UOSM2008: Topic 2 reflection

This post is part of a series published as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

Understanding news and contemporary media is a particular interest of mine – my ongoing dissertation work is on how journalists and publishers use digital tools and their perceptions and reactions to the “post-truth” epidemic – so it’s fair to say this has been my favourite topic so far. With this issue of authenticity so prevalent, in my post I looked to summarise the assorted facets of fake news, to what extent social media has played a role in it, and, using a MOOC exercise, how to critically assess what we see to determine trustworthiness.

In response, Nikhita Sharma raised a challenging question: why now? After brief deliberation, the conclusion that made most sense to me was to look primarily at how the wider cultural context is being reflected online, rather than any explicit technological factors. On his blog, Tom Pethick noted the associated concept of the Overton window, as explained by Vox‘s Carlos Maza.

In my comment on Tom’s blog, I also cited Tom Rowledge‘s alarming statistic (from Gabielkov et. al., 2016) that 59% of links shared online haven’t even been opened, which itself was cleverly buried beneath a bogus headline bold enough to entice me to read further. The interactive activity he embedded also proved a fun, accessible insight into how easily online influence can be built when integrity is set aside.

Throughout the module I have been enjoying Jeremy Luzinda‘s witty takes on each topic, and his infographic for this topic is too memorable not to share here.

Five steps to assessing online content. Source: Jeremy Luzinda, 2018

My comment ventured beyond increasing users’ media literacy into how the service providers themselves might be compelled to act. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t discuss this further – I find Facebook’s survey example perfectly straightforward, but is handing users the power to shape authenticity an irresponsible and flawed approach? Only time can tell…


Word count: 299


UOSM2008: The “fake news” bubble and how to (potentially) handle it

This post is part of a series published as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

Task: Evaluate how to assess the reliability and authenticity of online information

The “fake news” bubble

“Fake news” is an inescapable term of the zeitgeist, in part thanks to politicians using it to discredit journalists (Juliane Lischka, 2017), Macedonian teenagers creating hoaxes to share widely across Facebook for easy ad revenue (Samanth Subramanian, 2017; Craig Silverman, 2016), discussions around journalistic standards (James Ball, 2017Mark Di Stefano, 2018), and social networks endlessly vacillating on how best to handle it all (Mark Zuckerberg, 2017; Adam Mosseri, 2018, Alex Kantrowitz, 2018). Google Trends data shows an explosion in related search activity around 2016’s US elections and close associations with Donald Trump, broadcasters like CNN and Fox, and verification services like Snopes.

Web search interest in the term "fake news" between January 2004 and March 2018. Source: Google Trends.
Web search interest in the term “fake news” between January 2004 and March 2018. Source: Google Trends.

However, its history is deeper. In this video I recorded with Adam Rann and Ryan Dodd for the UOSM2012 module last year, we investigate how the phenomenon came to be.

How to (potentially) handle it

In a New Statesman extract from his book on the subject, James Ball (2017) points to five actions readers can take to dispel these post-truth trends.

  • Proactively seek content from contrasting sources to prevent filter bubbles, where algorithmic personalisation and our curation limit the viewpoints we’re exposed to online (Eli Pariser, 2011)
  • React with careful consideration, verifying sources and assessing credibility before sharing
  • Improve statistical literacy to better understand poor, misleading, or inaccurate data presentation (John Burn-Murdoch, 2013; Agata Kwapien, 2015)
  • Approach everything – not just what we’re inclined to disbelieve – with skepticism
  • Resist baseless conspiracy, lest help fuel anti-expertise sentiment (Henry Mance, 2016)

How can we apply this framework to an example? Here’s one from the “Learning in the Network Age” MOOC (FutureLearn, 2017):

MOOC Fake News Example
Source: FutureLearn (University of Southampton)

The headline may be eye-catching, the URL plausible (KTLA is a genuine broadcaster), and “sources” reputable (NASA and Caltech researchers). However, there are telltale signs that this is fake, such as the author’s name (Jonah Oaxer = Jon, A Hoaxer), the lack of corroborating external sources, and the extreme language (e.g. “NASA”‘s “our days are numbered”). Additionally, other content on the site is outdated (e.g. a privacy policy updated in 2016) and of a similar clickbait nature designed for viral sharing rather than credible journalism.


Word count: 300

UOSM2008: Topic 1 reflection

This post is part of a series published as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

Having previously explored digital inequalities as part of SOCI3073, it was interesting to explore a wide, more specific array of thoughts on digital differences. Personally, I could not find any factors that impede my digital usage or access to opportunity, hence I chose to look deeper at efforts to provide tools and skills to less digitally privileged users.

Here, Carl Leckstein commented (with a 2012 Guardian piece) that internet access should be considered a human right. Ultimately, I agree with what his reflection concludes – access is essential for today’s way of life and this will only increase globally as technological adoption and provision increases. We must, however, neither ignore concerns nor accept divides as inevitable.

Chloe Cripps’ blog raised an interesting question about MOOCs and how they deliver on their promise of education for all, and researching this led me to Coursera data (Zhenghao et. al., 2015) on who actually uses their services and why. Aleph Molinari’s TEDx talk – as highlighted by Chloe and others – is promising, as his work looks to close digital divides with eco-friendly social hubs and rapid digital literacy education rather than mere infrastructure, as in my example of OLPC.

Elsewhere, on Chloe Cheung’s blog, we discussed more international contrasts after she discussed using Chinese services. This led me to The Verge, where Shannon Liao (2018) explores WeChat’s ubiquity and how China’s government has helped it grow into from messaging into a state ID system. However, as Chloe responded, this hostile approach is not ideal.

We cannot force digital usage upon [communities]. We can only educate them to understand the wider benefits of the Web.

Regretfully, other commitments mean I have been unable to work significantly towards increasing multimedia usage on the blog or participating more frequently in comments and MOOCs, but topic 2 looks right up my street…


Word count: 300

UOSM2008: Exploring digital differences

This post is part of a series published as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

Task: Evaluate the impact of your “Digital Differences” on how you interact with the Web.

My experiences of digital differences

When we got our first computer, my grandma and I learned digital skills together, despite a 50-year age gap. Now, over a decade later, there are certainly some similarities in how we use the Web – we both play games, get news alerts, and communicate via iMessage and FaceTime. However, my work and studies lean on desktop modes rather than her mobile/tablet preferences, and both for social and security reasons she has long refused to put personal or financial information online.

Structural differences

Whilst the Web utopia promises equality and opportunity for all, to achieve this we must address two interlinked areas of difference: access and skills. Previously we discussed how Marc Prensky’s (2001) concepts tied the latter to age, with digital natives’ early immersion in technology providing intrinsic understanding. Stating the need for networks to reach a “critical mass,” whereby usage is widespread beyond technically-adept early adopters and thus is beneficial for broader society, Jan van Dijk (2013) builds on this by placing users into concentric tiers.


Globally, van Dijk’s proportions are reflected in ITU (2017) figures. Although all but four nations show a year-on-year increase in Web penetration, this figure remains under 25% in 47 nations. Further ITU data (2017) illustrates divides in age and gender in online populations, however growth is evident in mobile and fixed broadband connections in developing regions.

Gender divides in internet usage
Gender divides in internet usage. Source: ITU (2017)

Overcoming or reinforcing differences?

Technologies will naturally be built according to the perceived needs of their users, and if these are primarily towards the centre of this structure, the disparities run the risk of growing ever greater. Gerd Paul & Christian Stegbauer (2005) demonstrate this by looking at the usage and requirements of Germany’s elderly population, concluding that these users require simpler solutions than their younger counterparts and that individual gains from Web adoption can effect non-users detrimentally. Additionally, efforts to spread computing and connectivity have faced criticism for their shortsighted approaches, and discrimination proliferates (e.g. Lisa Nakamura, 2011).



Word count: 299

UOSM2008: Intro topic reflection

This post is part of a series published as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

Although it has involved completely different styles of university teaching and writing to what I’ve been accustomed, I feel I’ve been adjusting well to UOSM2008 throughout the intro topic. It certainly helps that WordPress, Twitter, and Google Docs are all services I’ve used on a daily basis for a number of years, although, as studying the work of David White in particular has made me realise, my typically consumptive tendencies on these platforms probably put me more towards the visitor end of the spectrum. Going forward, where time permits, I’m certainly keen to up the visual pizazz on this blog as I’m rather envious of some of the graphics that have popped up!

The tasks of mapping out my digital usage and undertaking the self-test in the main blog post challenged me to think in new ways about how and why I use technology, and the discussion generated by these maps across the class means that – even just a week later – my map would likely look very different if I were to construct it today. Tom Davidson’s comment, for example, encouraged broader thought about how I contribute to Spotify and use it for social engagement rather than just passive music consumption, Luke Gibbins prompted me to think about a wider spectrum of online services in all four quadrants and how the timeframe considered can be so critical, and Tom Paterson’s blog had me thinking more constructively about professional residential activities and learning and developing skills.

Going forward, I will definitely be considering my usage of the Web through the spectrum of White’s mapping, particularly following the discussion about the scope of the zeitgeist this captures, and, as discussed on Tom’s post, looking to combine aspects of Marc Prensky’s work into this process. Onwards to Topic 1!


Word count: 295

UOSM2008: Digital literacy and self-evaluation

This is the first in a series of posts to be published over the coming months as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

I have long regarded my digital literacy as strong, having used computers regularly from a young age and gone on to study for a Web Science degree. With sites like WordPress and Twitter, I have maintained online profiles and networks for many years both for personal use and institutionally, including this site, which is mainly used as a writing portfolio. This is reflected in the scores for my initial self-test, where the key elements I hope to improve upon are participation and collaboration.

Criterion Level (1-5)
Accessing, managing and evaluating online information 4
Participating in online communities 3
Building online networks around an area of interest 3
Collaborating with others on shared projects 3
Creating online materials (text, audio, images, video) 4
Managing your online identity 4
Managing your online privacy and security 3

My personal experiences of digital literacy and skill divides would previously have aligned my thinking with Marc Prensky’s concepts of digital immigrants and natives, whereby younger generations are immersed into digital concepts from birth, rather than adapting experiences to them. However, as I discovered in researching this topic, David White’s conceptualisation of a spectrum between using digital platforms for active creation (residency) as opposed to passive consumption or utility (visiting) offers a more nuanced approach to assorted use cases.

Applying White’s mapping approach to my own Web usage made me closely analyse how and why I use what I use. For instance, for work I administer a number of Facebook groups and monitor incoming email closely, however my outgoing email is comparably infrequent and my personal use of Facebook is based around consumption rather than creation. Spotify and YouTube are services I use almost strictly in personal capacities, unlike SoundCloud, where I upload podcasts for work purposes.

Digital Identity Graph
10 of my most frequently-used online services, mapped on White’s grid structure

Historically, however, this picture would look very different. Today, most of my public posts on Twitter relate to work, however my account was far more active in previous years when used more for personal reasons. Nevertheless, I visit the service multiple times every day, keeping up with my curated feed of friends, journalists, artists, and so forth.


Word count: 299