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Archive for February, 2017

The fake news blame game.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

We’re all in a hurry – a hurry to get to work; a hurry to get home; a hurry to meet the deadline; a hurry to get to bed, so we can wake up early to hurry through another day. This accelerated pace of life has not only affected our actions, but the way we learn and communicate too. We want brief meetings and short emails. We want our information fast and condensed, often in 140 characters or less. If it’s not possible to pare the information down to a tweet, the resulting article better contain short paragraphs, bulleted lists and key points in bold, because we’re in a hurry.

But what are we missing between the bulleted lists and abridged conversations? Recently there has been a public outcry against ‘fake news’ invading the Internet and social media channels. People are blaming news outlets, ‘biased’ reporters, social media channels, and political leaders. And while these entities have certainly played their part in the spread of fake news, many of them are taking steps to mend mistakes, as exhibited by this article from The Wall Street Journal: Facebook and Google Step Up Efforts to Combat Fake News. But what part has the average citizen played in the spread of fake news, and what are they doing to correct it? Many people read hyped-up headlines and tweets and take them at face value. They skim the bold sections of news articles, never bothering to read the details or think critically about the information presented. They’re quick to form an opinion, respond to a tweet, or share the information, without doing their due diligence as a responsible citizen who is spreading news and information.

A perfect example is the Wall Street Journal article referenced above. The headline seems straightforward and the source is legitimate, so someone may read this blog and share that information with their own networks; but does the headline actually give the facts? Was there a pause to think critically about the issue? The article is actually about measures being taken in France by Facebook and Google-financed nonprofit First Draft News. They’re working with about 15 news organizations to flag fake news and prevent it from appearing in searches or Facebook newsfeeds. Someone who is thinking critically and being responsible about their news intake might ask – which news organizations are they? How do they deem a story ‘fake’? Is it up to tech companies to filter or decide the information people receive? Who’s watching the tech companies? The net being: it’s probably best to read the article, instead of just relying on the headline.

Our hurried pace of living has created a culture where we’re quick to skim through information and in a hurry to form and share an opinion. Perhaps it’s time to slow down and take a personal responsibility for the information we read and share.

Technology is outpacing democracy.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Most would agree a democracy is a favorable government structure with many benefits and advantages over other types of government. However, like anything else it has its downfalls, which include its sluggish pace. Today’s world moves quickly and is constantly evolving, but many of our laws are failing to keep up.

One prime example is the recent tweet by President Trump about Nordstrom. Nordstrom recently dropped his daughter Ivanka’s products from its department stores. First, the President tweeted from his personal Twitter handle, “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Then the official government @POTUS account re-tweeted Trump’s original tweet. According to Fast Company, the tweet and especially the retweet raised plenty of concerns among lawyers and ethics experts. “This is not trivial,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University who is an expert of government ethics. “Trump is using government power for his personal purposes.” Many experts argue that government officials are encouraged to maintain their own identity and opinions, so there was no issue with Trump’s tweet from his personal account; it was the re-tweet on the @POTUS account that raised legal and ethical questions. However, the law has simply not caught up with technology, so the legal implications are fuzzy. Is the @POTUS handle an official government platform? What’s the distinction between a personal Twitter handle and a company Twitter handle for the President of the United States? Is it ‘illegal enough’ for congress to intervene? Could Nordstrom sue the President? All of theses questions remain debated and unanswered.

In another technology vs. law debate, the Trump administration reportedly began monitoring and censoring federal agencies’ Twitter accounts sharing scientific research including accounts for the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, National Parks, and other bureaus. Tweets about climate change and other federal research were deleted from these Twitter accounts at the order of the President’s administration. Also, Trump administration interior department staff were told to stop posting on Twitter after an employee re-tweeted posts about relatively low attendance at Trump’s swearing-in, and about how material on climate change and civil rights had disappeared from the official White House website. Some argue that it’s completely legal since these are government agencies and employees that fall under the executive branch of government, and the leader of the executive branch has the right to censorship. Others argue it’s comparable to a dictatorship. In protest, a set of “rogue” and “alt” accounts were created to tweet banned content. Non-government employees with no government sponsorship run the accounts, but government scientists, in their off-hours, supply the information. The employees are currently remaining anonymous. Again, there are gray areas pertaining to both the ethics and legality of these Twitter accounts. Should the President have power to stifle the use of Twitter accounts? Should personal social media accounts of government employees be censored? If Trump’s personal account can be used for influence and opinions, should the same rules apply to employees? Are there any legal implications for the rogue accounts?

Avoid the business buzzword bandwagon.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

It seems like at the beginning of every year, you begin to hear particular words primarily in business, and then suddenly you start to hear those words in seemingly every conversation.

So far in 2017, the most overused word seems to be ‘pivot’; think about how many times you have heard this in meetings, in casual conversation, in national news ? What did we use before ‘pivot’? ‘shift’, ‘another direction’ or any other synonym. It seems to be a phenomenon that keeps going on. Like when Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg coined the term ‘leaning in’ and then suddenly everyone in business is using it.

The overuse of business buzzwords is so popular, that The Wall Street Journal created a tool for it – the Business Buzzword Generator. The tool actually generates and shares custom-built meaningless business phrases using overused business buzzwords. Some Business Buzzword Generator words include ‘cutting-edge’ ‘out-of-the-box’ ‘traction’ and ‘collaboration’.

The consistent uses of these bandwagon words are not flattering or advantageous for business professionals. It gives the impression of being insincere and unoriginal with a limited vocabulary. The overuse of these words can also saturate their meaning and influence. If everyone is ‘pivoting’ and everything is ‘cutting-edge’, it detracts from the impact of the word when used appropriately.

If you find yourself using these buzzwords regularly, try visiting www.thesaurus.com and learning some new synonyms to add to your vocabulary – your employees and business associates will be grateful.

The long and winding road.

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

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The meandering road allows us to look with fresh eyes towards a horizon not yet seen.

Shot by: Jon Keeling

Reality can be ugly, especially when it’s live-streamed.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

It’s been less than a year since Facebook launched its Facebook Live feature. And although it has been predominantly used for sharing opinions, new product launches, news, funny stories, and fun experiences, there have also been at least 57 violent or sensitive acts—including shootings, burglaries and beatings—that have been transmitted through live-video platforms, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some of the most well known include the aftermath of the Philando Castile police shooting, the hate crimes committed in Chicago, the graphic video of three men being shot in their car in Virginia, and the recent live-streamed suicide of the young girl in Florida.

As a result people are calling into question the ethical responsibility of Facebook and the live feature. Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law told the Wall Street Journal that while Facebook Inc. and other technology companies likely don’t have much legal responsibility, they have an obligation to consider the potential harm their products pose. Some wonder if these live-streaming products are encouraging people to commit these acts, knowing that their followers will see them and likely generate a great deal of attention. These videos also have potential for breeding contagious anger and hate, causing an increase in these crimes.

However, while the Facebook Live feature has its pitfalls, there are also positives. Many of the live videos have been instrumental in solving crimes, documenting police brutality, and alerting people’s Facebook followers to potentially dangerous situations. Before live-streaming features, these videos would have likely never been recorded or released, leaving some events, such as police shootings, to a case of he-said-she-said. These videos eliminate potential censorship by media or people in powerful positions. In a new age of fighting “fake news” these videos eliminate doubt or questions of veracity.

But do the positives outweigh the negatives? There are hateful people in the world and horrible things happen everyday, but can we honestly say that without Facebook Live, the people committing these crimes would have gone on to be friendly, well-adjusted, non-violent people? Not likely. Reality can be hard to see, but by eliminating tools that allow us to see it up-close and uncensored, we’re choosing to ignore and accept our ugliest issues – hate, suicide, bullying, crime, etc. Although it can be graphic, heartbreaking, and uncomfortable we need to confront reality and then do our part to improve it.