My New Chair

I bought a new chair recently, it’s a bright baby blue color and it sits in my room. On the chair sits a small plain cushion. Both look a little strange still in the corner of my room; often I wander in and am surprised to see them there. And then I remember, my decision to bring Twitter and my Public blog into my life. I remember my commitment to try it out, to experiment and to be open to seeing what it could become.

And so, my continued journey with social media this week has been…. engaging, educational and surprisingly friendly. My tweet asking for some ideas around teaching was responded to quickly and with unanticipated enthusiasm.

My tweet to a researcher regarding her research; I received not one but a multitude of responses followed by a kind offer to continue dialogue through e-mail.

Surprised, shocked and very pleased, my mind begins shifting into a comfortable spot on this brand-new baby blue chair; with my pillow snuggled beside me.  While I’m sure this is due to the very small and specific group I follow; nevertheless, it is a nice foray into a new world.

And then, another guest speaker; Bonnie Stewart. An expert on Twitter, and passionate about education, Bonnie completed her PHD on Twitter and currently holds the role of Assistant Professor of Online Pedagogy and Workplace Learning at the University of Windsor. Bonnie expresses many of her ideas through her blog, “The TheoryBlog” and continues to engage others in discourse around technology and education through Twitter.  It’s all very fascinating. The discussion moves from “The shifting consequences of Twitter scholarship” to U-Tube algorithms (scary) and bots and suddenly, a remark is made about the quantity of researcher responses a classmate and I received; and, “maybe it was a bot” was stated,  twitters ensue (the laughter kind), and my mind starts playing back scenes from “ I Robot” and “The Matrix”.  I move uncomfortably on my chair. Bonnie goes on to talk briefly about bots and some of the roles they play online as the wheels continue turning in my heard.

 Source:(https://gypsyastronaut.tumblr.com/post/32539375713)

“You just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans,” argues Dr. Lanning, director of U.S. Robots lab in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. This, stated in a movie, made in 2004 has become a reality.  Ten years after “ I Robot”  was produced,  according to the article , Turing Test success marks milestone in computing history” , the Turing test was passed. This test, named after Alan Turing, requires computers to engage in conversation with human participants. If 30% or more of the humans believe the computer is a real person, the test has been passed.  In 2014, the 13-year-old bot called Eugene was able to convince 33% of the judges that he was human. Professor Kevin Warwick made the following comment.

“Of course, the Test has implications for society today. Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. The Turing Test is a vital tool for combatting that threat. It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true…when in fact it is not.”

The overly trusting slightly naïve part of me is feeling a few twinges of concern. My baby blue perch not feeling as comfortable as before, I sit up and click the next link…… https://hapgood.us/2019/03/28/network-heuristics/

A few moments later I am reading an article written by Mike Caulfield on a researcher named Maisy Kinsley. I begin and am led into a tale of deception. Maisy Kinsley does not exist. Fake profiles on multiple social networking sites and an image generated by machine learning has brought Maisy Kinsley into existence. Caufield goes on to detail how easy it is to create a fake identity online and explains how people believe that they can tell if it is fake or not, but often their biases get in the way. He then goes on to discuss how he would make a point to show colleagues or students a site, ask them to identify why it was fake (to which they would list off a multitude of reasons ) and would then go on to tell them that in fact the site was real. Incredibly, a percentage of the people he did this to would not believe that it was a real site despite all the evidence he presented. In fact, they would vehemently disagree.

As this point, I get out of the chair and begin to pace the room.

Bots, trolling bots, bots that communicate like people, algorithms, biases, fake identities, hashtag activism, call out culture, echo chamber….and the list goes on.

I regress back to another article I read, “The Rise of Social Bots”. This article looks specifically at social bots, discussing the helpful or benign ones and then leading into a discussion of the malicious one and the damage they can cause: influencing the stock market, influencing the election, cybercrime, reputation destruction. According to the article, “These  bots  mislead,  exploit,  and  manipulate  social  media  discourse  with  rumors,  spam,  malware,  misinformation,  slander,  or  even  just  noise.”

 

The article claims that bots can:

  1. Search the web for information to build fake profiles.
  2. Post material to their profiles in a manner similar to humans.
  3. Converse with people through social media
  4. Strategically gather new followers.

The image below shows, ” the retweet network for the #SB277 hashtag, about a recent California law on vaccination requirements and exemptions.” The red dots are highly likely to be bot accounts.….scary….

 

 

 

And I pause again…….

I filter through all the information I have read and received over the week and glance over at the blue chair in the corner. And suddenly I come to a realization. I need more, now than ever to be engaged on Twitter, to continue to educate myself on social media, to continue to share and to be a part of the discourse around these issues.

I now know that best thing I can do for my students in regard to this is to keep engaging on Twitter, to keep learning and to pass this knowledge to them.  As Mike Cadfield said,

 

“knowing what is trustworthy as a sign on the web and what is not is, unfortunately, uniquely digital knowledge. You need to know how Google News is curated and what inclusion in those results means and doesn’t mean. You need to know followers can be bought, and that blue checkmarks mean you are who you say you are but not that you tell the truth. You need to know that it is usually harder to forge a long history than it is to forge a large social footprint, and that bad actors can fool you into using search terms that bring their stuff to the top of search results.”…………..“they need to be taught. Years into this digital literacy adventure, that’s still my radical proposal: that we should teach students how to read the web explicitly, using the affordances of the network.”

Network Heuristics (2019)

Students need to be taught these skills at schools in classrooms. This is important. This is digital literacy. This is discourse connected to content that affects students, that will affect their futures. Educating students creates knowledge and critical thinking skills that will help them to be better prepared for the 21 century.

I head back and resettle myself in my chair; tuck my pillow, that now shows a hint of color, beside me and get ready to learn, share and educate.

When I wander into the room now, I am no longer surprised.  It looks like the chair is here to stay

Recourses for Educating Students.

https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/

https://www.aascu.org/AcademicAffairs/ADP/DigiPo/

Machine Learning: Create a fake identity

Publication

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers  (Caulfield, 2017)

Additional Readings (retrieved from Web Literacy for Students site)

Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning. — Stanford History Education Group. November 21, 2016.

Why students can’t Google their way to the truth: Fact-checkers and students approach websites differently. — Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew. Ed Week. November 1, 2016.

The challenge that’s bigger than fake news: Civic reasoning in a social media environment.— Sara McGrew, Teresa Ortega, Joel Breakstone, and Sam Wineburg. American Educator. Fall 2017.