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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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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Nobel Prize Lecture 2021

Maria Ressa is delivering her Nobel Prize Lecture and making an emphatic gesture.

Image credit: Rappler

Maria Ressa, in her 2021 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, states it bluntly and succinctly: “Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy.” Ressa has a rare ability to acknowledge and expose the horrors of the world and still inspire optimism; her address is a call to action, a call to conscience. We’ve excerpted it for you here. You can also read a transcript/translation of her complete speech on these sites: (in English or Filipino) or (in English, Russian, or Norwegian). 

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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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A New Report Shows the Impact of Racial Justice Protests in 2020 on Three Local Newspapers

Demonstrators holding up a "No Justice No Peace" sign face a row of armed police officers.

When someone we know provides an account of an event, we generally know how to interpret their individual take; we probably know when they’re likely to get dramatic or when they’re likely to downplay something. We make our own adjustments to what we’ve heard in order to get closer to the truth. Do we know how to make the same kinds of adjustments with major news sources? We, as individuals, may not, but there are organizations and projects, such as Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, that monitor news media. They observe and analyze the reporting in order to inform and advise journalists and the general public about possible subtle slants in the coverage. In this January 2022 report, Nieman’s deputy editor Shraddha Chakradhar summarizes a report analyzing news coverage of 2020 protests against police brutality in the daily newspapers of three cities where major incidents have occurred.

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