Trending, Encryption, and Algorithms Galore: this week on Fresh Powder

Manufacturing  Trend

The Facebook identity crisis of 2016 continues: a former curator of the “trending stories” section is saying that those stories may not have been trending at all. A group of curators were tasked with the management of the trending stories section, escalating or suppressing news stories according to Facebook guidelines, and sometimes according to personal taste. And they were instructed not to trend stories about Facebook at all, even in cases where those stories were getting a lot of traffic. This wouldn’t be a thing if Facebook were simply a media outlet, but it’s not, and it’s assertion that the trending stories section is just a collection of the most popular stories at any given time, is just not true. Facebook, of course, denies all of this. Incidentally, after Gizmodo released their story revealing the deceptive practice, suddenly the very same article showed up in Facebook’s trending stories widget. Smooooooth, Facebook.

Protect Yo-self

The next four to eight years are going to be a strange time for American journalists, and it’s time to start thinking about protecting yourself. Trump wants to loosen libel laws, making it easier to sue reporters over unflattering coverage. And, given a proper warrant, the government can request information from technology companies, putting both the reporter and protected sources or whistleblowers at risk. What’s to be done? The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell says: encrypt. Everything. All the time. It’s easy to do, and it’s important, even with a Commander-in-Chief who skips his daily intelligence briefing. Maybe especially, actually.

Fake-t Checkers

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve all become a lot more aware of fake news, and we’ve learned a lot about how to identify it, thanks to lists like this one, that delineates the hallmarks of news fakery. Naturally, though, there are people cooking up algorithms that should be able to spot and squash fake news before it makes its way into our newsfeeds. There are a couple ways to do it, including basic ones like source-weeding, but those can be overly simplistic and blunt. Other tools that follow the way news stories move around on social media are a more comprehensive approach, and could provide the solution we need to kill fake news before it shows up on our screens.

TV Toughs

Everyone is abuzz about the way CNN anchor Jake Tapper pressed Mike Pence for answers in a recent interview. Pence, not surprisingly, dodged questions about pursuing security clearance for Mike Flynn’s son, but Tapper, surprisingly, pushed back. He never did get a straight answer from Pence, but that’s not the point. The point isn’t even that he pushed back. The point is that he’s a stand-out as a reporter, simply because he did his job. This is a problem. It’s going to be a tough four years for journalists (and, probably, everybody) but with an administration like the one we’re about to face, the pursuit of truth and information even in the face of intimidation and uncooperative behavior, has got to remain paramount. It won’t be easy, but none of this will, so put on your big kid pants and get after it.

Here’s some other stuff: For those of you new to the Teacher’s Lounge: a comprehensive list of rules that shall be observed in every high school Teacher’s Lounge, everywhere, for the rest of time. And for those of you who are already pre-mourning the end of the holiday season and dreading the long, cold stretch of the winter ahead of us, you can start get a head start on award season by watching all of the movies and wikipedia researching all the celebs nominated for the 2017 Golden Globes.