“Stories may have political impact less by persuading than by reminding people which side they are on”

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

“Humans can be successfully manipulated through social bots.” Chengcheng Shao, Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, and others at Indiana University, Bloomington, analyzed 14 million tweets spreading 400,000 claims during and following the U.S. presidential campaign and election and found that “accounts that actively spread misinformation are significantly more likely to be bots.” Also, “humans do most of the retweeting, and they retweet claims posted by bots as much as by other humans. This suggests that humans can be successfully manipulated through social bots.” The paper offers a couple ideas on reducing bot activity; here’s one:

An alternative strategy would be to employ CAPTCHAs challenge response tests to determine whether a user Continue reading "“Stories may have political impact less by persuading than by reminding people which side they are on”"

The Information launches an accelerator for subscription news startups, with investments starting at $25K

Jessica Lessin, founder and editor-in-chief of the subscription tech news site The Information, gets a lot of questions on how to create a news business like hers, and over the roughly four years that The Information — which costs $399 a year (less for students, and $10,000 for an extra-premium product) — has been in business, she’s provided casual advice to those who want to follow in her footsteps. Now she’s coupling formal advice with money: The Information announced Friday that it is launching The Information Accelerator, “a vehicle to invest in and advise up-and-coming subscription news startups.” “We’re doing this because the existing VC model just isn’t aligned with news entrepreneurs,” Lessin said. “It values scale over sustainability.” Startups that specialize in subscription-based news — and that, importantly, have not“already raised a lot of venture capital” — can apply to participate, by Continue reading "The Information launches an accelerator for subscription news startups, with investments starting at $25K"

Two years in, the hyperlocal Worcester Sun questions whether Sunday print is still in its future

The Worcester Sun launched as a hyperlocal news site (and a competitor to the print-and-online Worcester Telegram & Gazette) two summers ago. It promised an interesting twist on the local online model — heavily paywalled, aiming to eventually launch a print weekly newspaper. Since then, many of its founding tenets have stayed the same, but there have also been surprises. The Sun, covering the second-largest city in New England, is still tightly paywalled. Subscribers still pay $2 a week, whether they want a one-week subscription or a one-year subscription. Two digital editions of the Sun are now published each week, on Wednesdays and Sundays (up from just Sundays at launch). The ultimate goal, said Mark Henderson, the Sun’s president and cofounder, is to publish a digital edition seven days a week. At launch, the Sun offered exactly zero free content other than a daily, comprehensive listing of obituaries Continue reading "Two years in, the hyperlocal Worcester Sun questions whether Sunday print is still in its future"

What will misinformation look like in 2030 (and will we be better at spotting it by then)?

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

What will misinformation look like in 2030? A team of researchers worked with the Wikimedia Foundation to consider the future of fake news and propaganda. Here’s the framework they came up with: The full report is here and includes some ideas for how Wikipedia can fight “misinformation and censorship in the decades to come:

— Encourage and embrace experiments in artificial intelligence and machine learning that could help enrich Wikipedia content. — Track developments in journalism and academia for new ways to fact-check and verify information that may be used as sources for Wikimedia platforms, such as evaluating video or other new media, also valuable for content. — Collaborate with other public interest organizations to
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Musical (about marriage) as podcast? Why not, say the guys who brought you the sci-fi Limetown

It’s surprising when you’re listening to a podcast and suddenly the speaker bursts into song. But that is the point of 36 Questions, the new podcast from the creators of the hit faux-NPR sci-fi podcast Limetown: It’s a musical. It’s about a couple on the brink of divorce who try the “36 questions that lead to love” — known to many from a New York Times Modern Love column that went viral in 2015 (the book was released last week) — in a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. The podcast, which will be released in three parts starting Monday (with one episode every other week), includes 12 original songs that will be simultaneously released as free singles. It was written, directed, and composed by Ellen Winter and Chris Littler, who happen to be in a band together. The husband is played by Jonathan Groff of Continue reading "Musical (about marriage) as podcast? Why not, say the guys who brought you the sci-fi Limetown"

Fake news bots are so economical, you can use them over and over

Changing your mind, but not your vote. People may change their minds after seeing fact checks, but in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign it didn’t change who they voted for — that’s the main finding from a new paper, “Taking corrections literally but not seriously? The effects of information on factual beliefs and candidate favorability,” by Brendan Nyhan, Ethan Porter, Jason Reifler, and Thomas Wood. (Nyhan and Reifler in particular have been doing research on misinformation for a while.) During the campaign, they conducted two experiments to correct misleading claims that Donald Trump made during his convention speech and in the first general election debate (one claim was about crime levels, the other about employment rates). They found that “corrections decreased misperceptions for supporters of both major party candidates” — but attitudes toward Trump weren’t affected. “Individuals may be willing to change their minds about Continue reading "Fake news bots are so economical, you can use them over and over"

“We reached the boundaries of automation faster than expected”

A new report out Wednesday from Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism looks at how automated journalism worked during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report is written by Andreas Graefe, who also spearheaded the Tow Center’s Guide to Automated Journalism in 2016.
The project aimed to study the creation of automated news for forecasts of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, based on data from the forecasting platform pollyvote.com. In addition, the resulting texts provided the stimulus material for studying the consumption of automated news for a high-involvement topic that involves uncertainty.
Since 2004, PollyVote has combined forecasts within and across different forecasting methods to come up with popular vote projections for the U.S. presidential elections. (It doesn’t make projections on a state level.) For this project, the Tow Center’s team worked with German software company AX Semantics to develop automated news based on
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