Book Review: “Fighting Fake News!”

Fighting Fake News!Fighting Fake News! by Brian C. Housand Ph.D.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review originally appeared in the November 2018 edition of “Technical Communication: Journal of the Society for Technical Communication”.

“Fake news” is one of the biggest news headlines in recent years. The threat of fake news is everywhere, and politicians have latched onto this buzzword. However, what exactly is fake news, and how do you determine the viability of your news source? With more people accessing news from a variety of Internet sources, how can you tell what stories are legitimate, and which are yellow journalism or political propaganda? In Fighting Fake News!, Dr. Housand designs a program structured to teach students, and maybe even adults, how to determine which news stories are credible, and which are less than reliable.

America has a long history of fake news, from the yellow journalism that provoked the Spanish-American war, to the misreporting that “The War of the Worlds” radio drama sparked mass hysteria. (It didn’t, but the newspapers said that there was hysteria to promote newspapers instead of the newcomer radio.) Why do people believe such stories? Often because they are predisposed and want to believe them. To combat such tendencies, Dr. Housand presents an attack plan. Fake news fighters must overcome the following challenges: information overload, certifying authenticity of sources, evaluating speed against accuracy, and overcoming your personal biases. This book is designed as a teaching aid, and educators can use activities placed within each chapter to engage students and help hone their critical thinking skills. Each chapter clearly lays out a plan of instruction to convey one of the main concepts, and to build up towards overcoming one of the stated challenges. For example, chapter 8 focuses on overcoming your biases. It describes how many people surround themselves on social media with people who share their political viewpoints. The result is, everyone in that circle agrees with everyone’s opinions, which falsely validates those opinions. Without alternate opinions, people develop a bias towards their group and are quick to dismiss other groups. To be better informed, Dr Housand suggests that alternative views be taken from qualified sources. The exercise for this chapter describes how to start a rudimentary debate by choosing a topic and then finding reliable sources that are pro/con/neutral before deciding.

Will Fighting Fake News! stop the spread of misinformation? Definitely not. But it does provide a logical framework to convey to students to help them develop critical thinking skills. Will it enable you to change your Facebook friend’s opposing political viewpoints? Probably not, but it can lead you into civil discourse on such topics. If you are interested in learning how media manipulates people and how to overcome said manipulation, then Fighting Fake News! is the book for you.

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Book Review: “Digital Media & Society”

Digital Media and SocietyDigital Media and Society by Simon Lindgren

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of “Technical Communication: Journal of the Society for Technical Communication”.

The adage holds true: don’t judge a book by its cover, especially in the case of Digital Media & Society. While the book’s cover contains a whimsical photograph of a squirrel wielding a flamethrower, do not be fooled into thinking that the contents are equally whimsical. What lies within is a complex and detailed analysis of modern society and how digital information impacts it.

Lindgren presents an intense examination of society in the digital age. He breaks the book into four main sections: theories, topics, tools, and a conclusion. Each section is further divided into topics ranging from social media, to digital activism, to digital ethnography. Chapters begin with a callout highlighting key concepts and questions to be addressed by the chapter. For example, “How does the evolution of digital society relate to visual culture?” appears at the start of Chapter 6, Digital Visuality and Visibility (p. 109). Embedded within each chapter are exercises, such as, “Try to speculate about different things that might motivate people to take and share [selfies].…In a sociological sense: What does a selfie ‘say’?” (p. 114). Concluding each chapter are lists of suggested further reading materials. The chapter’s structure contains those elements but tied into a careful presentation and study of a given concept. Sources are cited, and examples given to provide context and to illustrate the concept Lindgren is examining. In this manner, he introduces you to a concept, provides the history of that concept, dissects it from a sociological viewpoint, while engaging you to think critically about the issue.

Overall, Digital Media & Society provides an insightful, in-depth investigation of modern society and how different forms of media affect it. Contemporary electronic media and their predecessors are well represented, ranging from an old school bulletin board system (BBS), to Snapchat, to Eric Snowden. If you are interested in learning about electronic media and why it affects your life and impacts the world today, then Digital Media & Society is a resource for you, even if you get it as a paperback and not digitally on your Kindle.

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Free Webinar on WordPress

I’m giving a free webinar on Friday, June 1st, 2018, targeted to STC members who are running their community website. You can sign up on Eventbrite below.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mastering-your-community-website-101-the-basics-of-wordpress-and-cpanel-tickets-46048045945?aff=esli

 

About the Webinar

Feeling intimidated about running your community’s website? Considering moving from your old hosting service to the free one offered by STC? Don’t know the difference between your HTTPs and your PHPs? Want to learn some tricks and tips for streamlining your web presence with social media? Then this is the webinar for you. We’ll go over the basics of creating and running a website using WordPress and cPanel, along with some additional tools designed to make your webmastering easier.

About the Audience

This webinar is for those currently serving as community webmasters, are incoming webmasters, or are interested in learning more about using WordPress and cPanel for their communities. All STC members are welcome, and are encouraged to register and attend online or watch the recording.

About the Speaker

Timothy Esposito candid.JPG

Timothy Esposito is an STC Associate Fellow with over 17 years of technical communication experience. He is currently President of the STC Philadelphia Metro Chapter. Before becoming president, Timothy was VP, chapter treasurer, webmaster, and scholarship manager. He lives just outside Philadelphia with his wife, son, and his retired greyhound.

Have questions about Mastering Your Community Website 101: The Basics of WordPress and cPanel? Contact STC Community Affairs Committee (CAC)

Book Review: “This Book Is a Planetarium”

This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up ContraptionsThis Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of “Technical Communication”, https://www.stc.org/techcomm/2018/05/….

When selecting a book by title alone, you may think that This Book is a Planetarium and Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions may be a generalization about the book’s contents. Perhaps the book is about planetariums, projecting stars, or constellations. However, in this case, the book folds out to become a rudimentary planetarium, powered by the light of a cell phone or other small flashlight.

Not only is this book a planetarium, it is also a musical instrument, decoder ring, perpetual calendar, speaker, and spiralgraph. Each is made almost exclusively from folded paper or paper board, and all the advertised items are functional. As you unfold each page, easy to follow instructions appear, along with a brief explanation of the paper device.

First is a musical instrument: a simple guitar with nylon strings, and a paperboard pick held in place by a sturdy paper strip. Although you cannot play actual music on the makeshift guitar, you can pluck the strings and here the different intonations created by the length and tautness of the strings. Next up is the basis of all simple cryptography: the decoder ring. The ring consists of a spinning disk with letters and numbers on it, along with a description on how to use it. Sharing the page spread is a perpetual calendar. A perpetual calendar uses similar mechanics as the decoder ring and consists of an inset disk that you spin to show the relationship between years and days of the week. For example, in 2012, January and October have a Monday that is the first day of the month. On the same setting, you’ll see that 2034 has May starting with a Monday as the first of the month. Other month/day combinations appear on the same display as well. When you get to a new month, you turn the dial, and the calendar recalibrates itself according to the year/month selection you make.

A titular planetarium appears in the center of the book. This is one of the book’s more complicated paper-folding creations. On the tips of the front and back inside covers of the book are elastic bands. You can use them to loop over the interior pages of the planetarium, enabling you to keep the book open and flat. Once the pages are secured, you are invited to place a small light, such as from a cell phone, under the planetarium dome. When taken into a darkened room, your ceiling will be flooded with stars along with lines connecting the constellations. These constellations are named, but not described.

The last pages contain a folding cone and stand for a cell phone. The cone will act as a sound channeling device for any noise or music created on the mobile device. This Book is a Planetarium concludes with a spiralgraph. This is a spot to place a piece of paper and hold it down with a cutout of a giant gear. On the opposite page there are 4 smaller gears stored behind thick paper straps. Each gear has many off-center holes in them. When placed in the cogs of the giant gear, over the pinned paper, you can trace a pen or pencil in any of the holes while rolling the small gear around the teeth of the giant gear. The result of this rolling is an enticing pattern of predictably wavy lines. If you keep a firm grip on the giant gear, the smaller gears will smoothly roll around creating mathematical artwork.

With This Book is a Planetarium, Anderson created a visually engaging, informative book that families will enjoy. My preschooler regularly requests that we set up the planetarium in his room at night, and if he can play the guitar in the book. If you are looking for instructions on how to build these items, then this is not the right book for you. Conversely, if you seek clever demonstrations of paper folding to build intriguing devices to share with your family, then This Book is a Planetarium can help you reach the stars.

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