Googling Boris

Google turned 21 the other day. According to a Google search, Boris Johnson is 55.

Is Boris Johnson really trying to game Google search results?
One theory is that Johnson is trying to downplay negative news coverage of events by seeding news stories into Google search results by using similar phrases and key terms that are more positive. For instance – the hypothesis goes – by saying he was the “model of restraint”, Johnson was attempting to divert attention from stories detailing his alleged affair with former model Jennifer Arcuri, which became less visible in search results for “Boris Johnson model”.

His speech in front of the police was meant to distract from reports that the police were called to the flat he shared with girlfriend Carrie Symonds following an alleged domestic dispute, while the kipper incident was meant to downplay connections with UKIP (whose supporters are called kippers). The claim about painting buses, finally, was supposedly intended to reframe search results about the contentious claim that the UK sends £350 million to Europe branded on the side of the Brexit campaign bus.

“It’s a really simple way of thinking about it, but at the end of the day it’s what a lot of SEO experts want to achieve,” says Jess Melia of Parallax, a Leeds-based company that identified the theory with Johnson’s claim to paint model buses.

But, as that article from Parallax goes on to explain, this could all be coincidental nonsense.

Boris Johnson: the unlikely SEO strategist
And yet, all that being said, perhaps we’re giving him too much credit here. Maybe, when questioned, he was merely grasping for something other than “running through a field of wheat”. Or maybe he was simply staring out of the window and saw a bus go past. Or perhaps he really does enjoy making model buses out of crates.

Complete and utter genius, or an accidental fluke? Whatever you think, it’s certainly made one thing happen for Boris – we’re all talking about him. Again.

Damn. Now I am, too.

Political persuasion 2.0

I’ve been enjoying (if that’s the right word) Wired UK’s recent articles on how technology is being used against us.

A bitter turf war is raging on the Brexit Wikipedia page
Other debates revolve around the Brexit jargon and the page’s 19-word-strong glossary. Is Leaver the best way to refer to Brexit supporters, or is Brexiteer more common? And is “Remoaner” the remain-supporting version of “Brextremist” or is the latter somehow nastier? A recent question on the Brexit talk page, where editors discuss changes to the article, raises another question about the term Quitlings. Is it something to do with quislings, and if so, shouldn’t the glossary mention that? For now, the consensus is that yes, it is a reference to the Norwegian Nazi sympathiser Vidkun Quisling – whose name has evolved into a synonym for traitor – but that the term isn’t widely used enough to justify including it in the article.

The Brexit Party is winning social media. These numbers prove it
The extraordinary level of this online engagement is inextricable from the populist nature of Farage’s message. “Polarised content does brilliantly, hence Farage has significantly more reach than any of the main political figures of the UK,” says Harris. “His content will receive significant numbers of shares, comments (both positive and negative) and likes and negative dislikes, and will have more organic reach than content from mainstream political parties that people like to see in their timeline but don’t like or comment on it because they passively agree with it.”

The EU elections are next week. Fake news is not the problem
Information operations are rarely about changing the things people believe, but changing the way they feel. Anger and fear are not things we can correct with better facts. As we head into the EU election, this fact should be at the forefront of our minds. Media monitoring is vital, and the work of fact-checking organisations to identify, correct and call out false information is a necessary and valuable part of this. But it is crucial that we look beyond the accuracy of the news, and zero in on how the media ecosystem as a whole is being manipulated. Inflammatory trending stories, harassment of journalists, feverish online debates – the public discourse behind all of these is being pushed and prodded by those who want to see us angry, divided, and mistrustful of each other.

The secret behind Gina Miller’s anti-Brexit tactical voting crusade
Miller’s Remain United campaign uses a technique called multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) to analyse polling data and identify which Remain-supporting party stands the best chance of winning seats in the European elections on May 23. Remainers are encouraged to vote for those parties in order to secure a sizeable pro-EU representation from the United Kingdom in the European parliament.

Don’t believe all you read

Imagine being one of the journalists, editors or fact-checkers at Der Spiegel, the German weekly news magazine, when this article was being produced, having to own up to this catalogue of failure.

Claas Relotius reporter forgery scandal
It has now become clear that Claas Relotius, 33 years old, one of DER SPIEGEL’s best writers, winner of multiple awards and a journalistic idol of his generation, is neither a reporter nor a journalist. Rather, he produces beautifully narrated fiction. Truth and lies are mixed together in his articles and some, at least according to him, were even cleanly reported and free of fabrication. Others, he admits, were embellished with fudged quotes and other made-up facts. Still others were entirely fabricated. During his confession on Thursday, Relotius said, verbatim: “It wasn’t about the next big thing. It was the fear of failure.” And: “The pressure not to fail grew as I became more successful.”

Story after story is dissected, and lies revealed. The consequences and implications for journalism worldwide are already being played out.

Trump ambassador uses Der Spiegel fabrication scandal to take aim at journalists
Grenell also got into a debate with a correspondent for the German public broadcaster ZDF, whom he told to “stop defending fake news and fabricated stories.”

“We do,” the correspondent, Andreas Kynast, wrote back. “Do you?”

The hidden lives of ordinary things

I’ve just found a new (to me) corner of the web, full of interesting things to read.

Object Lessons
Object Lessons is an essay and book series published by The Atlantic and Bloomsbury about the hidden lives of ordinary things, from sardines to silence, juniper berries to jumper cables.

Each Object Lessons project will start from a specific inspiration: an anthropological query, ecological matter, archeological discovery, historical event, literary passage, personal narrative, philosophical speculation, technological innovation—and from there develop original insights around and novel lessons about the object in question.

I love that domain name. Some of the essays I’ve bookmarked to catch up on later include:

How the 50-mm lens became ‘normal’
It’s often called the optic that best approximates human vision, but approximation is relative.

The case for locking up your smartphone
Lockers and sleeves for phones can feel like an infringement on personal rights, but they also might save people from their worst habits.

How the index card cataloged the world
Carl Linnaeus, the father of biological taxonomy, also had a hand in inventing this tool for categorizing anything.

And this poignant, tricky one, too.

Why it’s okay to throw your children’s art away
There’s a moment when a child first presents you with her art, holding it out with the last split second of attention she can muster after completing it. That moment contains a burst of pride on both your parts, and a frisson of mutual love. But in the end, your pride lasts longer than the child’s does. Eventually, and soon, it must move on to another venture. Theirs always does, but yours lingers, heartstrings tugged.

It’s the wish to prolong this moment artificially, I think, that motivates the urge to keep and curate your children’s art for posterity. You convince yourself there’s some future where your child will want to return to that moment of pride and love through the act of witnessing the thing she made so long ago.

Don’t fall for it. You’re only trying to make yourself feel better. You’ll never quite be able to tell which moment your children will remember, and it’s not as if you can regulate that memory on their behalf anyway. And besides, childhood is made from a thousand moments just like this. There’s no way to hold on to all of them.

Are you reading this properly?

Yes, I read my e-mail on my phone. And yes, I read the news on my tablet, where I found these two cheery articles from the Guardian.

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound
The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.

Alan Rusbridger: who broke the news?
If journalists cannot agree on a common idea of the public interest – of the public service we claim to be providing – then it complicates the defence of what we do. And in an age of horizontal free mass media, it is even more important for us to be able to define and declare our values, our purpose – and our independence. Which includes independence from the state.

But five years after the Snowden revelations, it is now apparent that states themselves are struggling with the digital disruption that first tore through the established media and has now reshaped politics. The digital giants have not only unleashed information chaos – they have, in the blink of an eye, become arguably the most powerful organisations the world has ever seen.

Update 04/09/2018

I’ve just found another article on a similar theme that I’ll tack on to the end of this post, about watching less and reading more.

Why everyone should watch less news
While research has shown that visually shocking and upsetting news can contribute to anxiety, sleeping trouble, raise cortisol levels and even trigger PTSD symptoms, a University of Sussex study found that just six minutes reading a book can reduce stress levels up to 68%. A study done by former journalist turned positive psychology researcher Michelle Geilan found that watching just a few minutes of negative news in the morning increases the chances of viewers reporting having had a bad day by 27%, while Barnes and Noble just reported soaring sales for books that help people deal with anxiety and find happiness. Life Time Fitness, a gym chain with locations in 27 states, recently decided that tuning their TVs to FOX News and CNN was antithetical to their mission of making people healthier, so they’ve banned the news from the gym.

Capturing silence and noise

Cameras can take you anywhere, from one extreme to the other.

The town of my father
Crestline at sunrise is one of the most peaceful places I have experienced. Being in the mountains at that time of day is surreal. After my first trip from Los Angeles I realized this would be the time of day I needed to shoot. Once a week, for four months, I would wake up two hours before sunrise and commute from Los Angeles to Crestline. I would shoot one to two rolls every trip and then fall in love with the town as I scouted for future locations to photograph. Making the drive there every Friday became therapeutic. Lugging my big camera around while the sun met me in the brisk morning air made me truly feel at peace. I wasn’t just learning about my father, I was also learning about myself.

10 World Press Photo awards, 10 backstories
Joanne Rathe Strohmeyer documented the first black community permitted to take public buses with whites during Apartheid South Africa. Jane Evelyn Atwood was the first photojournalist to intimately document the AIDS crisis in Europe. It was the first time an AIDS sufferer permitted his face to be shown in Europe. Wendy Sue Lamm followed her instincts, and with bravery, worked even as her colleague was shot. Jodi Cobb made eloquent images of the secretive society of the Geisha. Susan Watts’ first opioid story, photographed twenty years ago resonates to this day. These stories dominated the news and social currents of the time.