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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Yes, This New York County Actually Used the Crazy Spider Voting Sticker Design That You Saw Online

A round “I voted” sticker shows a childish drawing of a green-legged spider figure with a smiling human head. The face is in shades of purple with big red eyes and multicolor teeth.

Image credit: CNN

News giant CNN publishes a detailed report about an “I voted” sticker that is being distributed in a medium-sized county in New York. Wait. This is newsworthy?! Really? “I voted” stickers are usually the most yawn-inducing bits of civic display imaginable. Well, not this time, and not in Ulster County, New York, where the winning entry in a county-wide contest shows a childish drawing of a brightly colored monster with insect legs and a scary human face that says “I voted.” CNN reporter Zoe Sottile filed this report in November 2022.

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Goin’ Bananas: How a Minor League Team Got More Followers Than the Yankees

About twenty uniformed Savannah Bananas players line up side-by-side on the field doing a kick-line dance.

Image credit: Christian Science Moniter

To hear some people tell it, the Savannah Bananas, a professional baseball team based in Savannah Georgia, are making baseball fun again (Gasp!!). They play by modified rules (“Banana Ball”), their games consistently sell out, and according to this July 2022 report by Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor staff writer, they have more social media followers than the New York Yankees. What’s up with that?

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How and Why Do Consumers Access News on Social Media?

Two cell phones side by side, one showing a screen grab from the Guardian’s “Fake or for Real” feature, the other showing a screen grab of a Washington Post TikTok.

Image credit: Reuters Institute

It’s not news that fewer people than ever get their news from newspapers. Many people, particularly younger ones, use social media to stay informed of events. But how many people? Who are they? Which platforms do they use? And why have these become the sources of choice? Good questions, right? Political science professor Simge Andı researched them extensively; her detailed report was published in June 2021 by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

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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 Realities of WNBA Stars Who Play Abroad

A basketball player dressed in the lime green professional Czech team uniform dribbles a ball around a defender in a dark green jersey.

Why would they go so far from home to play the game? Well, many reasons. Opportunity. Adventure. Compensation commensurate with skill. And don’t forget love of the game. It’s not hard to understand. Still, it’s not for everyone, and there are plenty of challenges and drawbacks. What are we talking about? WNBA stars who play for teams in other countries during the off-season. In this extensive May 2022 report, Andscape (formerly the Undefeated) and Getty Images collaborate to profile four WNBA players who don pro-league uniforms in Turkey, Spain, and the Czech Republic.

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How to Fix Social Media

An open laptop leans against an old-style radio atop a table.

Social media, what a hot mess! Still, hard to imagine the world these days without them. They’re immensely useful in so many ways, and in just as many ways, they can be tremendously harmful. What can we—as individuals and as a society—do to reduce the damage that social media can cause while boosting their helpfulness? Best-selling author Nicholas Carr, whose work focuses on technology, economics, and culture, details his plan for resolving major social media problems in this Fall 2021 essay from the New Atlantis.

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Don’t Look Away: Photojournalists Are Documenting the Brutality of Russia’s War in Ukraine

A man and woman grieve over the casket of Andrii Tanulin, a victim of the bombing in Ukraine. They are accompanied by several other mourners.

War photographers’ jobs are more than just dangerous; they require deep sensitivity to the traumas of war to all of the people immediately affected. They must act quickly and decisively to position themselves and choose their shots. Editors and publishers don’t face the immediate danger, of course, but their decisions about which photos to include for their audiences requires plenty of delicacy and judgment. In this April 2022 Nieman Labs essay, Chloe Coleman, photo editor for the Washington Post, explains how images for publication are chosen, what factors are considered in the decision, and what, ultimately, is the goal of presenting such images to the general public.

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