Author Archives: mstanton

Share: The Scientific Controversy Behind Memes

The Cambridge University site takes a look at the meme fad in modern culture.

An interesting point is often overlooked however. There is an oft-omitted fact about the origin of internet memes: that they are not what the term was originally intended to mean. Tracing back the evolution of the term is a gateway to the surprisingly controversial field of science that inspired memes as we know them.

The internet meme as a concept was first suggested by Mike Godwin in Wired in June 1993 and 20 years later, Dawkins made clear their distinction from his original. This distinction lies in their distribution, altered deliberately by human creativity as opposed to random mutation and selection processes.

Memeticists defend their position, pointing to the ability of metaphors to reveal insights that would otherwise have been missed, but it’s a debate that is unlikely to be decisively concluded any time soon. The mirror criticism of the reliance of internet memes on relatability, and the corresponding alienation of individuals who do not identify with the subject of the memes, is currently just as unresolved.

Full article:

Share: Is America Prepared For Meme Warfare?

Vice takes a look at how politically funded memes affected the U.S. Presidential election, and how that experience is changing future tactics in information warfare.

Memes appear to function like the IEDs of information warfare. They are natural tools of an insurgency; great for blowing things up, but likely to sabotage the desired effects when handled by the larger actor in an asymmetric conflict. Just think back to the NYPD’s hashtag boondoggle for an example of how quickly things can go wrong when big institutions try to control messaging on the internet. That doesn’t mean research should be abandoned or memes disposed of altogether, but as the NYPD case and other examples show, the establishment isn’t really built for meme warfare.

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Share: Newsonomics: Trump An Opportunity For A Sustainable Model?

Another overly optmistic pundit on news consumers willingness to pay for content? Or call for “patron” support?

It’s a question that comes down to a single word: capacity.

Long-time media watcher Merrill Brown pointed recently to the drained ability of American news companies to adequately report on the administration that takes power today.

“There are not enough institutions in the American journalism community that are healthy enough to deal with what the Trump administration is likely to do in its early years,” he said on Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources on CNN a week ago. Speaking of both national and regional insufficiency, “We need more ProPublicas. We need more Jeff Bezoses. Philanthropists and investors need to be focused on how important media is, right now, during a dramatic change in government. We need more people to step up to the changes in journalism.”

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Share: Journalism, Media And Technology Trends And Predictions 2017

The Reuters Institute for the Study Of Journalism (part of the European Journalism Observatory) looks at implications from the global move to the political right (Trump, France, Germany), new communication channels, the decline in influence and money among traditional media companies, and the rise of machines themselves as gatekeepers of information.

Publishers see the rise of fake news as a chance for quality journalism to stand out, even as they
worry about the increasing power of big tech platforms, and about their own commercial prospects.
Going into 2017, they also see opportunities in video, chat bots and voice-activated assistants,
according to a new survey of almost 150 CEOs, Editors and digital leaders from 24 different
countries. The survey is part of the Reuters Institute’s annual predictions report, launched today
Over two-thirds (70%) of respondents to the survey say they think their position will be
strengthened by recent controversies over fake news. Publishers hope that high quality reliable
news will be more needed than ever in a world awash with misinformation, but some fear that the
public’s trust in media could cause people to turn away from news altogether.

Top line summary highlights:

* A raft of initiatives over so called ‘fake news’ from both publishers and platforms fail to restore public trust. Fact-checking services move centre stage.

* We’ll see further job cuts and losses across the news industry. More papers in the US and Europe go out of business, slim down or become online-only.

* More focus on algorithmic accountability, the use of data for targeting, and the power of technology companies.

* We’ll see a backlash from publishers over Facebook Live as initial investments prove hard to sustain and monetise.

* Publishers force more people to sign-in/register for websites and apps as well as investing heavily in data to help deliver more personalised content and messaging.

* Expect widespread innovation with messaging apps, chat bots and the art of ‘conversational journalism’.

* More of us will be talking to computers via voice driven personal assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.

* Big year for audio/podcasts as Facebook rolls out social and live audio formats.

* There’ll be an explosion of mobile alerts for news, as the battle for the lockscreen heats up.

* We’ll see more experimentation with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), but results continue to disappoint for news.

* Cyber-wars intensify along with the battles between governments and citizens over the limits of personal surveillance.

* More politicians follow the lead of Donald Trump in using social media to define issues, break new policy and as a substitute for traditional media access.

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Download (PDF): Press release – Journalism, Media and Technology Predictions 2017_0

Download (PDF): Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions 2017

Share: First Pew Fact Sheets Of 2017

The Pew Research Center has release its first set of 2017 revisions on internet technology fact sheets.

Internet Broadband Fact Sheet

“When Pew Research Center began systematically tracking Americans’ internet usage in early 2000, about half of all adults were already online. Today, roughly nine-in-ten American adults use the internet.”

Mobile Fact Sheet

“In contrast to the largely stationary internet of the early 2000s, Americans today are increasingly connected to the world of digital information while “on the go” via smartphones and other mobile devices.”

Social Media Fact Sheet

“When Pew Research Center began tracking social media adoption in 2005, just 5% of American adults used at least one of these platforms. By 2011 that share had risen to half of all Americans, and today 69% of the public uses some type of social media.”

Share: Users’ Computer Skills Worse Than You Think

Reminder on designing for low (but not lowest) common denominator…

The 4 Levels of Technology Proficiency
* “Below Level 1” = 14% of Adult Population
* Level 1 = 29% of Adult Population
* Level 2 = 26% of Adult Population
* Level 3 = 5% of Adult Population
* Can’t Use Computers = 26% of Adult Population

From Jakob Nielsen’s summary:

One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that you are not the user. This is why it’s a disaster to guess at the users’ needs. Since designers are so different from the majority of the target audience, it’s not just irrelevant what you like or what you think is easy to use — it’s often misleading to rely on such personal preferences.

For sure, anybody who works on a design project will have a more accurate and detailed mental model of the user interface than an outsider. If you target a broad consumer audience, you will also have a higher IQ than your average user, higher literacy levels, and, most likely, you’ll be younger and experience less age-driven degradation of your abilities than many of your users.

There is one more difference between you and the average user that’s even more damaging to your ability to predict what will be a good user interface: skills in using computers, the Internet, and technology in general. Anybody who’s on a web-design team or other user experience project is a veritable supergeek compared with the average population. This not just true for the developers. Even the less-technical team members are only “less-technical” in comparison with the engineers. They still have much stronger technical skills than most normal people.

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When Information Filters Become Echo Chambers

I’ve long said a downside to digital media versus “old” mass media is the loss of a commonality to user experience. “Did you see the front page of the newspaper” once meant everyone read and was talking about the same big article, but not an endless cloud of personalized filters makes such an experience impossible.

Social networking used to affirm views rather than inform views makes it worse. As quoted in the trailer for Adam Curtis’s 2016 documentary Hypernormalisation:

“The liberals were outraged with Trump. They expressed their anger in cyberspace, so it had no effect because the algorithms made sure they only spoke to people who already agreed with them.”

The 2016 U.S. Presidential post-election ire and outright schadenfreude is illustrating the trend which has been escalating for the past two years (and some say two administrations since social media became a campaign factor). As one stinging message posted on Facebook this morning put it (edit for profanity):

“To everyone telling me we need to have conversations with people with differing viewpoints? F— that. We tried. For 8 years. Got ignorance, finger-in-ears, and worse. But now I’m supposed to listen? Go to hell.”

Share: Q3 Profits Down 96% At NYT

Why has the New York Times Company dropped from $2 billion in annual ad revenue during the early 2000s to about $600 million today? According to Jeff Desjardins at Visual Capitalist:

  • Physical circulation of The New York Times and other newspapers is dropping rapidly.
  • Traditional display ads aren’t particularly effective, and are part of the “old-school” of digital thought.
  • Programmatic bidding drives down prices for these ads, bringing in even less revenue.
  • Digital lends itself to long-term, results-driven campaigns. It takes time to set these up and measure them properly, especially at scale.
  • Ads need to match the editorial stream to be effective. Quality over quantity.
  • There’s more competition in the digital space, which is a stark contrast to the distribution oligopolies enjoyed by big newspapers in the legacy era.
  • Madison Avenue is also slow at switching to digital, which only adds to the lag time.


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Share: Memetics And The Science Of Going Viral

Good summary featured on

What causes one meme to replicate more successfully than another? Some researchers say that memes develop characteristics called “Good Tricks” to provide them with competitive advantages, including:

1. being genuinely useful to a human host;

2. being easily imitated by human brains; and

3. answering questions that the human brain finds of interest.

First, if a meme is genuinely useful to humans, it is more likely to spread. Spoked-wheel wagons will replicate quickly because early humans need to transport lots of freight easily. Second, memes that are easy to copy have a competitive advantage over those that aren’t – a catchy hook like “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT” is easier to replicate than the lines to U2’s “Numb” (called one of the toughest pop songs to understand). Third, memes that answer pressing questions are likely to replicate. Peruse any bookstore aisle and you will find numerous books about finding your purpose, figuring out the meaning of life, or losing weight quickly and effectively – all topics of immense interest to many people.

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NYMag’s The Case Against The Media. By The Media.

Interesting bit of navel gazing in this piece, given that NYMag float within and did not look far outside its own East Coast bubble.

In interviews with more than 40 journalists and media figures and in a survey of 113 of our peers, we heard much about deals cut with anonymous sources, the pressure for speed and easy hits that squeezes the nuance out of complicated stories, editors who knowingly simplified stories past the point of accuracy and publishers who spent resources on subjects they believed were trivial rather than those they felt were important. At times, the survey’s answers read like the minutes from an anonymous group-therapy session.

Tucker Carlon’s appearance as a major opinion quoted in their survey confirms this bias — and yet I find myself agreeing with him on his quote about that very problem:

The real problem with journalism is groupthink. My father was a journalist — he never graduated from high school, he joined the Marines as a 17-year-old and then went to work at the L.A. Times. It was not a profession; it was a trade, and you had a whole diverse field of people entering it. Now, for a bunch of reasons — and this is the problem with American society more broadly, in my view — it’s just a masturbatorium, filled with people who think exactly the same, who are from the same backgrounds, who have the same assumptions about everything. And you get a much less interesting product when you have that. And you also get a lot of fearful people. A lot of people who are too dumb to go into finance, so they went into journalism instead. And they get older and they realize, ‘I’ve got tuitions, and this is actually a pretty shaky business model on which to build a career,’ and they just become unwilling to take any risk at all. When was the last time you saw anybody in the press — except the fringe press — really write a piece that challenged the assumptions of their neighbors? That would actually make their friends in Brooklyn avert their gaze?

— TUCKER CARLSON, founder and editor in chief of the Daily Caller

Major highlight points:

1. News is an entertainment business, even if it pretends otherwise.
2. So it doesn’t know how to handle serious issues.
3. Gets addicted to conflict.
4. Loves simple heroes.
5. And simple villains.
6. Reduces complexity to comfortable narratives.
7. And is desperate to be respected, which produces blindness.
8. Journalists are easily bored…
9. …Especially by good news.
10. Unfortunately, so are readers, who are hard-wired for panic.
11. Which editors, producers, and publishers know.
12. Journalists are deluded…
13. More cynical than their readers…
14. Rush their work…
15. Believe popular opinion is all that matters…
16. …And are completely comfortable cutting deals.
17. And it’s not just in politics.
18. Often journalists think they know the story before they report it.
19. And are no longer protected from market forces.
20. The media is also clueless about its audience (and country).
21. Which brings us to Donald Trump.
22. His campaign was catnip to the partisan outrage machine.
23. And everybody was transfixed by the spectacle.
24. And obsessed with the incredible horse race.
25. Including the public.
26. But gorging on Trump coverage didn’t actually mean coming to terms with him.
27. Later, the journalists who tried harder to call out Trump (by fact-checking him, for instance) weren’t very effective.
28. Not that that is really anything new.
29. Whomever the subject, the press can be cruel.
30. And selective in its cruelty.
31. And things can get very personal.
32. Reporters are obsessed with gaffes.
33. Can be horrible to women, even when they are trying to be kind.
34. They can also be lascivious, when they aren’t being outright lewd.
35. And ruthless in their pursuit of “the get.”
36. Then, typically, they just move on.
37. And then there’s the problem of “objectivity.”
38. And “bias,” of course.
39. Plus general media ignorance.
40. And the way media is consumed helps all-out charlatans flourish, too.
41. (Not that these complaints are unprecedented.)
42. The media’s lost power, and coziness with its subjects, serves the celebrity industrial complex …
43. …Political operations…
44. …Big business…
45. …And start-ups too.
46. Who owns things is a major problem, too, whether it’s a giant corporation…
47. Or an unsavory individual.
48. Social media rules everything now.
49. And it does enclose everybody in customized-news silos.
50. (Even though, often, those silos are at war with one another.)
51. And yet it has also reinvigorated things.
52. Particularly by diversifying things.
53. But also by giving people what they want.

The Transcripts: A Master Class in What’s Wrong (and Right) With the Media by Those In the Know

Marc Ambinder —
David Auerbach —
Dean Baquet —
Kurt Bardella —
Ross Barkan —
Matt Bradley —
Steven Brill —
Tucker Carlson —
Kathy Chaney —
Ana Marie Cox —
Nick Denton —
Kai El’ Zabar —
Masha Gessen —
Glenn Greenwald —
Sheila Hagar —
Michael Hirsh —
Clover Hope —
Arianna Huffington —
Bill Keller —
Dahlia Lithwick —
Alexis Madrigal —
Daniel McCarthy —
Allen Montgomery —
Soledad O’Brien —
Daniel Okrent —
Jay Rosen —
Gary Schwitzer —
Jeff Sharlet —
Sabrina Siddiqui —
David Simon —
Tavis Smiley —
Ben Smith —
Jamil Smith —
Margaret Sullivan —
Kara Swisher —
Gay Talese —
Jonah Weiner —
Erik Wemple —
Michael Wertheim —
Jeanne Wolf —
Bob Woodward —