Portraying Sources

About the Author:

Judith Donath

Judith Donath

Judith Donath synthesizes knowledge from fields such as urban design, evolutionary biology and cognitive science to build innovative interfaces for on-line communities and virtual identities. A Harvard Berkman Faculty Fellow and formerly director of the Sociable Media Group at MIT Media Lab, she is known internationally for her writing on identity, interface design, and social communication.

To assess the truth(iness) of a message, one of the most useful pieces of information is who is the source? Is it someone you trust? Distrust? Never heard of? What personal stake does the messenger have in persuading you? The claim that taking mystery tablet X will give you a glowing complexion and concentration to match is most trustworthy when told to you by your close friend (who gains from doing you a favor), and least when told by a tablet X salesperson (who gains commission on your purchase and loses nothing from your disappointment with the product) or your practical joker colleague (who gains if you have an unfortunate reaction). Continue reading

A Tale of Three Rumors

About the Author:

Gilad Lotan

Gilad Lotan

Gilad Lotan is the VP of R&D for SocialFlow, a New York based startup that develops technology that optimizes content for social media channels.

The more we use social media, the more seasoned we become at assessing the trustworthiness of information that we come across. With rumors constantly flying around, famous celebrities are often mistaken to be dead, while every little move Apple makes triggers an onslaught of buzz around new product features.

This post details three rumors, each with its own path, source, evolution and outcome. One makes it far, cascading through networks of users, fans and followers who decide to amplify and pass on the message, another makes it far but is found to be false, while the third quickly dies. What can we learn from their differences? How can we improve our ability to recognize a false piece of information in realtime? Continue reading

When the News Comes from Political Tweetbots

About the Author:

Eni Mustafaraj

Eni Mustafaraj

Norma Wilentz Hess fellow of Computer Science at Wellesley College

In July 2010, the blogger Andrew Breitbart wrote a long blog post with a short video excerpt from a speech by Shirley Sherrod. The post went viral and Ms. Sherrod was forced to resign from her U.S. Department of Agriculture position. Afterwards, it was revealed that the excerpt was taken out of context and the accusations were false, but, alas, the damage was done. I’m recalling this story, because in a previous post in this blog, Tim Hwang raised the following issue in the context of astroturfing campaigns:

A deeper problem is one of assigning responsibility – even when revealed, one common issue is the difficulty of figuring out who exactly launched these campaigns in the first place. Continue reading

About Truthiness in Digital Media

As the networked media environment increasingly permeates private and public life, driven in part by the rapid and extensive travels of news, information and commentary, our systems for identifying and responding to misinformation and propaganda are failing us, creating serious risk to everything from personal and financial health, to fundamental democratic processes and governance.  In this age when many would argue that news and information have become key ingredients of broad social progress, our supply is tainted.  Continue reading