Facebook’s director of media tries to appease news industry



Facebook’s Patrick Walker assured a room full of journalists that Zuck’s strategy to combat fake news will work. The plan (released previously by FB): stronger detection, easy reporting, third party verification, warnings, related articles quality, disrupting the economy of fake news, and listening. Also speaking at the conference was Espin Egil Hansen, who in September posted an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, slamming Facebook for censoring a photo of the Vietnamese “napalm girl” — an iconic and opinion-swaying record of the human cost of the war.

Avoiding the news that is likely to offend you, while encouraging you to consume and share and validate the news that confirms what you already believe, is a surefire formula for monetizing herds of cybersheep. Don’t be a sheep.

Make Facebook friends with a reasonable person who disagrees with you about something important. Demonstrate to that person that you can be reasonable, too. (Or maybe for you the operative word is “ethical” or “accepting” or “principled”.)

Facebook has always maintained that it’s not a media company. It’s also always faced heat from journalists for making that claim while moving in an institutional direction that indicates the exact opposite. For example: the company wasn’t exactly transparent about the curation behind its “Trending Topics,” and then, subsequently firing human curators after a Gizmodo report exposed the process. One former Facebook employee accused the company of suppressing conservative news.  While Facebook has said it is taking responsibility and action to combat fake news, the company continues to emphasize the role of the community and also cautioned that it is not the internet’s sole outlet of expression. —Mashable

How to Deal With 2016 Despair



Don’t let a TV screen make you live a life of fear. Be thoughtful participants, not passive consumers, in your culture. Create something. Improve something. Maybe yourself. Maybe the Wikipedia page for your hometown. Share your creation. Encourage and appreciate and critique and applaud what those in your community have created. Increase the sum total of good things in the universe by participating in the life around you.

Heavy TV viewers, at all income levels and all races, reported high fear of crime.  Gerbner dubbed this phenomenon the “mean world syndrome,” as television caused people to view the world as a mean and dangerous place. But, what’s particularly interesting is that the largest “mean world” effects were among those citizens whose real lives were startlingly crime-free. Television complicated their otherwise untroubled and privileged realities. | When Gerbner was conducting this research in the 1980s, most Americans got their news from daily newspapers or network news programs. The elite news gatekeepers determined what the public ought to hear. But today’s digital technologies never end. Nor are they controlled by journalists or professionals. Instead, they are the tools of the unruly, emotional masses. —Atlantic

Almost all the traffic to fake news sites is from Facebook, new data show



I think and post about fake news a lot. Just the other day, I came across a Tweet that seemed to show evidence that a very public figure had flip-flopped on a divisive cultural issue. First I had an emotional reaction, then I checked who shared the post I was reacting to. I didn’t recognize the name, but then I noticed it had been shared to the Snopes Facebook page (which I have recently joined), along with a question like, “Is this true?”
That first emotional reaction I had was strong. It confirmed an opinion I already held about that public figure. I don’t harbor any particular burning need to share my feelings on that topic, so I wasn’t about to share the post, but I did get that emotional reaction.
A recent study reports that Facebook supplies the vast majority of traffic to “fake or hyperpartisan news,” and reports that traffic to those questionable sites is about the same regardless of whether a state is red or blue.

Screen-Shot-2016-11-30-at-5.21.17-PM-300x271-1Sites that publish fake or hyperpartisan news are almost completely reliant on Facebook for their readership, according to data collected by the marketing analytics firm Jumpshot. The company found that several of these sites get over 70% of their desktop-device traffic from Facebook referrals. By contrast, established news sites, like the New York Times, get less than 30% of their desktop traffic from the social network. Jumpshot collected data from over 20 fake, hyperpartisan, and established news sites between September and November. —Quartz

Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry



There’s never enough time to cover Emily Dickinson in an AmLit survey course.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-3-24-25-pmOnly ten of her poems were published in her lifetime, all anonymously; publication was, as she put it, as “foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin.” Not that she intended her poems to go unread—she often sent them in letters to friends, sometimes with other enclosures: dried flowers, a three-cent stamp, a dead cricket. She also tried a form of self-publishing: from around 1858 until roughly 1864, she gathered her poems into forty homemade books, known as “fascicles,” by folding single sheets of blank paper in half to form four consecutive pages, which she then wrote on and, later, bound, one folded sheet on another, with red-and-white thread strung through crudely punched holes. These books were found in Dickinson’s room after her death, in 1886, by her sister, Lavinia, along with hundreds more poems in various states of composition, plus, intriguingly, the “scraps,” a cache of lines that Dickinson wrote on scavenged paper: the flap of a manila envelope, the backs of letters, chocolate wrappers, bits of newspaper. —The New Yorker

I Never Would Have Guessed I Would Be Able to Complete a Close Reading



I started my American Literature class by assigning students to listen to 40-minute audio lectures that provided context and walked them through the literary texts we were to discuss in class. As the semester drew on, I had students write podcasts to introduce texts to each other, and by the end of term I was asking students to read scholarly articles in which literary scholars aren’t introducing the texts to beginners, but rather offering evidence-based arguments about the texts.

I’m very glad i took the time to make this video last year.

Students who think literature is about memorizing lists of what the blue curtains symbolize, or who believe that “anything goes” and that there are no wrong answers, can get a gentle correction early in the course, as they make the transition from the techniques that earned them praise in high school (“The character I most identify with is… ” “If I had been in this character’s situation, I would have…” “After the story ends, here is what I think happened to the protagonist.”)

In one of the final assignments for the course, a non-English major in my American Literature class writes:

close-readingAs we came into the last few portfolios, my classmates and I were forced to rely more and more on each other and the literary texts rather than the podcasts from Dr. Jerz.

I think that even though sometimes this was difficult, and sometimes very boring academic articles made it seem much worse, our class was able to grow as readers and writers because of this.

We were like birds who were thrown out of the nest and forced to fly, and based on our discussions getting deeper and more literary we were able to take off before we hit the ground! 

I never would have guessed that I would be able to complete something like a close reading or actually be able to break down a poem and find the meaning hidden within the words.

What TV journalists did wrong — and the New York Times did right — in meeting with Trump



screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-58-06-pmThe Times played it right…. Off-the-record was a mistake for the TV people, and it would have been a mistake for the Times. The paper successfully called Trump’s bluff. As much as he professes to despise the Times, he remains in some ways the Queens boy who lusted after Manhattan success and acceptance. In many ways, Trump can bypass the traditional press — using YouTube or Twitter to take his message to the world without pesky journalistic fact-checking or filtering. He has masterfully manipulated the media for the past 18 months — bullying reporters, garnering billions in free publicity and portraying journalists as part of the corporate structure that must be brought down so that the people can triumph.That’s a deeply misleading and dangerous picture. In fact, U.S. citizens need an independent press more than ever.Journalists, and their corporate bosses, shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as props in Trump’s never-ending theater. —The Washington Post

Astaire Unwound (Ceiling Dance from “Royal Wedding”)



My high school physics teacher, Admiral Peebles, showed us episodes of this nerdy, awesome science video, which demonstrated what various common motions (a falling ball, a rolling ball) look like from fixed and moving frames of reference.

The 1969 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey featured a huge rotating set, a realistic representation of artificial gravity in the interior of a space ship. I pored over stills from this scene a few years before I actually saw the movie.


Though the slogan and jingle now strike me as meh, I remember the wonderful choreography of the Dr. Pepper “dancing up the walls,” commercial from the early 80s.

As a kid I knew the Fred Astaire reference — I must have caught the movie while changing channels, or I saw it enough time in documentaries that I recognized it, though I’ve still never seen the whole movie in which this dance features.

I was delighted when I came across “Astaire Unwound,” which recreates the sequence as it might have appeared to a stationary camera.

And then of course there is the same technology applied to the iconic “shaky camera” Star Trek moments.




How To Escape The Procrastination Doom Loop



screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-10-20-12-amInstead of being lazy or disorganized, people usually put things off because they aren’t in the right mood to complete the task. Doing so places you firmly inside the procrastination doom loop. Since you’ve decided that you aren’t in the right mood to work, you distract yourself with other tasks—checking email, checking the news, cleaning your desk, talking to a coworker, etc.—and by the time you come up for air, you feel guilty for having wasted so much time. This only worsens your mood, and as the deadline draws closer, you feel worse than you did when you first put off the task. —Forbes