Digital Content

Information that is published or distributed in a digital form, including text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures, and software.

As politicians become less civil, so does the internet

[Commentary] In a new project, we have been working to track and understand incivility by examining the extent to which users post offensive comments on Reddit. Reddit has received a great deal of attention from political analysts in recent years due to the fact that it has a robust offering of political discussion boards. In fact, Reddit has become an important enough player in online political discussions that President Obama and a host of 2016 presidential candidates took to the forum to engage with its users. Findings:
Posts became more offensive during the general election campaign
Offensive posts are more popular

What’s most telling is that our research shows that the tone of discussions on Reddit seems to respond to how our politicians are behaving.

[Rishab Nithyanand is a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Information and Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Brian Schaffner is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. Phillipa Gill is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.]

Eric Trump accuses Twitter of censorship

President Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, on Aug 4 accused Twitter of censoring one of his tweets. In a tweet, the president's son tweeted out a screenshot of a tweet posted earlier on Aug 4 that read “Jobs Jobs Jobs!!!” followed by several American flag emojis. The tweet also retweeted another user's tweet that included a Drudge Report link about Aug 4's jobs report. Eric Trump's tweet was hidden for some viewers behind a standard Twitter warning, which was depicted in the screenshot. The grey warning box reads: “This tweet is not available because it includes potentially sensitive content.” “Why are my tweets about jobs and the economy being censored? #Interesting” Eric Trump tweeted in response.

Why social media is not a public forum

For Internet trolls, the week of July 24 may as well have been Christmas. On July 25, Judge James Cacheris of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia handed down a decision stating that public officials may not “block” their constituents on social media. The case, which will influence a similar case filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute against President Trump, involved a dispute between defendant Phyllis Randall, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, and plaintiff Brian Davison.

The facts allege that Randall banned Davison from her Facebook page titled “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” after Davison published comments during an online forum that, in Randall’s view, consisted of “slanderous” remarks about “people’s family members” and “kickback money” (if the facts seem confusing or incomplete, it’s not just you — neither party could recall the precise contents of the deleted comment). Although it is difficult to contest that Randall was acting in her official capacity, the court’s conclusion that a social media platform is analogous to a public forum is ill-conceived.

China’s Internet Censors Play a Tougher Game of Cat and Mouse

China has embarked on an internet campaign that signals a profound shift in the way it thinks of online censorship.

For years, the China government appeared content to use methods that kept the majority of people from reading or using material it did not like, such as foreign news outlets, Facebook and Google. For the tech savvy or truly determined, experts say, China often tolerated a bit of wiggle room, leading to online users’ playing a cat-and-mouse game with censors for more than a decade. Now the authorities are targeting the very tools many people use to vault the Great Firewall. In recent days, Apple has pulled apps that offer access to such tools — called virtual private networks, or VPNs — off its China app store, while Amazon’s Chinese partner warned customers on its cloud computing service against hosting those tools on their sites.

Over the past two months a number of the most popular Chinese VPNs have been shut down, while two popular sites hosting foreign television shows and movies were wiped clean. The shift — which could affect a swath of users from researchers to businesses — suggests that China is increasingly worried about the power of the internet, experts said.

President Trump tweet about 'very civil conversation' with Australian PM resurfaces after transcript leaked

A February tweet from President Donald Trump in which he said he had a “very civil conversation” with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has resurfaced in the wake of the call’s recently released transcript showing President Trump calling the call “unpleasant.”

“Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about,” Trump tweeted last February, amid reports he lashed out at his Australian counterpart over the phone. The tweet’s resurfacing comes after The Washington Post obtained the transcript of the call, which shows a heated interaction between the leaders of the two traditional allies. “I have had it,” Trump told Turnbull in the January 28 conversation. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.” President Trump said his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin “was a pleasant call” by comparison.

For the New Far Right, YouTube Has Become the New Talk Radio

Like its fellow mega-platforms Twitter and Facebook, YouTube is an enormous engine of cultural production and a host for wildly diverse communities. But like the much smaller Tumblr (which has long been dominated by lively and combative left-wing politics) or 4chan (which has become a virulent and effective hard-right meme factory) YouTube is host to just one dominant native political community: the YouTube right.

This community takes the form of a loosely associated group of channels and personalities, connected mostly by shared political instincts and aesthetic sensibilities. They are monologuists, essayists, performers and vloggers who publish frequent dispatches from their living rooms, their studios or the field, inveighing vigorously against the political left and mocking the “mainstream media,” against which they are defined and empowered. They deplore “social justice warriors,” whom they credit with ruining popular culture, conspiring against the populace and helping to undermine “the West.” They are fixated on the subjects of immigration, Islam and political correctness. They seem at times more animated by President Trump’s opponents than by the man himself, with whom they share many priorities, if not a style. Some of their leading figures are associated with larger media companies, like Alex Jones’s Infowars or Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media. Others are independent operators who found their voices in the medium.

Data empowers journalism independence in Trump’s era

[Commentary] Journalists are facing the challenge of covering one of the most unusual and unreliable governments in modern history: President Donald Trump disseminates lies, twisted facts, and changes in policy in real time through his Twitter account. His advisors send contradictory messages on sensitive national topics and change policies at the last minute, surprising even Cabinet members. Federal data vanishes from the “thin cloud” on matters such as climate change and the environment. Despite—or perhaps because of—all of this, investigative journalism is flourishing and growing as it did during the Watergate days. However, this time, journalists are much better equipped for finding the truth independently, thanks to data and technology. The challenge for journalists is to thoroughly and selectively grasp the power of technology while upholding the profession’s core journalistic mission. To that end, the Columbia Journalism School is launching a Master of Science in Data Journalism that we hope will advance data journalism education and contribute to building the next generation of newsroom leaders.

[Giannina Segnini is director of the Master of Science in Data Journalism program at the Columbia Journalism School.]

Facebook Drowns Out Fake News With More Information

Facebook is fighting misinformation with more information.

When Facebook’s US users come across popular links—including made-up news articles—in their feeds, they may also see a cluster of other articles on the same topic. The “related articles” feature, which will roll out widely in the US after months of testing, is part of Facebook’s strategy to limit the damage of false news without censoring those posts. The tweaks show Facebook’s efforts to reduce the presence of misinformation on its platform, without going so far as censoring it, a role it says it doesn’t want.

Verizon’s new rewards program lets it track your browsing history

Verizon has a new rewards program out, called Verizon Up, which awards users a credit for every $300 they spend on their Verizon bill that can be redeemed toward various rewards. Customers will be able to get rewards such as “Device Dollars toward your next device purchase, discounts on an accessory, or partner rewards,” along with other surprise offerings and first-come, first-serve ticket opportunities, which all seems like a nice occasional thing to get for regularly paying your cellphone bill.

But, the new program comes with a pretty big catch: you have to enroll in Verizon Selects, a program that allows the company to track a huge chunk of your personal data. That includes web browsing, app usage, device location, service usage, demographic info, postal or email address, and your interests. Furthermore, that data gets shared with Verizon’s newly formed Oath combination (aka AOL and Yahoo), plus with “vendors and partners” who work with Verizon. Which is kind of a long list of people who have access to what feels like a fairly significant amount of your data.

Facebook will prioritize fast-loading articles in your News Feed

Facebook wants you to read more articles on its mobile app. The company announced it will prioritize stories that load faster on a user's mobile News Feed. Stories that take longer to load could appear less. Up to 40% of website visitors leave a site after just a three-second delay, according to research from the Aberdeen Group. Facebook says the change is meant to improve the user experience, but there may be another motive here: Instant Articles. Facebook wants to host publisher stories on its own website, and one of the major benefits of hosting your content on Facebook is that it’s supposed to load faster. If load time will soon impact how many people see your post, publishers might be more inclined to use Instant Articles for fear that not doing so could hurt their distribution.