A case for information literacy: Climate edition

With COP24 coming to a close at the end of this week, climate change has been relatively newsworthy which likely means that people are more likely to use their favorite search engine to search for information related to climate change. In a recent survey by the Association for Canadian Studies, Canadians reported that they believe the Internet makes them smarter, and they feel they do not have to remember facts or events because they can so easily search them online.

But is it wise to trust search engines as information sources? A growing number of critical information scholars, including Safiya Noble would say otherwise. In honor of COP24, I decided to test the two most popular search engines on the topic of climate change. I entered “climate change is” into both Google, Yahoo and Bing and took screen capture images of their suggested searches. The differences were very interesting.

 

A screen shot of my Google search showing autocomplete suggestions for "climate change is"
A screen shot of my Google search showing autocomplete suggestions for “climate change is”

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A case for information literacy: Climate edition

You Can’t Disavow Content (or maybe RTs ARE endorsements)

We’ve all done it.

Well most of us have, anyway. The infamous addendum to your Twitter bio. Come on, you know it – it goes something like this: “RT’s are not endorsements” or “RT’s do not equal endorsements” or something along those lines.

Heck, I have one myself, you can check it out on Twitter if you look up @SocMedDr. It serves as a little disclaimer. A little “I may not have done my homework, but I liked a tweet so I retweeted it, don’t hassle me later” disclaimer.

A blue knitted twitter bird with the caption "integrated social publishing: retweet me plz"
“Twittering your Business 06: retweet” by Hugger Industries is licensed under CC by-nc-sa 2.0

And today, I’m going to tell you why I think we’re all wrong to do this. Especially now in an age of online information operations and fake news.

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You Can’t Disavow Content (or maybe RTs ARE endorsements)

Why do we share information? It’s the relationships

Think about the last time you shared something on Facebook or Twitter. What was your primary motivation for doing so?

social media symbols on wooden refrigerator magnets
“Can You Etch It – Social media refrigerator magnets – Laser engraved” by Alan Reeves is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Perhaps it was because you learned about some news or current events that you felt others should know about. Perhaps it was because you saw a cute video or picture that you thought other people would like to see too. Perhaps it was because you saw a pithy quote or saying that you felt really described the way you were feeling in that moment, and you wanted to convey that feeling to other people in your network.

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Why do we share information? It’s the relationships

Why are we so shocked?

So, in the news last week, it turns out Facebook behaved like many other large and not particularly ethical companies. Sheryl Sandberg is implicated in the hiring of a right-wing PR firm known for it’s “black ops” style engagement. This firm created messages suggesting that anti-Facebook activists had ties to George Soros (a known Republic dog whistle tactic). It has also been suggested that Sandberg wanted to suppress information about Russian election meddling (even the information which originated from Facebook’s own security people. All this and more is detailed in a recent New York Times article that commentators are saying shocked, and I mean, SHOCKED! the world.

Gasp!

A picture of a warning sign indicating danger of electric shocks
“Shocking” by Sooo0 is licensed under CC by-nc-sa 2.

Or maybe, on second thought, it’s not so shocking after all. In fact, I would ask why, after all of the countless apologies made by Zuckerberg over the years (see here, here and here, for just a few examples), why we are shocked by this? Furthermore, I would ask us to consider similarly why we’re so shocked when Amazon mistreats employees, or when Google is implicated in government censorship in other countries.

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Why are we so shocked?

A Media Ecology of Online Misinformation: What can Postman teach us?

We are living in what some call an era of unprecedented global information flows. Participatory online communication technologies such as social media have allowed anyone with access to the internet to upload information for anyone else can see. Though not everyone participates as an active prosumer of information, enough people do that we are overwhelmed with information. 300 videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute, five new Facebook profiles are created every second, and every second about 6,000 tweets are posted to Twitter. The numbers are mind boggling.

Street art depicting a boy in a striped shirt sitting on a partially open laptop computer
“Information overload! #streetart #berlin” by Acid Midget is licensed under CC by 2.0

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A Media Ecology of Online Misinformation: What can Postman teach us?

Diversity in Canadian Science: Not yet there

I have spent the bulk of my week at a fantastic academic and policy related conference that brings together scientists and leaders from a wide variety of fields. What’s really been great about this experience is it’s commitment to engaging with a variety of disciplines. We’re not just seeing health scientists, researchers from STEM fields, or social scientists and humanities scholars, but truly a variety of perspectives from across the research spectrum. Another strength of this conference, which I realize now has not been part of my general conference experience is I’ve noticed a real effort to balance gender representation on the panels. Most of the panels I have attended have either had equal numbers of men and women present, or had greater numbers of women and men, reflecting their attendee balance, which identifies as about 60% women.

A sheet of paper with different colored lines and the text "Diversity makes everything more interesting"
“Bill Bernbach diversity scholarship posters” by Juan Carlos Pagan, Brian Gartside is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

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Diversity in Canadian Science: Not yet there

The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

According to recent research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada, Canadians are somewhat comfortable with academic researchers accessing their social media data. 56% of Canadians indicate that they are ok with their data being used for academic research purposes. In contrast, only 34% of Canadians feel comfortable with marketers accessing their social media data, but this discomfort is unfortunately at odds with the way social media companies make money, meaning every day Canadians are exposing themselves to the groups which they don’t really (when asked) want to access their data.

A subway platform with the words "mind the gap" written on the floor
“Mind The Gap” by Allen Brewer is licensed under CC by 2.0

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The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

Why it’s not so easy to #QuitFacebook

Yes, it’s true, Facebook has been implicated in some incredible abuses of power. From Cambridge Analytica to Facebook’s role in the uprisings in Myanmar, to censorship in China and beyond, Facebook has some ‘splaining to do. And consumers (FB users) should just “vote with their feet” and leave the platform once and for all or Facebook will never be held accountable.

"don't quit" by Sarah Page is licensed under CC by 2.0
“don’t quit” by Sarah Page is licensed under CC by 2.0

I agree with most of the #QuitFacebook arguments. And also, I don’t agree that everyone can just stop using Facebook. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

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Why it’s not so easy to #QuitFacebook

The Privacy Paradox

In a post Cambridge Analytica world, why are people still using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram? Despite the fact that people threatened to leave the social network in droves after the data breach was revealed, most people actually stayed on and things returned to normal. Why is this the case?

A window printed with the words "private meeting room"
“Private” by Duane Tate is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Social media scholars have identified  a phenomenon called the privacy paradox that can help to explain this behavior. Put succinctly, the privacy paradox refers to the fact that though people state they do not intend to disclose their personal information online, they do so anyway; or the fact that though people say they do not trust that their information will be private online, they still end up disclosing a large amount of personal information on social networks.

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The Privacy Paradox