How Online Mobs Act Like Flocks of Birds

Still frame from a computer simulation of a murmuration of birds swooping and swirling across the screen.

Image credit: Noema

Have you ever watched a group of birds flying together, making swirling, looping patterns in the sky, and thought, “Wow! I wish we humans could do that!”? Well, we kind of already do, at least on social media. Renée DiResta, technical research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory, uses the metaphor of a murmuration of birds (that’s what it’s called) to describe our social media behavior. In this November 2022 essay in Noema, she analyzes some of our most problematic social media behavior and makes some recommendations for addressing the problems.

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Am I Wrong to Judge People for Talking to Me in Emoji?

A cartoonish drawing of an emoji-style person, shown from the chest up, arms crossed with hands raised, surrounded by six smaller emojis.

Image credit: Jan Siemen

Advice columns are a consistently popular media feature, and there are many types—advice about romance, pet care, money management, workplace relationships, and more. Wired, a magazine that covers assorted aspects of cybertechnology, publishes an advice column about—what else—technology. In this September 2022 column, Meghan O’Gieblyn (writing under the pen name “Cloud”) addresses a rather snotty question about emoji, and her response may surprise you.

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The “Great Resignation” Is Finally Getting Companies to Take Burnout Seriously. Is It Enough?

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They’re calling it the Great Resignation, and it’s all over the news these days. So many people quitting their jobs! What’s going on?! Pundits and analysts are looking from every angle, trying to get a handle on what may (or may not) be a huge trend here in the US at the end of 2021. In this October 2021 article, Time Magazine’s health correspondent Jamie Ducharme analyzes the situation, focusing on worker burnout, and offers suggestions for workers and their employers.

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Why Are So Many Americans Quitting Their Jobs?

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Has the pandemic changed you? What a silly question! Of course it has. Ahhh, but how deeply? In what ways? That question can’t be answered yet, and we may not be able to know for a very long time. In this October 2021 report, writer and journalist Greg Rosalsky, who covers a variety of financial topics for NPR’s Planet Money, investigates some of the reasons for the long arc of pandemic consequences, including the current phenomenon known as the Great Resignation.

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Why Is Blue So Rare in Nature?

A blue 3D computer generation of a feline.

Why are there no blue tigers? Come to think of it, there are no blue rabbits or squirrels, either. You’ve probably never lost any sleep pondering these questions, but in case you’re just curious, we’ve got some answers for you! Molecular biologist and science writer Joe Hanson made this 2018 video as an episode in his series It’s Okay To Be Smart, a project of PBS Digital Studios.

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The Science behind Social Media’s Hold on Our Mental Health

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We’ve been hearing for a while now that social media can have damaging effects on users’ mental health and sense of well-being. If we’re being honest, we probably have noticed some effects on our own selves that are not so desirable. What’s happening to cause that? Has all of humanity, and especially young people, just gone bonkers for social media? That’s not a very satisfying possibility, is it? Brittney McNamara, Teen Vogue’s features director, offers a better explanation in this November 2021 report.

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Women of Letters

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Do you have a middle name? Not everybody does. Some people have two or more. If you have one, do you use it? Do you shorten it to an initial? In the US, we have some leeway in the ways that we identify ourselves, so you may have encountered these questions already in your own life—what name to put on, say, a job application or an apartment rental contract. Deborah Cameron, a feminist linguist who pays attention to many aspects of language use, wrote this July 2021 post about names for her blog, Language: a feminist guide. (By the way, she writes her blog under the name debuk.)

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How Do Dogs Sniff Out Diseases?

A brown dog's nose pointed upward against a yellow background.

Dogs know the world through their exquisitely sensitive noses, and humans have been relying on dogs’ sense of smell to help with many different kinds of tasks (not always benevolent) for a long time. Dogs are trained to sniff out contraband at airports and international borders; dogs are instrumental in finding black truffles and other valuable wild mushrooms; and dogs are also trained to detect an imminent epileptic seizure before it occurs . Presently, scientists are developing training programs for dogs to sniff out COVID. In this July 2021 Discover Magazine report, science journalist Leslie Nemo analyzes the procedures that trainers and researchers follow to teach the necessary skills to the dogs. 

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