Better Communicating with Context
Does online interface design shape or influence how we behave online? For example, do we really behave worse than our true selves when given the option to mask our identity? When technologies that obfuscate online activities, mask identities or create fake profiles are just as plentiful as technologies designed to surveil and track every minutia of our physical and virtual lives what can or should we expect? How can we rethink the way we design our online spaces to tilt the balance for good? Join us for a conversation with Judith Donath, fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center and the founder and former director of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab. Her work combines knowledge from urban design, evolutionary biology and cognitive science to design innovative interfaces for on-line communities and virtual identities.
Guest: Judith Donath
Hosted by: Alexa Raad & Leslie Daigle
Transcript (autogenerated by Descript)
Alexa Raad: In his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying” Oscar Wilde, the famed Irish playwright, poet, and wit opined “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. As professor Michelle Mendelson observes in her book, “Making Oscar Wilde”, Wilde’s essay highlighted an inherent if not always admitted truth about human behavior and social sciences.
That the law of etiquette governing polite society, where in fact, a mask tack was merely an elaborate art of impression management Oscar’s musics took place in an era when sociology was still in its infancy, psychology had not yet been born. And though the industrial revolution had changed society. The consequences were nowhere near as dramatic as those of the digital revolution of the late 20th and early 21st.
Right. You can’t help, but wonder if Oscar Wilde were alive today? What would he think of the online world and what are you upon that life is a mirror for the internet or the other way around. Consider this today, 40% of internet traffic is generated by bots and 45% of user accounts are the popular social media platform.
Instagram are reputed to be fake technologies that obvious scape online activities, mask identities, or create fake profiles are just as plentiful as technology’s designed to surveil and track every minutiae of our physical and virtual. Despite this push and pull. What is clear is that the concept of identity has become far more nuanced and complex, and that deception has been elevated from art and industry to Wharf.
Need evidence simply consider the rise of disinformation and the existential threats, it poses to the democratic institutions around the world. So should we accept deception as an inevitable consequence of our increasingly digital lives and simply look to mitigate its impact?
Or can we rethink interface design in a way that shapes online identity and influences that behavior tilting the balance?
Leslie Daigle: Our guest today is Judith Donath. She’s currently a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman center. She’s also the founder and former director of the social media group at the MIT media lab where she and her students created pioneering and influential social visualizations and interfaces that have been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide.
As a writer and researcher, she examined various aspects of the internet and its social impact such as online communities, interfaces, virtual identities and privacy. Her work combines knowledge from urban design, evolutionary biology and cognitive science to design innovative interfaces for online communities and virtual ideas.
Judith is the author of the social machine designs for living online, published by MIT press and is currently writing a book about technology trust in deception. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in history from Yale and her master’s and PhD degrees in media, arts and sciences from MIT. Welcome Judith.
Thank you for having me. So in your book, the social machine designs for online living, you lay out a manifesto for rethinking how we design interfaces. You argue that design shapes society. Can you explain what you mean?
Judith Donath: Well, a lot of it is, if you think about let’s look at, you know, before we get to online things, it’s looking at even people’s behavior in certain buildings.
Um, the medieval churches, for instance, were built to inspire art, to make people feel very small in this year, very square. There was this powerful God controlling their fates. And so the design of the spaces that like that were meant to influence how people behave and that’s in a world where your physical self cannot be changed by the architectures.
It’s your perception of the world. Now, if you look at things like online spaces, The interface design not only affects what you’re seeing of other people. It affects the posture that you take, that you’re sitting around a particular screen that you can get up and leave at any time, but it also completely controls what you can see of other people.
It lets you, it controls whether their identities are. Um, defined and checked and redefine, or it decides to people can be easily anonymous. So that’s why the interfaces have such a powerful role in shaping how people behave. Because if they can’t really see the other participants, particularly as humans, they’re just, you know, lines of texts or jokes that float by.
The constraints that we normally put on our behavior, partly out of them, but they may be quite weakened by that. If you see the other very much as a person and you see that everything you’ve said sticks with you and your identity, maybe a lot more circumstances.
Leslie Daigle: That’s really, really interesting. And I know that having been interacting on the online world myself for a few decades, I sort of the difference of seeing people as just lines on texts, way back when, when that’s all we had to, you know, at least some level of avatars and whatnot nowadays is, is interesting.
Although there are some interesting differences of behavior that we see in, in online exchanges than we would ever see in the real world. I’m sure. I’m sure we’ll get to that. Um, but before we get to that, um, so I understand that you believe surveillance and privacy are also design issues. Can you elaborate a bit on that aspect of it?
Judith Donath: Um, well,
Alexa Raad: there’s
Judith Donath: surveillance is a
Leslie Daigle: big issue to elaborate
Judith Donath: on. So, I mean, let’s start talking that actually, but what is surveillance, um, before you say, why is it it’s sign issue? And surveillance has an effect on how people behave, because it basically says there’s some kind of control that’s on the external, whether it’s a being or an institution or just a group of sort of alpha people in your unit can affect you and you can control your own way or they can impose some kind of punishment or reward.
What surveillance does it say? That type of person or institution doesn’t have to be there at the moment. You
Leslie Daigle: know, it says there are other
Judith Donath: eyes on behavior are eyes of certain type, whether they’re other humans, whether it’s your belief in God, whether it’s cameras wrestling from every building, but there’s a set of eyes watching things and feeding that information about what people are doing to some kinds of.
What we can call like an authority institutional song type. So the control, so surveillance itself, isn’t a bad, it doesn’t control anything. But what it does is it can move information to a con to it empowers the controlling institutions and have these eyes. And to a large extent, the, what, the control that has learned, how people behave isn’t in that post activity.
Punishment or reward. It’s your anticipation of it? It’s your knowledge that this is likely to happen in a way, then lease yourself with this expectation of being
Alexa Raad: watched. So that brings me to the issue of pseudonyms, because a lot of times people create pseudonyms, uh, various pseudonyms for. Various social media platforms we post on, uh, whether it’s Facebook or let’s say Twitter, Instagram, and so forth.
And the conventional wisdom would say that if you actually had your own identity on there, then you would not behave. Perhaps the way that you can behave with a pseudonym, which masks you identity even potentially with surveillance, uh, being onboard
Leslie Daigle: it,
Alexa Raad: but you say that pseudonyms are actually, um, helpful and.
And, and, and can strengthen communities. It’s not just, uh, helping you maintain privacy and manage your identity, but that you can also strengthen online communities. So this seems to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom. What do you say to that? How do you respond? So
Judith Donath: let’s look at online identity is having sort of three broad varieties.
There’s anonymity, pseudonymity, and real identity. Anonymity is where you can act in particular ways and your behavior, both doesn’t carry through to know your real name, your real physical self, but it also doesn’t carry through over time. It’s just a standalone. So no history. Okay. There’s no history.
There’s nothing that ties it to the next thing that you do. It’s just, it just sort of out there actions. Um, that’s how, for instance, a site like fortune. Where people who really try very hard because they want to own something. They said, they think it’s clever, but it’s really designed so that the words come out, you really can’t build up a history with that.
And then there’s online identities that are tied to your real self. So you say something, but if you’re doing it under your physical name, it comes back to me. And the reason I say that I think pseudonyms and synonymous communities online are really important. It’s a pseudonym is a, some kind of identity that you can have in a mediated space that is not necessarily tied to your real world itself, but it is tied to a particular history of that identity.
The reason it’s important in a way that to do this online in a way that it’s not, or it doesn’t make sense in the physical world, besides that it’s possible to do online, is that in the physical world, because at least until very recently, most of what you did was fairly ephemeral. You could, um, go home to a family dinner and act the way your family expected you to do.
But then if you were out with your friends, you could be a very, very different. And these different facets of your personality were easily divided by time and space online because things are searchable and these different spaces will collapse. Because know if I search your name and everything is searchable and everything is done under your name comes up together, you lose that kind of contextual separation.
That has been the norm in our societies. The pseudonym lets you. Be able to have, you know, for instance, your social life not be something that’s constantly traced back to what you do at work.
Alexa Raad: Oh, you have a LinkedIn profile, which is all, all professional, but then you can post on your Facebook things that
Judith Donath: are Twitter, cat that was under a different name.
Now the issues you’re talking about, about behavior or the reason that pseudonym is important and it works only if you still value that identity. So if I want to build up a very credible identity on unsafe Twitter, as someone who has really interesting things to say about the session, blah, blah, blah, blah.
For some reason, maybe it’s because I live in a, in a nation where the things I want to say are not acceptable, or maybe because my political opinions are not acceptable at my job, or to make them. I may want to keep that private and separate, but I still want it to have a long-term reputation that I still value.
And so it’s not. So you could still value how that identity is presents itself and behaves because you care about building that up over time. And that’s why it’s a design issue because it’s that incumbent on the designers of the spaces to say. We want you to develop a persona here that you value highly, that you will take care of, and that you will
Leslie Daigle: not want to be
Judith Donath: despised by the other users here, but that’s something that you have to design your injure things so that those are really solid and significant and trusting.
Alexa Raad: Multifaceted. So there’s a question about trolls though, because trolls, for example, really don’t care about having a history of their persona, right? I mean, they are meant to be very argumentative. They’re meant to be in your face. Um, often not controlled, you know, often bots. So they don’t necessarily behave in the way that you’re describing.
How would you design an interface and they’re a part of our everyday lives. You know, we can’t really sometimes tell the difference of what is a troll and what is a, uh, you know, a human being. So how do you, how do you design that interface so that you lessen this type of very aggressive, confrontational type of behavior?
Judith Donath: I million, a lot of the work that my students and I had done at the media lab was in an area we called social visualization and things like, um, portraits of people through their words. So for instance, one of the projects we were interested in was how do you visualize, oh, I’m going to use Twitter as an example, just because it’s, it’s easy and people know it, but I don’t mean this to be particularly specific to Twitter.
Right now, if you see some tweet comes by and you’ve no idea who this person is, it’s what comes up. If you look at them quickly, it’s like their name. It’s who they claim to be. Um, they may have tons of followers, but they may have bought those. On the other hand it’s if those behaviors were truly, if the way they were acting was truly indistinguishable.
It’s, let’s say they are troll from a sort of helpful contributing person whose words you’d be interested in. They wouldn’t actually be that troll because they would be saying interesting things. I mean, to the extent that they’re a troll and you don’t want to hear from them is that they have some history of unpleasant interactions of making false statements that you would find offensive or something that you consider problematic.
And we’ll get into later whether the issue of whether the issue between whether they’re humans or machines, but the idea of the social visualization is something that would help you see much more at a glance. Something of, of someone’s history. So if you could see a visualization that would show you instead of like walking down the street and there’s so much information you see in people’s faces and how they interact with each other, like in a few seconds, you build up a often, fairly accurate impression of their personality.
How do you take the history of what someone has said the way they interact with others and say, here’s a way to visualize this so that at a glance you can see. This person seems intriguing versus this seems like someone who is just here to harass others.
Leslie Daigle: I don’t have an image in my mind if something like Charles Schultz is pig pen character with sort of like the cloud of dust that follows him everywhere.
Judith Donath: Okay. So, yeah. So I mean, with doing visualizations like this, which still, I mean, I see very little done with this. And the reason for that I think is, has to do with. Limited number of social networks and things of that. There’s not that much experimentation these days, but so there’s two sides of it. One is the question, what is the data that you would want to visualize for something like this?
You know, what is, you know, in a public space, we’re not worried worrying about privacy issues, but you know, is it, is it their words? Is it, what are the types of people they follow? Is it some, how do you depict, who follows them? How do you get a sense of the extent to which their interactions. Inspire reaction versus are reactive to others, you know?
And there, it turns out you could start to pull out those patterns fairly easily, but then you get into that other question, which is another design, which is how do you represent it so that it’s not just, you know, another graphic where yeah. The Charles looked kind of cool, but the nice people that kind of cool too, is you want to think that how do you make it intuitive without being too heavy handed at editorial piece?
Right. So you don’t want it to say, well, if they do this sort of thing, we’re going to make it all like gray and brown and angular versus some of that. So that’s another really interesting set of research questions. How do you make those visualizations so that they are re neutral yet intuitive?
Leslie Daigle: Can we see a tiny, tiny little reflection of that?
I think in online comments and in like on Amazon, for instance, right. You can see reviewer comments and that there are. Indications as to whether this person has been, you know, as a new customer of Amazon or whether they’ve been a long time customer of Amazon, you know, verified purchaser or whatever. So tiny little fragments of, of sort of history pertinent to the, to the, the reality of this person.
Judith Donath: Yeah. And I mean, I think, you know, even 15, 20 years ago, there was like a lot of excitement about things like word clouds. And I think part of the, um, I would like to see more work being done in this area. And I think part of it is that we’ve become so used to looking at LinkedIn Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, which have not any, I mean, their interfaces are not particularly visually compelling and they don’t have a real business reason to do this kind of thing.
So I think we haven’t been seeing a lot of work in this area, but you know, if you can think of. Not just seeing whether they’ve reviewed things before, but to start seeing like a word cloud of their reviews, just to have it sense. Like, is this someone who’s always super negative, are the words they’re using in this review, something they use all the time.
Do they usually review restaurants? You know, what type of things do they review? Are their reviews, usually quite contrarian to the other things or, you know, to everything else. There’s, there’s a bunch of things like that that are, that would actually give you a pretty good picture of how. Believable they were, or even the things we’ve used.
There are another interesting one, just because a lot of times what would be useful, there would be something that was a fairly subjective view, because if I want to look at say, move very views or book reviews, I want to see it in comparison to things that I like. Because if I happen to like a particular type of coworking movie that only 10% of other people.
Other people share that taste. I mean, that’s also partly the way I love algorithms has gotten in trouble, sending people down more and more unusual routes of things that they like, that others don’t like, which seems to always end up in like Nazi literature somehow. But there are ways of dealing with those problems in the algorithm, looking for niche, ask tastes that I don’t think I always have to end up there, but certainly are useful to be able to see a, to have a lens.
To be able to choose between looking at things like that through a subjective or a more objective lens.
Leslie Daigle: And I think, I think there’s an important thing to drill down on here a little bit, which is, I mean, I guess in part I would, my brain would summarize a little bit of what we’ve discussed so far as there’s the content of messages that we see today, whether it’s text or video or whatever, but that in spite of the fact that we in the online world sort of read each piece individually and think that that’s the thing.
That it, that it needs to be understood. And that in the context of who has shared it and, and sort of whether they have history or whether they are, you know, anonymous and have no history, um, or, and then beyond history is sort of like, what, what flavor are they? So there’s, there’s all of that, that you’re, you’re describing as trying to capture that in some way, visually in, in, in an interface.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the importance of capturing it in the interface, from what I hear you articulating is we can get to better interactions if we have a better representation of the context of these messaging, so that it doesn’t just always spiral down the drain into, you know, flame wars and, and, and all kinds of negativity.
Judith Donath: Yeah. And context is extremely important. And I think a lot of things. Issues we’re seeing with, um, fake news and not, I mean, there’s those go into different directions? One of the problems is that, you know, and this is not speaking specifically about news, you get from people, but, um, how much less context people have even for news.
So are you going to go with my partner all the time? Who’s a professor who will tell me, oh my God, did you see this new story? I’m like, well, where is it from? It’s like, it was all my news reader. I’m like, okay. It didn’t, it didn’t originate in your news reader. I mean, can you tell me, like, is this from the Washington post or is it from Fox news or it’s from some random guy in Romania writing?
I have no idea. I don’t know, but like, if you can’t tell me the context of where it was published and. So here again, that’s a one, it’s an interface issue in how news is presented, because that context of what is the publisher who signed off on this as a story is really, really important. And I think we meet, you know, in an ideal world, we should, we need to get back to having some sense of where did muse originate.
And I think. Yeah, for a lot of the Postmates is the problems that we have with fake video, whether it’s like highly technical, deep fakes, where it’s just people splicing stuff together in ways to make it seem like people said things, they hadn’t said it’s really, you’re a technological fix is always going to be a few steps behind the ability to make things like that.
But so what you need is at least the easy opportunity to decide what gatekeepers you mean. For that. And then it gets back to those issues with, you know what I was saying about like data portraits, because it’s, what’s true of getting your news from, uh, a big news source when it’s world news is also true about how you understand words in a conversation.
If you don’t know who said it to a large extent, you, you can’t tell if it’s sarcastic, if it’s, um, if it’s well-meaning. Something that was said from deep knowledge or off the top of someone’s head, the source of any kind of words is a really, really important part of them. And that divorce between source and content online is I think the cause of a lot of the problems we have with, um, both bad behavior and poor information.
Alexa Raad: Whenever I hear you talk about, you know, source and context. And if, I think earlier you were talking about history to me that, that, that becomes the question of reputation, right? Because reputation is a way it’s a shortcut for us to, to decide whether we’re going to provide faith and value in what we’re seeing.
Leslie Daigle: how do you,
Alexa Raad: how do you mean we use interface design in a way to make it very clear? For folks to be able to tell reputation adequately or at least read reputation adequately. Um, you just talked about your, your partner being able to really distinguish between various news stories that come into the feed.
So that’s one example. Another example is, you know, on Twitter, Having, uh, having the, uh, the Twitter handle, you know, tell you how many followers, maybe the number of followers isn’t necessarily a good indication of the quality of reputation. So what would you, how would you redesign or what kind of design fixes would you propose to them?
Judith Donath: again, it means prayer. I think the, the number and the types of followers are interesting, but okay. Either let’s look at the followers piece. So if you were going to do like a, a Twitter Richard of some kind, you might want to not just say how many followers somebody had, but have some indication of what those folks, whereas where of what are the kinds of patterns in them.
So that if someone has anything. Here. I think that, you know, in this ideal, beautifully designed world, you might, there might be different things you could subscribe to for the portraits you make. So you might think this is a useful way and this isn’t, but once among the useful things could be some sense of how many followers do those followers have, because that’s some very simple troll things.
You can make a whole farm of sort of bots that whose purpose is to judge. Add more numbers to people, smaller accounts, but that’s something that you could see the difference between, you know, 10,000 organic followers versus 10,000 fake followers. So, but it wouldn’t have to be labeled. This is true or fake.
It’s just that the organic. Set would have a much greater range in what type of followers they had, where at least for now the less organic followers set is going to be much. There’s gonna be a lot less diversity in it. Um, in terms of their number of followers, where they say things about, you know, it could be what, um, and, and again, I think a lot of it is just seeing.
What are the types of words. So this sort of word cloud ESC piece, what are the types of words that characterize what they’re saying? And I just want to also make a distinction between reputation and history, because a lot of the reason I keep talking about history is that if I’m visualizing history, it’s saying, okay, there is certainly a subjectivity in the choice of things I choose to visualize the way I choose to do it.
But the data I’m working with is the data that this person has generated. So the words they’ve said, or the people they’ve followed or who has followed them reputation is a lot, is I think a very interesting, but it is to some level, if, just to keep the word, to describe a different phenomenon, it’s how someone is seen or what their reputation is within a particular community.
So. For instance, if we look at the like sort of Washington post versus Fox news thing, I would be much more comfortable with things like, especially with large interfaces, like faces. Not necessarily saying this is a good source of news, and this is a bad source of news because depending on the community within that community, they have one Fox news has a very good reputation in particular communities.
And personally, I am not comfortable with platforms like Facebook making the decision. I may think that it’s completely ridiculous, but I’m not comfortable with them making them. Decision, what I’m more comfortable with is ways of representing what, for instance, what type of information has come out over there, or how often have things been proved to be fake in particular or false in particular spaces, but having that platform provided visualization and information being much more objective.
Then the designation of what’s good or bad, and that that’s something that should come organically within particular communities, but they should have more information to be working with.
Alexa Raad: So, uh, so I have a follow-up question. This is again, going to do the distinction that you made about history and reputation.
So take the example of my Twitter. I hardly tweet. I have not made any kind of effort, uh, nor do I really care to build a Twitter following the kinds of stuff I tweet once in a while are truly legit.
Leslie Daigle: Um, I believe
Alexa Raad: I am a legit person with some fairly decent viewpoints. However. If you apply the heuristic rules of thumb in terms of design, right?
I would fail most of them. I don’t have a lot of followers. Uh, sometimes I tweet, I retweet a lot of texts, sequences, for example, tweets, I don’t have, um, I don’t tweet a lot of number of different things. I don’t tweet about my, you know, dog or, uh, the politics. So it’s not that I have a variety of things.
And yet I am a very legitimate source. I think of opinion. At least if not news. So how would interface design deal with somebody like me introvert? Yeah.
Judith Donath: I mean, that’s the piece, it’s like what your, the things you tweet about your, your
Leslie Daigle: Israeli SPARTS. So,
Judith Donath: but. But you’re saying the words in general, the content is good.
So something that would just say, okay, I’m seeing what this content is. These are the topics you could get. You know, he did like a workload. You’d see what the topics were. So I know if I really want to read about dogs, you’re not the place to be going. Um, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s not going to look like the most exciting account to follow.
If I read something that you then posted an item. Yeah, I would see probably that like something that showed like, well, this is fairly sparse, but it’s a sort of an announcement and sort of solid pieces like that. Um, it wouldn’t necessarily be bad. It just is not going to, you know, it’s not going to really stand up.
It’s like this totally exciting piece. Um, it wouldn’t give you any red flags is a big part of it. And it’s also another reason to say. That whole issue with like, say pseudonymity, et cetera. It doesn’t mean that that’s better than being tied to your real world itself. To a large extent you’re saying here that you have other reasons for being online, your, your Twitter pans, mainly about giving people information to go re look at this podcast.
And so it really doesn’t make sense for it not to be tied to who you are in real life. It’s, it’s all about that. So it doesn’t necessarily make it. Look bad. It would just give people a little bit more immediate sense of what type of thing is.
Leslie Daigle: The interesting thing there is that there is, there are online services now to help you detect whether, you know, a Twitter account is real or as a bot, you know, bot or not, I think is one of them.
And I recall testing the tech sequences, Twitter account against it, and it thought the text cleanses Twitter account was a bot, which I take exception to because I crashed every single one of those posts by hand. So, um,
Judith Donath: right. Well, and that’s partly why I think that. Um, even that bot or not judgment, I think is one that it’s maybe not that interesting to make because at a certain level of, if an account is mainly about pointing out other interesting information and it’s in a context such as Twitter, like where I’m maybe going to look for information.
I mean, at what point, like if you had a, if you had software. Most of those things for you, would it make it less interesting that I then got to see that this post was up or not like bot or not is not necessarily the thing you want to know? And it also, there’s a huge amount of work that goes into making bots that are not.
Just that are very hard to distinguish from people. And, you know, you’ve, you know, people have been doing this with the load enterprise for decades, you know, who make certain mistakes, you behave in certain quirky ways. It will seem like it’s human. I don’t know how bot or not what their ground truth is for whether they’re right or not.
And so that may, so having, just having the information that lets you see is this interest. Is this falling particular patterns of things that I like maybe a lot better than having something else, just giving you that. Yes or no answer. We have a, a student, Aaron, my student had Erin Zimmerman and I wrote a paper on this.
Um, what’s it called? Well, it was from like 2007. It was called is Britney Spears span. And, um, because it was looking at those spam detectors that would say this thing is spam, this account isn’t and. The argument was that, that really, wasn’t the interesting question that people, that, what types of things, people were looking for a lot more multi-dimensional and that, yes, there are certain times where you want that and that a lot of people’s online presence, maybe a little bit more mixed, like they may be using timers to do things.
So they may have a certain set of things they do automatically in a certain set of things they do by themselves. Sometimes that matters, but it doesn’t always. And that you do rather have something that’s more multi-dimensional in how it understands. What gives you the information to form your own set of types.
Leslie Daigle: Right. And, and part of the challenge there, I think is that if we were left with our own devices to only follow the stuff that we think is interesting, um, then, then we wind up sort of in a closed world syndrome as well. And, and given that, you know, research after research has shown that fake news. It’s so much more likely to go viral because it catches people’s interest in some way than real news or real facts, and is more compelling in some way then than that in ways that real news can never touch.
So what can we, what can we say about forming communities around, you know, fake news versus real news or, or, you know, does this actually get us out of the mess of faith?
Judith Donath: It’s a step in that direction. The problem you’re talking about about fake news, being more interesting is much bigger than this and that’s yeah.
And that’s a big sort of systemic issue with how we get information, why we care about. And I think, um, I mean, this is a lot of the topic of the book I’m working on now, but I think at some level, a part of it is almost inevitable. Given the role of use in a world where we’re dealing with communities that are way beyond what any person is able to affect.
It was a really interesting article in the New York times, a few years ago, about farmers in the Midwest who were complete climate change deniers from a political standpoint, like they thought it was wrong. They thought was something that like a bunch of stupid Democrats had thought up, but. When they were talking about their farming practices, they were taking climate change into account because they actually needed to do that because they denied the change in what was happening with their day to day, year to year, whether their crops would fail so they could hold those two ideas simultaneously.
And I think a lot of our, the issue that we’re having with fake news is that when people are dealing with. Information that is immediately actionable to them. They care a lot about whether it’s real or not. So if you talk to people like in, uh, in their job and they want to know if like the branch that they’re working in is going to be closed down or, you know, what are the things you have?
Do they really care? Like what information is right. And who is grumpy who’s in and who’s out. Or if there’s a lot of decisions they have to make, if it’s immediate to their community. But part of the, I think part of the problem that we have. And this isn’t the whole piece, is that the line between news and information, especially when you’re dealing at levels that you think you not don’t really have any effect on you is that your people are often looking for things other than what is true.
And I think it’s, yeah, this gets into the basic question. One of the big issues I’m writing about in this book is that the assumption that what people are looking for is true. Where reality is a somewhat naive assumption and that a lot of what they are looking for are markers of affiliation. They’re looking for things that are entertaining.
And so news that there’s the affiliative side of news. That was a lot of what we’re seeing within the Trump administration is that if you. If I say the sky is blue and you look up and you say, yes, it is. We agree, but it’s not like a particularly bonding thing because it’s just true. Right. Advice say, you know, the sky is purple with pink polka dots, and you look up at that same blue cloud with white clouds sky say, yeah, that is, you know, it’s got those pink polka dots there.
I see them. Then we actually have a bonding thing because we’re, I’m basically saying. You know, we agree. One of us is agreeing to follow the other and to take their statements and to take voice LT as the key. Piece of in determining what you’ll say is true or not. And that’s a very different thing than true.
Yeah. It taps
Alexa Raad: so much into our own human instincts to be tribal, to always like form under various banners, whether it’s football, uh, affiliations. Right. Um, or whether it’s, you know, interest, affiliations or political. Um, I read one of the really good advice. If I see you gave to news organizations, I’d like you to reiterate that on the show, you talked about how journalists sometimes and news organizations actually perpetuate some of this fake news and the way that it’s a design issue in a way, right.
The way that they handle it. Talk about that, please. How should we do not do it?
Judith Donath: One big piece is not to repeat things in a not true. So, and I think that’s been said at this point by a number of observers is that you don’t want, like, you don’t want to amplify stuff. That’s fake. So, and again, I think I wrote that piece at the beginning of the Trump administration and the whole.
Yeah, my inauguration was bigger. Like more people with my inauguration than the ones you could look at the photograph and see that there were many more of you was like, yes, this is the biggest inauguration. You don’t want to repeat things that are not true without surrounding them with this constant default false statement that, um, so that’s one he’s and the, the other is you want to.
Put enough context that it’s not, that it’s very easy to get very outraged about things. And so to the extent that you can put it in a context of why this is true or why this is not true with this background of understanding why you should care is a really important piece, because if you don’t understand why caring about this has consequences, like what are the consequences of being wrong about that?
Is I think a piece that helps focus people’s interest in whether it was true or not. If you don’t feel that there’s any consequence to not caring about the truth, then it’s much easier. Not.
Leslie Daigle: So much to think about and so much ground covered. And I feel that we could probably talk all day. Uh, it’s just fascinating to see all the pieces come together and, you know, I would like, I would like to see social media interfaces designed the way you describe, but, um, maybe, maybe when I’m retired and rich ha um, Great.
It’s been been a fantastic conversation. Thank you so much for joining us
Judith Donath: today. Well, thank you so much for inviting me. This was really enjoyable. Your questions were fabulous. Thank you.