Online Disinformation in Unique Places – Spotlight #361

Good Monday morning. It’s November 9th. Wednesday is Veterans Day. A heartfelt thank you to all who served, their families, and their other loved ones.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,039 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. A $1 billion withdrawal of bitcoin captured the world’s attention last week. The bitcoin wallet was quickly linked to the dark web’s Silk Road market for illegal drugs and weapons. Federal officials confirmed Thursday that the funds had been hacked and forfeited to U.S. government custody. (ArsTechnica)

b. Scammers are using Google Drive to lure unsuspecting victims with phishing links. Remember that a Google Drive request comes from Google, but displays the name of the Google account that contacted you. (Wired UK)

c. Google Photos may charge consumers for premium features based on analysis by one-time Silver Beacon client XDA Developers. They found messages within the software about unlocking premium features and a Google One membership providing benefits. The third paragraph starts with code fragments, and if that doesn’t scare you off, then you can read the whole thing here.

Our Take: Nothing is formally announced, but Google is wise if they charge separately for advanced features. For example, the company gives 5 gigabytes of storage to all accounts, but we have a small account that increases storage to a terabyte. 

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

Bus Provides Internet Access for Students – WCIA
Calls to Online Child Sex Abuse Watchdog Up – The Guardian 
Pandemic Fuels Global Decline in Internet Freedom – US News
Permanent Remote Workers Doubling in 2021 – Reuters
Ransomware Hits Hospitals as Coronavirus Spikes – MIT Tech
Telemedicine Takes Center Stage in Pandemic – Science
Utah Exploring Google/Apple Contact Tracing – Fox Salt Lake City

3. Search Engine News

We write a lot about keyword research because understanding the words people use to search is important. Understanding where those people are and then being able to predict future trends are the necessary next steps.

A mashup of Google Trends and data visualization at Waves of Interest provides a look at this investigation process in a beautiful display.

Unfortunately, Google search data is becoming more difficult to source each month. We’ve told you that Google is not including as much keyword information in its advertiser reports. A new report measures the decrease in data at more than 20% between August and September. 

4. In the Spotlight — Online Disinformation in Unique Places 

“One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts. What the Russians exploited, but it was already here, is we are operating in completely different information universes.”

—Barack Obama, January 2018

America somehow moved to being unable to even agree on science. Vice President Mike Pence and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows actively disclaim evolution. The administration sidelined public health experts during the pandemic and began listening to a radiologist who lacked epidemiology or immunology experience. 

Obama’s observation was accurate. Exploiting fissures between belief systems is an easy and inexpensive way to harm a group dynamic even if that group is a country.

Online disinformation experts were therefore unsurprised to learn that indoor bike maker Peloton had to remove QAnon conspiracy information from public areas of its website. 

A study by The Conversation, peer reviewed and published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that a typical U.S. Twitter user is exposed to 26 messages critical of vaccines over a three-year period. That ongoing repetition is dangerous.

This isn’t solely an American issue. Last month, more than 130,000 people watched the execution of a protester in Nigeria. Army sources there embarked on a mission to label coverage by Reuters and The New York Times as “fake news” despite a global audience.

There are horrible ramifications to influencing emotionally charged stories with online disinformation. Facebook and all social media has a role in this. Reporters found that domestic terrorist militia information was rampant on Facebook even after the arrest of men plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Facebook publishes a detailed monthly report about “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Last month, they removed nearly 8,000 pages and 100 different groups. There are similar big numbers every month. Facebook is an effective media for disinformation, but not its cause.

How to combat online disinformation: Keep a list of fact-checking sites handy, and remember to double source information from known authorities or news organizations. You undoubtedly would prefer to get vaccine information from the Mayo Clinic and NIH instead of the fake Facebook page “US Vaccination Approval Registry” run by someone who watched three YouTube videos.

5. Debunked: Harmony Square

Two University of Cambridge psychology professors have collaborated with academic and private partners to create a free interactive social impact game about election misinformation.

You can play Harmony Square in about 10 minutes.

6. Following Up: Amazon Grocery Pickup

We wrote extensively about Amazon’s grocery initiatives in September. Now with Walmart’s challenge to Amazon Prime, the e-commerce giant has said that it will provide free one-hour grocery pickup for Prime members at Whole Food locations nationwide.

CNBC has the details here.

7. Protip: Too Many Tabs

As I write this, I have 17 tabs open on browser sessions in two monitors. My name is George, and that’s too darn many.

Wired takes you through browser and extension options for this problem. 

Find your intervention here.

Screening Room: Amazon Ballerina

We’re doing heartstrings, not humor, this week. Here is the longform version of Amazon UK’s Christmas ballerina spot.

9. Coffee Break: Salt Labyrinth

You may need to stay home again soon. You are absolutely safer at home now, but finding a pastime might prove difficult. You’ve binged television, baked bread, and done all the jigsaw puzzles.

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto spent five days in 2016 creating exquisite and huge salt labyrinths on the floor of a thirteenth century French castle as one does with time on their hands, a creative streak, and a lot of salt.

Have a look here.

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