Vibe Check

Happy weekend all. Here’s Digitally Literate, issue #340.

I’ve been working on some things in the lab. More to come soon.

Please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

TOM CRUISE 2020 – RUN TOM RUN (Presidential Campaign Announcement) Deepfake

We’ve talked quite a bit about deepfakes, especially the fake Tom Cruise. Perhaps we should take some time to meet the real, fake Tom Cruise.

Automatic Categorization of LGBT User Profiles on Twitter with Machine Learning

So, a recent study was published that includes the following statement of the problem. 1) LGBT people have privacy concerns so they might be reluctant to participate in research. 2) So we built a machine learning classifier to identify them on Twitter so they can be researched anyway.

There’s totally no way this could be used in a harmful way. ಠ_ಠ

Michael Zimmer and Casey Fiesler have great Twitter threads unpacking the issues with big data research ethics and a general duty to vulnerable communities.

There is a lot to say about this research. The “participants” were categorized as individual, organization, or sex worker/porn. The information used to develop the machine learning model is public info on Twitter. The researchers identify the potential value of public health research. To me, this boils down to one sentiment.


Blame it on the game

A great long read from Katherine Alejandra Cross about the need to apply the tools of cultural criticism to video games. As another mass shooting devastates an American town, the old scapegoat of video games is rolled out by the political right. I’ve been quick to reject this criticism, as quickly as I’m also not willing to blame music (metal or rap). But, Cross has me thinking differently.

Yes, our culture is saturated in violent imagery and narratives that glorify violence, presenting it as the epitome of heroism and the surest solution to problems.

The problem is that we’re looking at part of the problem, and ignoring the guns themselves, domestic terrorist groups that radicalize online, and deep roots in white supremacy culture.

To even imply a causal link between such representations and the most grotesque real-world violence is to do a disservice to the reality of that complexity. Worse, it contributes to a narrative that many on the far-right have desperately sought to amplify, in a bid to distract from far more pressing conversations about guns themselves, the role of police, and white supremacism in our society. 


Misinformation Is Here To Stay (And That’s OK)

Issac Saul with a piece on how attempts to eliminate incorrect speech will do more harm than good, and what we should do instead. I’ve written and researched quite a bit about misinformation and disinformation…so this is of keen interest to me.

Saul provides the following solution.

Imagine your job is to put out fires (misinformation) in an area where arsonists (people spreading misinformation) are always setting fires. It takes many firefighters to contain the blaze once it is burning, and if there is a lot of dry brush and kindling, the fire spreads quickly.

  1. Continue fighting fires with hordes of firefighters (in this analogy, fact-checkers).
  2. Focus on the arsonists (the people spreading the misinformation) by alerting the town they’re the ones starting the fire (banning or labeling them).
  3. Clear the kindling and dry brush (teach people to spot lies, think critically, and ask questions).

Right now, we do a lot of #1. We do a little bit of #2. We do almost none of #3, which is probably the most important and the most difficult. I’d propose three strategies for addressing misinformation by teaching people to ask questions and spot lies. 

As an educator who researches, writes, and teaches on this topic I definitely agree. It’s just not going to work. We unpack a lot of the why each week here in DL. The problem is also getting much, much worse.


What is a vibe?

My partner and I finally started watching The Bear last night. We watched a lot of cooking-themed shows thanks to Anthony Bourdain and stepped away from the genre after his death. We’re also big fans of Jeremy Allen White after watching him grow up on (the American adaptation of) Shameless.

As I was preparing this week’s issue, I came across this post criticizing The Bear and how it represents TV’s fascination with vibes.

In the lead link for this section, Robin James indicates that “vibez” is used to express an intention, a situation/one’s geographic and sociological position, an ambiance, a state of mind, one’s material surroundings, and other sorts of contexts that orient present and future possibilities. James goes on to explain that a vibe is a phenomenon that describes a person’s perspective or feelings about a topic, place, situation, or moment.

Vibes make me think about how we judge the credibility and reliability of online information in the blink of an eye, and how this is even more challenging in an environment of mis- and disinformation.


A brief history of more than 30 formats music has officially been released on

When I lecture about innovations in technology, I usually start with the ways in which our cultures have adopted new technologies as evidenced in recorded music formats.

This post shares that timeline, and some extra weird and wonderful formats I didn’t know about.

Open your eyes to the magic of being alive

The world around us is infused with everyday magic that’s often invisible to us. We ignore the wonderful innovations that give us glass, clean drinking water, and other evidence of solved problems.

Take time to witness and research some of the ingenuity and genius that went into everything we see around us.

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

Hannah Arendt

If you’re still looking for some fun games, one of my readers shared The Evolution of Trust, an interactive guide to the game theory of why and how we trust each other.

Say hey at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

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