It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.
What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.
It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.
Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.
And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better– much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.
First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.
A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.
The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:
And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:
So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:
We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.
A lot of the discussion and debate about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been taking place on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources.
In light of that, I think it’s important for people to know that social media is by no means immune to government propaganda. Far from it in fact.
Back in August of last year, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the Israeli government would be giving scholarships to college students who, “engage international audiences online” by posting pro-Israel tweets/statuses etc. online.
“This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,”
the statement said.
Students at each university are organized into units. At the top is the chief-coordinator, who gets a full scholarship. Under the chief-coordinator are three “desk coordinators” in charge of language, graphics and research who receive lesser scholarships. Then there are student “activists” who receive, “minimal scholarships”.
The program is run by Danny Seamen, an Israeli public diplomacy official who drew the ire of Muslims in the region when he posted the following status on his personal Facebook page:
“Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan mean that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?”
Despite the fact that Israeli officials condemned the status, calling it “unacceptable” and saying that it didn’t, “reflect the position of the Israeli government,” Seaman somehow still ended up in charge of the social media propaganda campaign.
Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the volunteer social media recruits in a video conference shortly after the announcement. He said,
“We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front… We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies.”
It’s not the first time that the Israeli government did something like this. Just a year earlier, a Palestinian blog reported that Israeli students were being paid $2,000 for posting pro-Israel messages online for five hours a week.
I agree whole-heartedly with Netanyahu that we must “fight for the truth” and “refute the industry of lies”. But you don’t do that by bribing college kids to post pro-government sound-bites, and you definitely don’t do it by putting a man in charge who has proven he cares more about inciting anger and hate than he does about spreading truth.
We live in a world saturated with sensory stimulations. From our cell phones to our laptops and TVs, almost our entire day is a marathon of sights and sounds, all competing for our increasingly short attention spans.
So you would think most people would enjoy the opportunity to get away from it all and gather their thoughts. But a recent study from the University of Virginia found quite the opposite.
In fact, many of the participants even started giving themselves electric shocks as their time alone dragged on.
Psychologist Timothy Wilson led the study, which was recently published in the journal Science. He had this to say about the results:
“I think many of them were trying to shock themselves out of boredom… It’s just a sign of how difficult (being alone with one’s thoughts) can be for people…. This isn’t something that most people find really enjoyable.”
For the study, 55 college students agreed to give up all distractions (like cell phones, tablets and mp3 players) and spend between six and 15 minutes in a sparsely furnished room on UVA’s campus. Afterwards they were asked to rate their enjoyment on a scale of 1-9.
The average rating was pretty much right in the middle. In other words, the average student was pretty much indifferent to the idea of spending a few minutes alone.
The results also meant that half of the students rated the experience as unpleasant. But the most unsettling findings involved the electric shock.
Before entering the room, participants were given an electric shock on their ankle so that they could gauge how painful it was. They were then told that they could shock themselves again during their time alone if they wanted to.
Of the 55 participants, 42 said that they would be willing to pay to avoid being shocked again. But shockingly (pun intended), 18 of these 42 students (~43%) ended up shocking themselves anyways.
It seems that the students decided that even a jolt of pain was worth it to break the boredom of their seclusion.
Wilson was definitely surprised by the results. It baffled him that it was so difficult for the students to use their brains to entertain themselves:
“All of us have pleasant memories we can call upon, we can construct stories and fantasies.”
But he thinks that the unfamiliar environment (ie. an empty room) throws off our normal thought processes:
“I think it’s an issue of mental control. The mind is built to engage in the world and when you give it nothing to engage it, it’s hard to keep one train of thought going for very long.”
Wilson added that he didn’t think the phenomenon was a modern one, because there were complaints of people not taking the time to sit and contemplate as far back as ancient Roman times.
Personally, I think this is a pretty weak justification for his hypothesis. Ancient Rome was a very advanced society for its time, but it was a far cry from our modern world technologically.
The average Roman had to spend a much larger portion of their time doing typically grueling physical labor, leaving them physically exhausted at the end of the day.
In our modern world, many of us still come home from work exhausted, but it’s more a result of brain exhaustion than the overworking our bodies.
Also, we have become extremely dependent on our mobile devices in the last decade or so. It’s become instinct for young people to check Twitter/Facebook/Instagram any time we get bored, and I think the students in the study experienced some withdrawals when they no longer had access to this digital crutch.
Whatever the case may be, the results of the study should make all of us take a look at our own lives and see where we can find time to reflect and make sense of all the information we process in this fast-paced world.
The average brain is only able to process seven pieces of information at a time (this is why phone numbers are an area code plus seven numbers). Our smartphones alone constantly take up a significant portion of these seven slots (thinking about your texts, a picture you just Instagrammed and a Tweet you just read is already 3 of those 7 slots).
This is why it’s so important to make time to sort through your thoughts, free of any other distractions. You may be surprised at what you find in your own mind when you take the time to listen.
After Brazil was destroyed by Germany in the first World Cup semi-final yesterday, Twitter announced that the match was the most discussed game ever on Twitter, generating 35.6 million tweets.
Twitter than collaborated with the interactive map developers at cartodb.com to create an amazing map which shows the mentions of Brazil and Germany on Twitter as the game went along.
Click the image below to check out the interactive map:
BONUS: Many of you probably saw images of a devastated old Brazilian fan clutching a replica of the World Cup trophy. The man is Clovis Fernandes, often known as Brazil’s “12th player”.
What you probably didn’t see was the image of him handing the cup to a young German fan, telling her, “Take it to the final! As you can see, it is not easy, but you deserve it, congratulations!” (roughly translated)
A touching gesture to remind us what this beautiful global tournament is all about.
The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.
Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.
To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.
Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.
The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.
The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):
sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy
So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?
The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.
Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.
The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.
See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.
Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.
Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.
Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…
The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.
Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).
Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.
Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.
Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.
Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.
Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?
When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.
But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.
That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.
But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.
Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.
The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.
This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how the market has performed in the past few months .
The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.
The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.
We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.
It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.
Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.
We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.
I’m really sorry to disappoint you but there’s no real study. I made it up because I thought the headline would make you more likely to read this. It’s a trick being used more and more often lately, but most websites won’t admit the lie straight off the bat like I just did.
If you use Facebook fairly regularly, chances are you’ve been conned at least once by a “satirical” website. I put satirical in quotes because what these sites do is a dagger in the side of all the real satirists out there.
The Onion, founded in 1988 in Chicago, was the first major satirical news outlet. Their stories were clearly fake, but they gained readers because the writing was clever and genuinely funny.
This shit is not the Onion. Excuse my French but it’s my job as a journalist to tell the truth as I see it, and the truth is, what these sites are doing is shit. They are exploiting ill-informed, gullible yet passionate people by intentionally generating “news” designed to take advantage of our most powerful emotions.
One of the largest of these new websites is The Daily Currant, a site that refers to itself as “The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record”.
This completely joke-free “satire” website got famous after a fake article they wrote about a New York pizzeria owner refusing Mayor Michael Bloomberg a second slice of pizza (because of his proposed ban on large sodas) made it onto the front page of the Drudge Report.
The article talks about a new law passed by the Texas legislature that forces women getting abortions to,
“…not only hear their fetus’ heartbeat, but must also come up with male and female baby names, speak with at least one faculty member from the local school district, and examine no fewer than 30 baby photos.”
The article also claims that any woman who gets an abortion will have to write a letter to a judge explaining her reasons for getting it, and that the judge could recommend her name and photo be published in an online abortion registry.
To a well-educated person who keeps up with government and politics, this article throws up a number of red flags pretty quickly, but to someone who is passionate about this issue and simultaneously ill-informed on it, these red flags are almost a welcome sight: they are confirmation of the belief that the Texas legislature (and conservatives in general) are waging a draconian war on women’s rights.
These political devils and male chauvinists must be exposed! This information must be shared with the world! And just like that, the lie spreads. That article is only two weeks old and already has over 3,000 shares and over 14,000 comments on Facebook.
The worst part is the 112 responses on the actual article. The moderators made sure to censor any comments revealing that the story is fake, and passionate people from both sides clash in an insane series of conversations which includes tidbits like this one:
…and this one:
These conversations may sound ridiculous to you, but go read the rest of the comments for yourself. Real people are having real conversations, feeling veryreal feelings of anger and hate towards one another, all based off of a fake piece of news.
Despite the fact that this headline may seem pretty fake to most, Empire News (like most of these sites) combines good, journalistic-sounding writing with a total lack of humor to make gullible readers mistake these supposed “satire” sites for reliable news sources. The student debt article is at 24,678 shares and 44,177 likes on Facebook already.
I know a lot of you are probably thinking, ‘Hey, if people are dumb enough to believe those fake stories, that’s their problem.’ Well, the fake sources are getting more sophisticated, and even intelligent people are falling for the trap.
Recently an article entitled “Big Hospital Finally Telling the Truth About Cancer” claimed to have obatined a “Cancer Update” e-mail from world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital. The supposed update made a number of false claims about cancer (like “everyone has cancer cells”), but cleverly mixed in some legitimate elements of holistic treatment, like carefully monitoring your diet.
The result? 634,366 likes, 474,147 shares and 335,023 comments on Facebook, as well as 6,012 shares on Twitter and 6,416 on Pinterest (the website has since removed the article).
And this doesn’t account for the hundreds of sites that re-posted the fake information on their own pages. I even considered posting about it on here until I read all of the overly bold claims it made.
With more and more people gaining access to modern technology, we get an increasingly large amount of our information from social media, relying on others to share good, reliable stories so we don’t have to find them ourselves.
“roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.”
Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat (which measures realtime traffic for sites like Upworthy), recently added,
“We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading [the content].”
These websites know that most people never even put in the time to read an article, let alone investigate its accuracy, so they design their articles specifically to push our most sensitive buttons.
The admins of some of these sites are making $100,000+ a year selling ad space on their sites, and the minimal amount of writing they do is all, quite literally, a bunch of made up shit.
Social media has been great in terms of increasing the voice of the individual and helping to break some of the media monopoly that was built during the rise of television, but it has also had the unintended consequence of increasing the amount of false info out there.
So how do we fight this growing monster of lies and targeted misinformation? Well, there’s a few things we have to stop doing on Facebook.
First off, if a headline catches your eye because it seems unbelievable, chances are it probably is. Don’t let your desire for the story to be true override your logic and skepticism.
If you are skeptical about a claim, try searching key phrases from the article on Google, adding the word “fake” or “satire”. People call out these stories for being false pretty early on, but you usually won’t find the debunkings on social media.
But by far the single most important thing you can do is to STOP sharing, commenting on or even liking links unless you are willing to vouch for what is in them. Don’t let others judge credibility for you.
With major media outlets become increasingly more like the tabloids in their sensationalist journalism, it’s going to be up to us, the individuals, to demand credibility and accountability from our news sources.
Otherwise, we may soon live in a world so saturated with falsehoods that the truth will become virtually impossible to extract.
NOTE: All of the specific stats on social media shares came from sharedcount.com. You can use this site to check the total number of shares for any public web address.
Just yesterday, The Intercept reported that documents released to them by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been covertly running an operation called SOMALGET in the Bahamas which is,
“…secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.”
It is important to understand that here in the U.S. the NSA controversy was mainly over them collecting metadata, which includes info like locations, times, and where calls are going to and coming from.
The program in the Bahamas records full-length conversations and stores them for 30 days before wiping them. On top of that, the program manually selects millions of shorter clips and sends them to long term storage, where they can be accessed even after the original full conversation has been wiped.
The program is part of a larger NSA program known as MYSTIC, which has also been collecting metadata from Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines.
But the Bahamas are not the “big fish” for MYSTIC. Apparently, the Snowden document which revealed the surveillance in the Bahamas also listed another country that was being heavily monitored using SOMALGET.
It seems that the revelation of this second country will cause some serious shock-waves though. Even Glenn Greenwald, who was the first person to break the original Snowden story to the world, said on his Twitter that they hadn’t revealed the name of the second country because they were “very convinced” that this particular revelation would lead to deaths.
Despite the dangers, however, WikiLeaks announced on their Twitter earlier this morning that they will be revealing the identity of the mystery country within 72 hours.