WordPress has just added a feature to its blogging software that, in theory, looks like a winner. It’s supposed to break up blog posts that are longer than the 280 characters allowed in individual tweets (almost there…) into threads. And, according to the company that makes this software, it will do so in an elegant fashion. So let’s see.

The first issue, and nearly a showstopper, is that I’m required to use the “blocks” editing system that WordPress has been pushing on its users for a while now. I’m totally accustomed to the old system’s simple editor, which lets me focus on the words and, when I need to, drop an image into the post. But I’m an old, unreconstructed blogger from ancient times, as we like to refer to the years from 1999 to roughly 2010, when social media became, more and more, the primary outlet for a lot of us.

I started this post with a screen shot from Twitter (actually TweetDeck), reduced slightly and embedded into the post. I’m not sure how it’s going to look yet in Twitter, but it looks OK in WP for the moment.

I’m going to click the JetPack link in the upper right to see how the Twitter integration works. (It was already working well for posting single tweets.) I see that it gives me some useful options, not least a) a way to customize the introduction message; and b) decide whether to post the entire thread on Twitter or simply link to this post there. (I’d like the option to forego the introductory tweet and just post the thread directly.)

When I preview the thread I see that WordPress often, but not always, breaks up the post into single sentences from the blog post. That’s not optimal, but I can understand the logic.

It also lets me edit where those breaks will not occur — I don’t see a way to force a break. That’s not ideal. I tried it and some of the breaks further down got wonky.

I’d also like to have WP automatically put in indicators of where I am in the thread, e.g. 1/x, 2/x, 3/x…10/end to give a reader a better indication of where the particular tweet comes in the sequence, and to be another alert that it’s part of a thread or, if I get ambitious, a tweetstorm.

Whoops, I see in the last one that it broke in the middle of the sentence, adding ellipses at the end of one tweet and the beginning of the next one. So much for my theory that it does complete sentences.

This seems to work pretty well, overall. I’m planning to give it more of a workout soon.

I’m honored that Keio University’s Cyber Civilization Research Center has named me a (non-resident) Senior Fellow. The center, based in Tokyo, is the brainchild of two real (in contrast to me) luminaries: Jun Murai, widely known as the person who did most to create the Japanese Internet, and David Farber, an American who has been at the top ranks of computer networking and education for decades. Keio is generally regarded as the top private university in Japan.

Dave and I have been running a weekly online gathering, in which a special guest discusses some aspect of our rapidly changing world. Our attendees are scholars, scientists, engineers, people from business and NGOs, and more. I learn something new every time.

My work with the News Co/Lab and the Cronkite School at ASU continues. (Our new free online media literacy course launches a big session this weekend.)

Note: This is an exercise I assign to students in my Digital Media Literacy course at Arizona State University. I ask them to keep a record of how they use media in a 24-hour stretch.

5:30 a.m.: Wake up and (I should not do this) check emails on my phone to see if there’s anything urgent. There never is. So far, anyway. 
6:30am: At breakfast, after we watch the first few minutes of a morning TV news program, I browse a number of journalism websites including the home pages of the New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Japan Times. Because I care a lot about the technology scene, I look at several of the best tech sites including ArsTechnica and ReCode. The other regular media check-in each day is the private Facebook group for my small town in Northern California; that group is the closest thing to news we’ll ever have in a town that’s too small to support a news organization and is almost never noticed by the bigger media organizations in our vicinity. 
7 a.m.: At the desk after breakfast, I usually have several Zoom meetings.
9 a.m.: I launch TweetDeck in a web browser to see what’s up on Twitter. The people I follow there always send me to a variety of other sites, via links they post. Twitter isn’t a great spot for original content, but it’s superb (if you follow the right people) as a place where people will point you to articles, videos, etc. that help you understand the world. 
I get more serious reading done at the desk, using my personal computer, than on my phone. Among the media organizations I’ve bookmarked are the Atlantic, which has become a must-read for coronavirus information. (It was sad to see that the billionaires who own the Atlantic felt it necessary to lay off roughly a sixth of the staff in May; if they can’t see this through, who can?) 
9, 10, 11 a.m., 12, 1, 2, etc. p.m.: Like many others at this point, I spend several hours a day in my email, Slack channels, and other communications venues that are critical to my work. Those often lead me to other reading — research papers, news articles, and more. It never stops, and I will never reach the fabled “Inbox Zero.” 
Several times a day I am in Zoom video meetings with colleagues, family, or friends. This is a major shift, and I suspect it may be longer-lasting than I’d originally imagined. Various family members gather each Sunday on video, and we’ve become closer than we were before. The vast improvements in these tools in recent years has made it possible, as has better Internet bandwidth that (so far) hasn’t failed during the pandemic. 
3 p.m.: I write a fair amount each day, though not nearly as much as I did when I was a working journalist. Beyond emails, Slack, and other messaging applications that dominate work life, I spend way too much time posting on Twitter. I also write in my personal blog from time to time, and post about once a day — usually a photo — to Facebook.  
I don’t listen to much music while I work. When I do it’s usually from my own collection of MP3s, ripped from my CD collection. I prefer instrumentals that aren’t musically challenging to accompany work, because otherwise I’d actively listen to the sounds, defeating the purpose of background music. 
7 p.m.: We often watch videos in the evening — primarily films and TV programs via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. At the moment we’re in Season One of Downton Abbey, which I’d seen but holds up nicely on second viewing years later. 
9 p.m.: My main book reading is in the evening, on a Kindle. Currently I’m immersed in a near-future science-fiction novel (by someone I know) that will be released in a few weeks. I read about two books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Reading gives me a lot of satisfaction, and I wish I could do more. 

So an AT&T subsidiary that owns HBO is laying off “hundreds” of people there, and will focus on the new HBO Max streaming service. I want to send them money to use that service. But due to a gratuitously stupid decision someone made there recently, I just canceled my one-month-old HBO Max account.

They could not care less.

I use Ubuntu Linux on my laptop computer. I can use every other major streaming service with no problem, running in a Firefox browser.

I got a trial account for HBO Max a month ago, and all was well until three days ago, when films and shows just stopped streaming. The error message said “Can’t play title. We’re having trouble playing this video. Please try again later.” A quick check of online message boards showed that this is a universal new policy affecting most or all Linux distributions.

This happened on all browsers I tried. But streaming did work when I used an app on my phone, which has a screen far too small for watching movies in any serious way.

Here’s what “customer support” told me in an email: “We do not support usage under this operating system.”

Remember, however, they did support it. It worked fine until someone made a decision to make it fail.

This is all some kind of corporate copyright control-freakery at work, no doubt. DRM is involved, and HBO/AT&T have made a choice. I’ve made mine.

Looks like I’ll never watch “Game of Thrones” after all…

(Note: This is adapted from a “Tweetstorm” earlier today.)

More than a decade ago I begged journalists and sharers of breaking news to employ a “slow news” approach. The Kobe Bryant story demonstrates that need more than ever.

What’s slow news? It’s the notion that we should slow down before publishing information we can’t absolutely verify, and before believing what we’ve seen published.

I’m sorry to say that we haven’t made enough progress. Slowing down before publishing is the duty (I believe it should be viewed that way) of journalists and social media sharers. Yesterday’s barrage of misinformation, incomplete information, and guesses demonstrated that we’re not close.

Since we can’t expect journalists to do it, and social media’s vastness guarantees that incomplete or wrong information will spread fast, it’s really up to the rest of us — the “consumers” of information — to adopt a slow-news philosophy.

In our digital media literacy course at the Cronkite School, Kristy Roschke and I ask students to pause before believing or sharing pretty much anything, especially when it’s breaking news or a fast-developing story. We use examples like this to show why that’s needed.It comes down to this:

The faster the news accelerates, the slower I am inclined to believe anything I hear — and the harder I look for the coverage that pulls together the most facts with the most clarity about what’s known and what’s speculation.

Meanwhile, if journalists won’t stop spraying out the latest speculation, the least they can do is to find ways to get updates and corrections to as many of the people who’ve read the early “news” as quickly and broadly as possible.

At the ASU News Co/Lab, which I co-founded a couple of years ago, we’re working on ways to help journalists and prominent sharers do just that. A tool, now under development, can partially automate the process of sending corrections down the same social pathways that the original errors traveled.

We’re in “pre-alpha” testing of the tool, which Ted Han is developing, and it looks promising. More on this work here.

(If you’re in a newsroom and want to get a look at this, let us know!

While the tool is aimed first at corrections of major errors, we see updates in these kinds of situations as an important use case. Sometimes the original information isn’t “wrong” in a traditional journalistic sense — example: the police give out an incorrect death toll.

But the public doesn’t care where the misinformation came from, and a journalistic duty is to get the correct information out there, pronto. So when the news is “developing” — if you see that word on a story, it’s probably changing fast — we may be able to help.

I’m under no illusions that slow news will become the norm for creators of information, certainly not for newsrooms or people who use social media as an attention-getter. But I hope we can make progress and reduce at least some of the rumor-mongering.

As creators and consumers, we all need to reflect on what we’re doing. Please consider adopting a slow news approach.

It boils down to this: Take a breath, and think.

(Note: This is adapted from a Thanksgiving Day editorial I wrote many years ago at the Detroit Free Press and later updated in my San Jose Mercury News column.)

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, invites us to pause and remember our blessings. It’s also an annual reminder that, as a friend once reminded me, the world needs more pilgrims and fewer turkeys.

The pilgrims I admire take risks. They embark on journeys to new, unfamiliar, and often unfriendly places, with vision transcending fear. But that isn’t all. Their staying power and moral convictions take them far beyond the self-obsessed hunger for wealth and power–and willingness to poison our public discourse–that infects our nation at the highest levels and threatens to bring down the republic.

Because people are complicated, we can be turkeys one moment and pilgrims the next. History tells us that America’s colonial pilgrims weren’t uniformly admirable (to put it mildly) in their deeds or motives. And human nature hasn’t changed.

So as the more fortunate among us give thanks for our bounty this week — as Thanksgiving Day’s culinary surplus gives way to the holiday season’s commercial excess — let’s honor our own good fortune by reminding ourselves of the best in others.

I revere my small town’s teachers and librarians, who spread knowledge through the community. They believe in the power of words, of learning, of discovery. They are pilgrims.

I am humbled by the people who work for relatively low pay, and sometimes at great personal risk, to bring the truth to their communities via a craft–journalism–that we have never needed more. They, too, are pilgrims.

I admire the activists who see a better America, and work every day to create it, than the cruel nation so many of our leaders have fostered over the years. They are guiding us on a national pilgrimage toward real justice.

A friend who died several decades ago built a successful business and then went into public service. Early in his political career he pretty much insisted that if you were poor it was your own fault, period. Holding power helped him understand otherwise. A conservative Republican–back before “conservative” had been twisted into its current status of right-wing extremist–he never stopped trusting that the free market would erase poverty in the long term. But he realized that the rest of us, as volunteers and through our government, had to help in the meantime. He was a pilgrim.

In the Bay Area, where I live, the behavior of some famous technology people might lead you to believe that the tech world has vastly more turkeys than pilgrims. No question, the field has attracted more than its share of both — reflecting its intense, creative style. Silicon Valley does everything in excess, so why not this? But our tech companies’ worst behavior is now intertwined with our national turmoil, and their leaders have barely begun to recognize their culpability. Some of them are in desperate need of pilgrimages of their own.

At times I fear that America, awash in anger, pettiness, greed, smugness, and deceit, has all but lost its sense of exploration, wonder, and justice. But I always come back to the pilgrims who refuse to accept the way things are, who reject pure grasping and complacence, and who are leading us to better places.

My table will overflow with bounty this Thursday. I’m grateful beyond words for my life of relative comfort, for my opportunity to constantly explore and learn.

I hope to sustain this pilgrimage for life, for justice. And as America celebrates Thanksgiving Day, 2018, I wish the same for you.

I’m happy to say I’ve signed a contract with MIT Press for my next book, tentatively entitled Permission Taken: Recapturing Control of Our Own Technology and Communication. This has been bubbling up in my mind, though not enough from my word processor, for a long time. Now it’s on, and there’s a deadline. It’ll be part of a series edited by my longtime friend and colleague David Weinberger.

I’m especially glad that the book will be done in an open-access format, meaning that it will be available much more widely than traditional publishing normally permits. More details on that to come…

Sorry, but I don’t want Facebook to be the arbiter of what’s true. Nor do I want Google — or Twitter or any other hyper-centralized technology platform — to be the arbiter of what’s true.

But I’m glad to see platform companies at least acknowledging their role in helping spread a colossal amount of misinformation and lying propaganda. Facebook and Google have intervened in small ways, including a vow not let fake news sites make money using their advertising systems.

While I strongly believe Facebok needs to hire some human editors—the algorithm-only approach has visibly failed—I’m very leery of pushing them a lot further down a path we may all regret. But there are specific, positive steps they can take that don’t put them in the dangerous — for us as well as them — position of being the editors of the Internet, which too many people seem to be demanding right now.

What are those positive steps? In a nutshell, help their users upgrade themselves.

They can help their users develop skills that are absolutely essential: namely how to be critical thinkers in an age of nearly infinite information sources — how to evaluate and act on information when so much of what we see is wrong, deceitful, or even dangerous. Critical thinking means, in this context, media literacy.

What is media literacy? From my perspective, it’s the idea that people should not be passive consumers of media, but active users who understand and rely on key principles and tactics.

Among them: When we are reading (in the broadest sense of the work, to include listening, watching, etc.) we have to be relentlessly skeptical of everything. But not equally skeptical of everything; we have to use judgment. We have to ask our own questions, and range widely in our reading — especially to places where are biases will be challenged. We have to understand how media work, and how others use media to persuade and manipulate us. And we have to learn to adopt what I call a “slow news” approach to everything — to wait before we believe any so-called “breaking news” that crosses our screens.

But even active consumption is not enough in a world of democratized media. We aren’t literate unless we’re also creators. And when we’re doing that — whether it’s by sharing a post on Facebook, writing in a blog, or starting a website or podcast or video series — we have to bring the consumer principles to the table and add some more. They add up to being honorable.

The flood of fake online news — augmenting the long-established river of fake news from outlets like Fox — has some of its roots in people sharing not what they know to be false, but what they believe to be true. Or, more often and perniciously, what they want to be true. If everyone did as CNN’s Brian Stelter advises, “triple-check before you share,” that would be a big help.

Why don’t Facebook and Google and Twitter and LinkedIn, among others, offer this advice themselves, and prominently? This is an opportunity the platform companies should seize. They could do more than almost anyone else to help us escape the new-media traps we’ve laid for ourselves.

The people working hardest on media literacy (and “news literacy” among other variants on the topic) are academics, activists, and ex-journalists. They’ve amply demonstrated that it makes a difference. For example, one study showed, logically enough, that exposure to media-literacy training increased students’ “ability to comprehend, evaluate, and analyze media messages in print, video, and audio formats.” Another associated it with increased “civic participation.” I could cite a long list of other studies that show media literacy’s genuine value.

I have a horse in this race; I’ve written a book about it, and have been teaching it at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. In the summer of 2015 I led a “massive open online course” (MOOC) called “Overcoming Information Overload.” A colleague in that project, Kristy Roschke, has analyzed the MOOC data and says it conforms with published research. (Note: my book is published under a Creative Commons license, and so are the MOOC course materials, which means they’re available for download, re-use, and remixing.)

For all its obvious value, media literacy hasn’t penetrated nearly as deeply as it should, and isn’t being taught enough where it matters most: in our K-12 schools. In most districts it’s an afterthought, at best. And let’s be clear: In many parts of the United States, teaching real critical thinking would be considered by reality-denying ideologues to be dangerously radical act.

Another vital cultural institution could, and should, have taken this on decades ago. I’m talking about the journalism trade.

Brian Stelter’s recent CNN commentaries have been a heartening demonstration of what media organizations could be doing. But it’s tragic and damaging — to journalists themselves as well as society — that they haven’t made this a core mission. Since they haven’t, what’s the next useful point of leverage?

The tech platforms are leverage to the nth power. That worries me. It is deeply unhealthy that a few giant companies — Facebook in particular — have become the epicenter of national and even global conversation. Their dominance is part of a re-centralization of communications that is already having dangerous consequences for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and much more. I’d much rather see a combination of broad media literacy and a re-decentralized Internet.

But their dominance exists, today. So I’m asking them to become the champions for a culture that values truth over lies; can tell the difference; and can act to help assure that truth has a fighting chance against the manipulators who are so efficiently poisoning our public discourse.

What specifically can they do? Among other things:

They can put media literacy front and center on their services. They can draw on the best work in the field — and ask for advice from super-experts like Renee Hobbs and Howard Rheingold (compared with them, I’m barely a dilettante in the field). The goal should be to help the rest of us understand why this matters so much and, more importantly, what we can do about it, individually and as members of communities.

They can give third parties ways to help users manage the information flow, not just to avoid bogus information but, crucially also ensure that they see competing ideas challenging their own biases.

They can offer better tools to users who a) don’t want to see fake news and other lies; b) want to help online communities police themselves; c) be better organized in their own consumption of media.

Those are just a few of the many useful ways the platforms could bring media literacy to a vastly broader public.

Will this solve the problem that’s been getting worse for a long time? Of course not. But it will help. That’s a lot better than giving up and sinking further into a swamp that at some point becomes impossible to escape.

This is an emergency. Truth and context need powerful allies, and need them right now.

It’s a joy to be back in Athens, where I’m doing a keynote talk, panel and workshop at a journalism conference created by Open University of Cyprus. CNN Greece, which is digital-only (CNN’s first experiment of this kind), came by my hotel yesterday to chat about the future of media (and asked about the presidential race). This photo is from the roof cafe. Quite the set…

dan in greece
Photo by Noriko Takiguchi