Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “entrepreneurship”

Fake news about fake news

Does fake news exist?

The term “fake news” gets bandied about a lot, but like other terms, such as “political correctness”, “conservative”, “liberal” and “terrorist”, the definition is vague and when you see it in print, it is often not immediately clear what the writer means by it.

Is there such a thing as “fake news” and if there is, does it differ from related terms like “media spin”, “disinformation”, “misinformation” etc?

Some people vehemently deny that there is such a thing as fake news, and insist that it is merely media spin, but reports like this one show some of the characteristics of fake news EXPOSED: The Unisa employee who manufactures fake news to divide SA | News24:

News24’s investigation into the owners of Mzansistorie.com and Allnews.co.za started earlier this year as part of a much broader investigation into the originators, enablers and funders of fake news websites in South Africa.

Ironically, it was the very fact that Ramatseba wanted to make money from his website that revealed his identity. It was also the same social media used by Ramatseba to distribute his fabrications that proved instrumental in identifying him.

In this case the primary characteristic of fake news is the desire to make money. The article gives a detailed picture of how and why fake news is produced and propagated.

I suspect that some popular news tropes, like “white genocide” and “Russian interference in US elections” are based on this. If you want something to attract lots of clicks, post a fabricated or exaggerated story that plays on or feeds people’s fears, and you will get lots of clicks and lots of lovely lolly rolling in.

People often assume that the motive is ideological. “The Russians” are trying to influence US elections, and everyone knows that the Russians are linked to Putin. But perhaps most of it is Russian internet entrepreneurs harvesting clicks and making money by playing on US political rivalries and fears of “the other side”.

In South Africa, the irony is apparent when it turns out that it is black people like William Mahlatse Ramatseba who are seeking to capitalise and make money out of white people’s fears and racism towards black people, and it is White Monopoly Capital organisations like Bell Pottinger that profited by stoking fears of “White Monopoly Capital” among black South Africans, for profit, of course Deal that undid Bell Pottinger: inside story of the South Africa scandal | Media | The Guardian:

Bell Pottinger was accused of stirring up anger about “white monopoly capital” in South Africa. Material including a video interview with Ajay Gupta, which had never been publicly circulated, was leaked onto South African media.

Bell Pottinger was accused of inciting racial tension, and operating fake Twitter accounts to mount racially driven campaigns.

Fake news certainly does exist, and it is different from old-fashioned media spin.

But fake news does sometimes get mixed up with media spin. Take the News24 headline above: The Unisa employee who manufactures fake news to divide SA. The words “to divide SA” are misleading, because they don’t quite fit with what the rest of the article says. If we read the body of the article “to make money” would have been a more accurate reflection of the content, but in a society where making money is seen as a good activity, and dividing people as bad, “to divide SA” might attract more readers (and thus make more money), than using a more accurate description. It’s true that the overall effect would be to divide people, so it’s not exactly fake news. But the spin is to create the impression that that was the intention, while the body of the article shows that the intention was to make money. See how complicated it gets?

And in a country where some people are talking of making “entrepreneurship” a school subject, nobody wants to call William Mahlatse Ramatseba what he is, an entrepreneur.

Concerning the “white genocide” trope, one finds things like this:

But clicking on it reveals that there is no such site. Perhaps it is a fake news site that has since been taken down, but I saw that site referred to in an an answer on the Quora website that  got 68 upvotes. Fake News works because there are people who want to believe it.

Having said all this can one make some tentative definitions of these terms?

Here is my attempt:

  • Fake News — articles purporting to be news that are completely or partly made up. Their main purpose is clickbait, with the primary aim opf making money for those who post them. Those who promote fake news don’t care whether those who read them believe the stories or not. The important thing is that they click on the links to bring revenue to the fake news vendors.
  • Disinformation — articles purporting to be news, but which, like fake news, are completely or partly made up. But unlike fake news, where the intention is to make money, in the case of disinformation, the intention is to get people to believe the false story. So Fake News stories manufactured as clickbait may be propagated as disinformation by those who want others to to believe them. The primary intention in disinformation is to deceive.
  • Misinformation — false information that is spread unintentionally by people who do not know it is false. This may be either fake news or disinformation that is passed on by those who believe it, or simply something that was misheard or misunderstood.
  • Spin — genuine information that is presented in such a way as to create a false impression, or to manipulate people’s opinions about it.

Thoughts? Comments? Can anyone think of better definitions?

 

Carpenter’s Shoes: Fun with Technorati

I’ve just visited Technorati for the second time this month. and that’s probably also for the second time this year.

This time it was the result of reading Carpenter’s Shoes: Fun with Technorati

Technorati provide blog ranking stats (www.technorati.com) It’s a bit of a mission to find out the rankings of the South African religion blogs that I am interested in, but there are a few that I check once in a blue moon. Blog rankings are based on what Technorati calls authority.

My previous visit to Technorati this month was because I got an email asking me to take part in a survey on the state of the blogosphere. Though the survey wasn’t very satisfactory, if you are a blogger it might well be worth taking part in it, as the more who do so, the better the picture it will give of the state of the blogosphere, despite its flaws.

But Jenny Hillebrand’s post on Carpenter’s Shoes got me thinking about why I only visit Technorati once or twice a year, if that. A few years ago I used to visit the site three or four times a week.

What has changed?

Well the Technorati site has changed.

Back then it had stuff that interested me as a blogger. I could go there to find blogs and blog posts I was interested in. There used to be “Technorati tags”, and one could click on them to find who was blogging on what topics. If I was going to blog on a subject, I’d look up tags related to that subject, and if those blogs said anything interesting on the topic, I’d link to them.

Now, however, you can’t find stuff that you find interesting on Technorati. If you look at their tags page, for example, you can’t search for tags. They only show you the currently popular tags for the last month. Do not expect Technorati to give you what you like. You WILL like what Technorati gives you and tells you to like. There is a kind of arrogant authoritarian flavour to it.

What is going on here?

I suspect that Technorati was started by a bunch of bloggers who enjoyed blogging and tried to produce a tool that would be useful to bloggers and that bloggers would like. And it grew a bit beyond their capacity and they needed a bit of capital injection to keep it going and growing.

But capital injection also means that the marketing people come in and have more say, and in their philosophy giving bloggers what they are looking for is no good at all. What is important is to steer bloggers towards the stuff that brings in the most advertising revenue for us.

So they modify it, and tell you:

Welcome to the
new Technorati.com

The blogosphere evolves and so do we.

And that means they make it harder to find what you are looking for, and easier to find the stuff that brings in the most advertising revenue for them. And finding what you are looking for, as Jenny says, is “a bit of a mission.”

And that is why I now visit Technorati only once or twice a year, instead of three or four times a week.

Turn offs

As i look around the blogosphere for new and interesting blogs, there are some things that turn me right off.

I do most of my blog surfing on MyBlogLog. I used to use BlogCatalog for that as well, but now they show blogs in an annoying frame, which you have to close to see the URL, which means reloading the page, with a consequent waste of bandwidth.

That’s a turn-off in itself. I like to visit blogs whose owners have visited my blog — if they find my blog interesting, there’s a stronger possibility that I’ll find theirs interesting. And if theirs is interesting, then people who visit their blog might have interesting blogs, and so on.

But it’s a bit like travelling through a maze or a labyrinth — doing that sometimes leads one down dead ends, and when that happens there is nothing for it but to go back and start over.

There are, however, some warning signs that indicate that a dead end is coming up — key words that turn me off.

And some of these words are: entrepreneurship, marketing, self-help, self-improvement, personal development.

When I see those tags in a MyBlogLog blog listing, I don’t even bother to look at the blog. I know it’s going to be a boring dead end.

But there are a lot of blogs like that out there.

My son works in a book shop, and he tells me that the best-selling books are the self-improvement ones.

One of the most popular recent ones is called The Secret. More people seem to buy that than anything else, and from my son’s description of the contents I gather its main purpose is to promote the “culture of entitlement” which is already the bane of our society. Its main message appears to be that the universe owes you a living, and you just need to be sufficiently assertive to persuade it to cough up.

A few years ago we went to his graduation at the Pretoria Technikon (now called the Tshwane University of Technology). He studied fine arts, and was a bit unenthusiastic when we said we would like to attend his graduation. When we did, we saw why.

The main speaker pronounced his pride in the institution’s greatest achievement: it was the very first tertiary education institution in the world to include the word “entrepreneurship” in its mission statement.

And it went from bad to worse: the lights were dimmed, and the graduands all recited “The Entrepreneur’s Creed” together in unison, like 8-year-olds reciting the multiplication tables — the new secular religion for the masses.

Marketing, entrepreneurship, self-help and self-improvement are the biggest turn-offs I know.

But if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, just write and publish a self-improvement book. Marketing it is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because the demand is limitless.

Better still, write a book about how to write self-improvement books.

Twittersheep – who’s stalking whom?

I tried Twittersheep, which gathers information from the bios of one’s followers and extracts a cloud of keywords. The biggest key words were Christian, Church, Orthodoxy and Love.

That’s OK.

The key words I dread seeing are Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

When I see them written large in tag clouds, my interest flags. When I see them as tags in blogs in MyBlogLog, I know I’m going to find it boring. But most of the entrepreneurs and marketing geeks have stopped blogging and gone Twittering. And they are the people who like following (or is it stalking) other people and collecting more followers than anyone else.

When my son graduated from Pretoria Technikon (now called the Tshwane University of Technology, or something like that) he was a bit reluctant that we should go to the graduation ceremony. Afterwards it was obvious why — he found it too cringeworthy and embarrassing.

The vice-chancellor (or his stand-in) made a speech in which he proudly announced that the Pretoria Technikon was the first tertiary educational institution in the world to include the word “entrepreneurship” in its mission statement, and at the end the lights dimmed, and there were spotlights on the new graduates as they all recited the Entrepreneurs Creed in unison. It was the essence of kitsch.

But as the global recession deepens, and the great god Entrepreneurship turns out to have feet of clay, I wonder if they will still be reciting it now.

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