Online Murmurations

Welcome back. Here’s Digitally Literate, issue #350.

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

Flight of the Starlings: Watch This Eerie but Beautiful Phenomenon

This short film by Jan van IJken was shot in the Netherlands, and it captures the birds gathering at dusk, just about to start their “performance.” Listen well and you’ll be able to hear how this beautiful phenomenon got its name.

What Americans Don’t Understand About Teachers and Professors

Derek Thompson discussing how educators feel misunderstood and underappreciated as education becomes more polarized and politicized.

So, if being a teacher or professor is often so grueling, why does anybody do it? “Despite the meager pay and the constant criticism in the media, many people will never understand that the wide majority care about kids,” said Donna, from Maine. “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the light bulb go on when a student masters a skill or grasps a concept.”

The High Cost of Living Your Life Online

Thor Benson indicates that constantly posting content on social media can erode your privacy—and sense of self.

“Even when you’re not on the screens, the screens are in your head,” Larry Rosen professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Anna Lembke, a professor of psychiatric and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, says we construct our identities through how we’re seen by others. Much of that identity is now formed on the internet, and that can be difficult to grapple with. “This virtual identity is a composition of all of these online interactions that we have. It is a very vulnerable identity because it exists in cyberspace. In a weird kind of way we don’t have control over it. We’re very exposed.”

How Online Mobs Act Like Flocks Of Birds

Renée DiResta suggests that a growing body of research suggests human behavior on social media is strikingly similar to murmuration, the scientific word for the secret rhythm that dictates to collective behavior in nature.

Online Murmurations – human behavior on social media — coordinated activism, information cascades, harassment mobs — bears striking similarity to this kind of so-called “emergent behavior” in nature: occasions when organisms like birds or fish or ants act as a cohesive unit, without hierarchical direction from a designated leader.

How Republicans Fed a Misinformation Loop About the Pelosi Attack

Within hours of the brutal attack last month on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the speaker of the House, activists and media outlets on the right began circulating groundless claims — nearly all of them sinister, and many homophobic — casting doubt on what had happened.

In a pattern that has become commonplace, a parade of Republicans — helped along by right-wing media personalities including the Fox New host Tucker Carlson, and prominent people including the newly installed Twitter owner Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man — had already abetted the viral spread of lies about the attack, distorting the account of what happened before facts could get in the way. Finding life on far-right websites and the so-called dark web, conspiracy theories and falsehoods leaped from the fringes to the mainstream.

Thousands Have Joined Mastodon Since Twitter Changed Hands. Its Founder Has a Vision for Democratizing Social Media

Mastodon, a decentralized microblogging site named after an extinct type of mammoth, recorded 120,000 new users in the four days following billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. Its German founder Eugen Rochko suggests that many of them were Twitter users seeking a new place to call their online home.

Here’s a how-to guide for joining the rapidly-growing social network. Come Join Me On Mastodon, Folks.

Break free from the default effect

A fundamental human conundrum is that we like having choices, but we don’t like choosing.

Being able to decide between several options makes us feel in control. Yet, we tend to exhibit a preference for the default option when presented with a selection of choices. This is called the default effect, and it rules many aspects of our lives from the products we buy to the career we build. To break

Instead of living a default life, you can inject a bit more intentionality into the way you make choices by applying some simple strategies:

  • Make space for metacognition
  • Practice deliberate decision-making
  • Project yourself into the future

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Robert Frost

Moderation Is Different From Censorship

  • Moderation is the normal business activity of ensuring that your customers like using your product. If a customer doesn’t want to receive harassing messages, or to be exposed to disinformation, then a business can provide them the service of a harassment-and-disinformation-free platform.
  • Censorship is the abnormal activity of ensuring that people in power approve of the information on your platform, regardless of what your customers want. If the sender wants to send a message and the receiver wants to receive it, but some third party bans the exchange of information, that’s censorship.

Say hey at or on the social network of your choice.

Leave A Comment