the oddity of being a “millennial computer scientist book author, standing on a TED stage” who never had a social media account and urges others to give up theirs.

Any one of his overlapping demographics is likely to have a significant web presence. Put all of them together and we expect Newport to be pitching a startup network to an audience of venture capitalists. Even the story about why he first abstained could have made him a minor character in The Social Network. But feelings of professional jealousy soon turned to wariness and alarm. “This seems dangerous,” he says, then lets us know—because we surely wondered—that he’s okay. “I still have friends. I still know what’s going on in the world.” Whether you’re convinced he’s happier than the rest of us poor saps is up to you.

As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods”—all sugar and fat, no nutrients.

Newport names another objection to quitting—the necessity of social media as an essential business tool—then pivots to his book and his commitment to what he calls “deep work.” What is this? You can read the book to find out, or get a Cliff’s Notes version in Brian Johnson’s video above. Johnson begins by contrasting deep work with “shallow work,” where we spend most of our time, “constantly responding to the latest and loudest email and push notification for social media, or text messages or phone ringing, whatever.”

While we may get little endorphin boosts from all of this heavily mediated social activity, we pay a high price in stress, anxiety, and lost time in our personal, professional, and creative lives. The research on overwork and distraction supports Newport's conclusions. The real rewards come from deep work, he argues, that which we do when we have total focus and emotional investment in a project. Without getting too specific, such work, Newport says, is not only personally fulfilling, but valuable “in a 21st century economy” for its rarity.

Social media, on the other hand, he claims, contributes little to our work lives. And as you (or maybe it’s me) scan the open social media tabs in your overloaded browser, and tune in to the cluttered state of your mind, you might find yourself agreeing with his heretical proposition. You might even share his talk on social media. Or decide to follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Marshall McLuhan Explains Why We’re Blind to How Technology Changes Us, Raising the Question: What Have the Internet & Social Media Done to Us?

Image of Marshall McLuhan at Canada, by Wikimedia Commons

So many of us use Facebook every day, but how many of us know that its enormous presence in our lives owes, in part, to modern philosophy? "In the course of his studies at Stanford," writes John Lanchester in a recent London Review of Books piece of Facebook, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, an early investor in the company, "became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World," especially a concept he called "mimetic desire."

"Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter," writes Lanchester. "Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them." Or as Thiel explained it, "Imitation is at the root of all behavior." Lanchester reports that "the reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy," yet few of us, its users, have clearly perceived that essential aspect of Facebook and other social media platforms.




Marshall McLuhan, despite having died decades before their development, would have caught on right away — and he understood why even we savvy denizens of the 21st century haven't. "For the past 3500 years of the Western world, the effects of media — whether it’s speech, writing, printing, photography, radio or television — have been systematically overlooked by social observers," said the author of Understanding Media and The Medium is the Message. "Even in today’s revolutionary electronic age, scholars evidence few signs of modifying this traditional stance of ostrichlike disregard."

Those words come from an in-depth 1969 interview with Playboy magazine that broke the celebrity literature professor McLuhan's ideas to an even wider audience than they'd had before. In it he diagnosed a "peculiar form of self-hypnosis" he called "Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in. As a result, precisely at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible."

As McLuhan saw it, "most people, from truck drivers to the literary Brahmins, are still blissfully ignorant of what the media do to them; unaware that because of their pervasive effects on man, it is the medium itself that is the message, not the content, and unaware that the medium is also the massage — that, all puns aside, it literally works over and saturates and molds and transforms every sense ratio. The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb."

Just last month, no less omnipresent an internet titan than Google celebrated McLuhan's 106th birthday, and a social observer called PR Professor saw in it a certain irony: though "it seems like technology that extends man’s ability to experience and interpret the world is positive and desirable," McLuhan pointed out "that the inherent tendency to focus on the messages within the media make us blind to the limits and structures imposed by the mediums themselves." This blindness has consequences indeed, since, according to McLuhan, each time a society develops a new media technology, "all other functions of that society tend to be transmuted to accommodate that new form" as that technology "saturates every institution of that society."

This went for speech, writing, print, and the telegraph as well as it goes for "social media platforms like Twitter, which reduce expressive possibilities to 140 characters of text or expressing one’s self through the ‘re-tweeting’ of posts by others." McLuhan believed that at one time only the interpretive work of the artist, "who has had the power — and courage — of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world," could allow the rest of us to recognize the thoroughgoing effects of technology on society, but that "the new environment of electric information" had made possible "a new degree of perception and critical awareness by nonartists." At least more of us, if we step back, can now understand our affliction by mimetic desire, Narcissus narcosis, or any number of other troubling conditions. What to do about them remains an open question.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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