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Information Environmentalism

The web is polluted

How should Middlebury be thinking about their role in combating digital pollution (mis/disinformation)? We can begin by engaging students to post high quality information to the web and to examine and counteract how mis/disinformation spreads.

About the Studio

The web is part of the information ecosystem from which we all learn, and we know more clearly than ever how misinformation can impact our country and our world. Misinformation on the web is polarizing us, it’s radicalizing us (see The Miseducation of Dylann Roof) and we should be paying attention. Better yet, higher education should be leading the way in improving our information ecosystem. Higher education should be saving the web.

How should higher education institutions like Middlebury be thinking about their role in combating digital pollution (mis/disinformation)? We can begin by engaging in information environmentalism, which Mike Caulfield defines as improving our online information environments. This can be a personal project (e.g., a digital detox), but more importantly, it can and should be an educational project with civic engagement goals. Curricular and co-curricular activities can start to clean up the misinformation on the web, and help us combat a sense of helplessness and cynicism through real, consequential, actions.

Information Environmentalism involves getting students to post high quality information to the web and to examine and counteract how mis/disinformation spreads on the web.

Will you and your students join the movement?

How to Get Involved

Are you teaching any classes that relate to the drivers (visual/UX, psychological/social, economic, algorithmic, data) of misinformation spread via web platforms and services? Are you teaching classes on information design, art, rhetoric, or any topic about how to influence people? Economics? Big data? Digital literacy? Or are you teaching a topic for which the spread of misinformation via digital platforms is a huge issue (climate science, immunizations, public health, etc.)?

If so, join DLINQ's Information Environmentalism initiative. As educators and scholars, we cannot ignore the misinformation in digital social spaces. We must engage on these platforms and begin to depollute them. As educators, as scholars, as citizens, we have work to do.

Newspapers on Wikipedia (NOW) Project

What is this project?

This is a project to create Wikipedia entries for historical local news sources as part of efforts to depollute the web by supporting people’s ability to find credible and reliable local news sources. Our work on Wikipedia will support people’s ability to read laterally, which is an important fact-checking skill. It will also increase the findability of credible local news sources, since Wikipedia articles rank well on Google searches.

Why?

“One of the things that hinders students [in performing effective lateral reading of sources] is the lack of decent Wikipedia documentation of local news sources. This, in turn, effects the information that comes up when students do lateral reading on a source, particularly in the Google panels, which readers notice but often find missing or less than helpful on smaller sources. The researchers even quantify the issue: the USNPL lists 7,269 news sources in the U.S. Only 2,702 of those produce “knowledge panels” in Google, with the likely reason for lack of a panel being lack of a well developed Wikipedia page. Even aside from the knowledge panel problem, the lack of decent pages for local news means that students will not always be able to find any objective information, even on a deeper search.” [Mike Caulfield, Source]

Our ultimate goal:

“...documenting existing newspapers with a significant history. We aim with this first project to pick papers 25 years old or older that have been noted repeatedly in other media due to their historical or community significance. We put “Historical” in the title to clearly signal to Wikipedia admins and others our good intentions and our prime argument for notability.” [Mike Caulfield, Source]

Exploring mis/disinformation on Pinterest

What is this project?

Pinterest’s visual design and sharing functionality help spread information and misinformation quickly. The infinite scroll on Pinterest pages enhances that power, providing a lot of visual/perceptual information without requiring a break in attention or a clicking action. As Pinterest’s layout emphasizes the whole, rather than the sum of parts, the power of pins becomes amplified by their “part” in the whole.

While its interface/design is well suited to a board for collecting happiness/positivity (and there is a social and psychological draw to do so), it can just as quickly become a place for collecting negativity and conspiracy. The same interface/design, psychological, and social drivers that make Pinterest perfect for vision boards make it perfect for conspiracy boards.

As information gets attached to users’ profiles through pinning/saving, and as they view and follow each other’s boards, algorithms feed related content to the users. Once a user has pinned something (i.e., they have save a link and associated image), their primary user page becomes algorithmically tied to their preferences.

Often a user will pin something to their account based entirely on the visual imagery/design of the pin, not on the content “behind” the pin. That is, THEY MAY NEVER ACTUALLY CLICK THE LINK ASSOCIATED WITH THE PIN. It’s not even that they don’t check the source; they never even view the source and rely entirely on the visual information in the pin. As we’ve seen on other platforms, mis/disinformation is helped by people’s inability or unwillingness to verify the information they are seeing.

Our Goal

The first step is to better understand the pollution and its sources, but we will follow with work on how to depollute the environment.

DLINQ is looking for collaborators to engage in information environmentalism on Pinterest. As educators and scholars, we cannot ignore the misinformation in digital social spaces. It’s hard to want to engage, I know. I fight the urge daily to throw my hands up and quit. We can’t quit. We must engage on these platforms and begin to depollute them. As educators, as scholars, as citizens, we have work to do.

LINQ UP WITH US

Want to learn more, or wondering how to get started? Here are three ways to get involved with Information Environmentalism.

Newspapers on Wikipedia (NOW)

This is a project to create Wikipedia entries for historical local news sources as part of efforts to depollute the web by supporting people’s ability to find credible and reliable local news sources.

Self Education

New to the idea of Information Environmentalism? Read up on the articles linked below. Or start with the 5-minute video on "Google and the Miseducation of Dylann Roof" to begin to understand how serious this topic is.

Help us Explore Mis/disinformation on Pinterest

Pinterest’s visual design and sharing functionality help spread information and misinformation quickly. While its interface/design is well suited to a board for collecting happiness/positivity (and there is a social and psychological draw to do so), it can just as quickly become a place for collecting negativity and conspiracy.

Go deeper...