On My Radar

*MOTHERBOARD: Trolling Scholars Debunk the Idea That the Alt-Right’s Shitposters Have Magic Powers, by WHITNEY PHILLIPS, JESSICA BEYER, AND GABRIELLA COLEMAN

The scholars scoff that online "trolls" put Trump in the White House, parse what the word really means in 2017, and why it's important.

" ... More than fake news, more than filter bubbles, more than insane conspiracy theories about child sex rings operating out of the backs of Washington DC pizza shops, the biggest media story to emerge from the 2016 election was the degree to which far-right media were able to set the narrative agenda for mainstream media outlets (This point is ably argued by internet scholars Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, and Ethan Zuckerman).


Consequently, to assert that alt-right shitposters were a deciding factor in Trump's victory risks minimizing the broader cultural, societal, and media trends that influenced their influence. Worse, when coupled with the aforementioned assumptions about the interchangeable relationship between the alt-right, "trolling," 4chan, and Anonymous, the claim that "trolls caused Trump" bestows a kind of atemporal, almost godlike power to what is no more and no less than a bigoted subset of a faction of an ever-evolving, ever-unstable, ever-reactive anonymous online collective. This faction was never a "skeleton key" to Donald Trump's Presidential ascension—but they sure as hell want people to think they were."

"Fake" News

There's a real obsession out there with "fake" news.

Here are the two best thought pieces that I've read on the matter:

  • MIT Media Lab's Ethan Zuckerman: "Stop Saying Fake News." It's Not Helping.

    "Immediately after the US election, “fake news” emerged as a major story, a partial explanation for Trump’s surprise electoral victory. Within a week, I’d been invited to four different conferences, brainstorms or hackathons to combat fake news, done a dozen media interviews and briefed the heads of two major progressive foundations on the issue. Fake news was a problem for American democracy and progressive leaders were on it! ... "

    Zuckerman argues that we should build strength into our institutions such as mainstream media. i.e. if mainstream media outlets make mistakes, they should be fixed. And we need more trustworthy, diverse voices. 

    I would argue that we need a better educated public as well. But then Dana Boyd argues that "media literacy" educational efforts might have backfired.

  • NYU's Dana Boyd's "Did Media Literacy Backfire?"

"Addressing so-called fake news is going to require a lot more than labeling. It’s going to require a cultural change about how we make sense of information, whom we trust, and how we understand our own role in grappling with information. Quick and easy solutions may make the controversy go away, but they won’t address the underlying problems."