Fact-Checking

The internet exposes us to an enormous amount of information and news at our fingertips, and as a lot of us know, this creates a world full of misinformation and disinformation that can be hard to keep under control. This is why fact-checking is of the utmost importance when we are consuming media. Reuters is a multimedia news provider that reaches billions of people around the world. They have a fact-checking team that provides accurate, backed-up information about news headlines that can be false or misleading. 

I want to talk about the topic of COVID-19, and how some claim that the COVID-19 vaccine adds a ‘third strand’ of DNA. Reuters confirmed that this statement was false. There was a video circulating on Twitter about how our DNA is being altered. It was viewed “over 400,000 times.” A user retweeted the video just a couple of weeks ago with the caption: “what if the Covid vaccine really is giving us a third strand of DNA? This gave me chills.”

The fact-checking process Reuters went through allowed them to confirm this video contained false statements. For one, they received confirmations from trusted professionals regarding the topic. In this case, they talked to Dr. Tara Kirk Sell, the Senior Scholar at John Hopkins Center for Health and Security, and associate professor in the Environmental Health and Engineering department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – whew, what a mouthful. In terms of the video, she says that “from the biology side, this isn’t how the vaccines or biology work,” and that “from the misinformation side, claims like these hook into existing false narratives related to conspiracies and gain a lot of traction through fake science talk.” 

Given this information, who would you trust more, the professional or a random person who talked about a conspiracy theory? It’s clear to me that the Twitter video was made by someone who wanted to share her belief or bias in order to convince others that she’s telling the truth, but it’s important that you, the public, understand this as well. 

According to the article by First Draft titled Fake News, It’s Complicated, “we certainly should worry about people unwittingly sharing misinformation,” and their “attempts to influence public opinion.” The article explains the different types of content being created and shared, and also the motivations of those who create it. In the “Misinformation Matrix” table they provided, it shows that providing false context is the result of having poor journalism, partisanship, propaganda, etc. 

“Once they inadvertently share a misleading or fabricated article, image, video or meme, the next person who sees it in their social feed probably trusts the original poster, and goes on to share it themselves.”

https://firstdraftnews.org/articles/fake-news-complicated/

Reuters explained that the screenshots provided in the Twitter video isn’t actual evidence of DNA alteration, and goes on to say that “vaccines do not enter the nucleus of the cell where DNA is located,” therefore there’s no possible way of our DNA being altered or changed. Reuters made sure to mention this information came from The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who also wrote about this on the “Myths & Facts” page on their website:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html

As you already may know, the CDC is a trusted organization for public health. Consumer Reports did a report on the amount of misinformation seen on different platforms, and they go on to say that the platforms they studied are trying to combat misinformation by providing articles by trusted health officials, like the CDC, as the top result when searching “coronavirus.”

All of this goes to show that not everything you hear or see online is true. It can be manipulative and misleading which is why verifying information is important. Don’t believe something is true just because someone is talking about it with a passion. Always fact-check.

A Message to Everyone

Whether you’re a media creator or a media consumer, being exposed to media is something that we can’t really escape, at least not in today’s world, where the amount of internet users around the globe continues to increase. Think about it, do you know anyone – born in the recent generations – that is not a social media user? Or someone who doesn’t own a mobile smartphone or smartwatch? Someone who doesn’t use the internet at all? I certainly don’t.

Social media is a great place for socializing, meeting new people, catching up with long-lost friends, etc. But it’s important to understand though, that even with all the benefits that online socializing offers, we must not overlook the fact that there are risks involved with putting yourself out there, online.

Online privacy and security is something that more people need to understand. Just as the online population is growing, so should those users’ knowledge on how to keep themselves safe and their information protected. You wouldn’t want strangers to know where you live right? Or that you live alone? It also wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to have their identity stolen, or create access to your bank account information. These are all risks that users are taking when they share their personal information online. Try to always remember that once something is online, it’s probably there forever, and that nothing is really private anymore.

Many people underestimate the importance of online privacy, but they should be aware of how much information they’re sharing — not just on social networks but through browsing itself. I recently watched a documentary about “surveillance capitalism.” It’s incredibly interesting because it talks about residual data – what data is being collected without our knowledge when we’re online. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIXhnWUmMvw

Shoshana Zuboff mentions that having nothing to hide is a “profound misconception of what’s really going on,” and that we’re prone to believing that the only information these online entities know about is just the information we provided to them – it’s not true.

“Our ignorance is their bliss”

Shoshana Zuboff

Being mindful of your personal privacy and online security is the first step to being safer online. Here are some tips!

  • Whenever you are giving out personal information online, avoid giving out more than you need to or feel is necessary. A lot of sites will ask for an email address or a phone number, and it’s a good option to use an alternative email address, rather than your main one. This also helps to avoid giving out your phone number.
  • Always choose strong passwords when creating a new one for a website. Try to avoid using the same password for everything. As inconvenient as it may be to have to remember multiple different passwords, it will decrease the likelihood that if one of your sites are compromised, that means all of them are. Wired recommends the use of a password manager.
  • Be careful when you are posting images of yourself or your surroundings. Depending on what may be in the background of your images, you may be revealing more information than anticipated about where you are, where you live, or even the things you own.
  • PCMag recommends you use a VPN when you are using a Wi-fi network other than your own, especially in a public environment. “You don’t know anything about the security of that connection.” A non-secure connection could be a hacker’s way in.
  • Always check your privacy settings for the social sites you use. This is where you are giving consent to those companies to collect the data they want about you, and possibly share it with other companies who can buy that information.

Although these are little things, they make a huge difference in protecting yourself and your information online. There is definitely more you could do to boost your online privacy and security, but being mindful is the best way to start.

The Media I Consume

I tracked my media usage yesterday, on Saturday, January 28th.

8:00am – I woke up and scrolled through Instagram and TikTok for a little while. As for Instagram, I actually don’t remember the last time I used any of the privacy and security features on there. I took a glance at the settings, and I realized that my account in general is not all that secure. My profile is “private” which means that people have to request to follow me and see my content pending my approval, but I have not set up the two-factor authentication, which if I’m being honest, I didn’t realize the app had that feature. My “activity status” was turned off, meaning people won’t be able to see the last time I was active on the platform. On both instagram and TikTok, majority of the content that I “liked” were of dogs, food and interior design. I know both platforms’ algorithms use this information to show me videos relating to such, because that’s pretty much all the content I see consists of now. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cl6lDwNOhYQ

11:00am – Before I started some homework assignments, I couldn’t help but look at some new Converse shoes to purchase online through their website. This was due to an email I received from their company on my birthday where they provided me with a coupon to use on my next purchase. I’ve always wanted a certain pair of shoes from them so when I got the coupon, I skimmed their website. I ended up not checking out, but ever since then I started seeing a bunch of advertisements on that specific pair. Obviously they have my name, birthday, and address in their records, and apparently my social media?

I know that a lot of sites ask to allow “cookies” when I go onto their websites, and to be honest, I don’t think I fully understand the concept of them. I think that it has to do with the website being able to keep certain information that they can use later, but I’m not even sure if that’s true. If I don’t just accept the cookies, it becomes a process to deny them, so sometimes I just accept them to get it out of the way. The Converse website asked me this, and I accepted their cookies. I know that I need to do more research on this, because I’m not entirely sure what information they are gathering from my activity on their sites.

2:00pm – I checked instagram again, and I liked a few posts. One was a video posted on Joe Biden’s account where he talked about the Student Loan Forgiveness Plan with Bernie Sanders. This could possibly tell the algorithm that I lean more towards blue, or the algorithm might think of showing me more posts and information regarding student loans. I also liked a few posts regarding food. I follow a lot of profiles where they provide lunch, dinner or dessert recipes to try. This definitely sets myself up to keep seeing more of this content.

5:00pm – I went on Safari and searched up ticket information for this music event that my coworker and I wanted to attend. It was an event featuring nostalgic songs from the early 2000s. Since then, I have seen advertisements on Instagram about playlists that I could download on Spotify. Those playlists include upbeat music and to no surprise, nostalgic music. 

Towards the end of the night there wasn’t much that I did differently – just scrolled through social media a time or two, liked posts, and that was pretty much it for my day. As I’m reflecting on my media activities, I noticed that I was writing a lot about algorithms. I didn’t encounter a lot of privacy and security issues or themes, which I feel like is a pretty normal day for me. Throughout this journal I’d say the only thing that makes me reconsider my choices are not fully understanding what I’m agreeing to when websites ask me about “cookies,” but that’s less of a security issue and more of a feeding to the algorithms issue. I believe I should know better when it comes to agreeing to anything online before understanding its terms, so in the future, I might reconsider.

Net Neutrality

For this blog I was asked to think about Net Neutrality and how it might impact media consumers’ access to technology, information, and ideas.

Let’s start with the basics – net neutrality.

“Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services.”

https://www.eff.org/issues/net-neutrality

According to TechTarget’s analysis of net neutrality, they state that “net neutrality supporters believe that the internet should remain free, open and nondiscriminatory and that this is essential for a democratic exchange of ideas and knowledge, ethical business practices, fair competition and ongoing innovation.”

So, it’s mainly an idea surrounding fairness. And I agree, participation in a society is a global human right.

There shouldn’t be any limitations to “how, when, where, and how often people have access to the tools, technology, and digital skills necessary to thrive.”

https://namle.net/resources/media-literacy-defined/

Networks shouldn’t discriminate against the content that passes through them. Without net neutrality, ISP’s could prevent a user’s freedom to access ideas and services. This limits their access to participate in the culture around them and they can be fed specific information rather than be exposed to all information and ideas without censorship – a key player in media literacy.

On the other hand, I believe that there is a negative impact that net neutrality can have on consumers – it could definitely be costly, for everyone. If a streaming service, for example, were going to pay more money to an internet service provider in order to get faster delivery of its streaming services, then they could try to get more money out of the pockets of the consumers, like increasing the subscription fee, in order to make up the difference.

Although I believe that the general internet has a long way to go when it comes to fairness and equality, net neutrality is good for people and their democracies, because it ensures we aren’t being limited access to the information and tools that we have a basic right to.

My Media Use

I decided to track my media usage on a special day — my birthday! I was born 25 years ago on January 14, and I figured why not track my usage on a day that I’ll probably be on my phone the most?

8am – I allowed myself to sleep in a little later than I normally do. I woke up to several notifications from different apps, mostly relating to birthday wishes. I responded to some text messages, then opened up the email app to check for important stuff. A free dozen from Krispy Kreme and a free drink from Dutch Bros? I think those are pretty important emails if you’d ask me.

9am – after my morning routine, I ate breakfast while watching an episode of The Walking Dead – a Netflix show I’m currently bindgewatching.

10am – I recently got a Nintendo Switch, so I’ve been pretty obsessed with it if I’m being honest. I played Animal Crossing, which I try to do every day since there’s daily activities and chores to do on there.

11am – I opened my Spotify app to listen to music while I got ready for the day. Who can go a day without listening to music? Definitely not me. This continued on into the car, as I was on my way to get my birthday “freebies” and run some errands. I also listened to some local radio stations at times. I wasn’t the one driving, so I had time to be on my phone where I scrolled on social media for a few minutes.

3pm – after getting back home, I answered some FaceTime and phone calls. I then used Safari search engine and the maps app to find some bars to go to after dinner. I also read some news articles on CNN, after receiving notifications from the app.

6pm – I listened to more music on the radio as I was on my way to dinner downtown. The restaurant I planned to eat at had a wait time of over two hours – crazy right? I used my phone to look up other locations nearby to eat at, and eventually sat down at a sushi restaurant. Nowadays, we tend to see restaurants placing a “QR code” on tables which guests can scan using their phones to see a digital version of their menu, which I had to do.

11pm – I winded down for the night, and ended up watching another episode of The Walking Dead on my TV, before falling asleep.

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