The dark side - it sounds so evil. Darth Vader and "The Force" used for the wrong things. Online there are a number of "dark" places: darknet, dark web, black web, and black net. And then there is the deep web, which is often associated with (and confused with) these other dark places.
The deep web is all of the information stored online that is not indexed by search engines. You probably use Google for search, but it only indexes a fraction of the Internet. Some estimates say that the web contains 500 times more content than what Google returns in search results.
The results you get when you do a search on Google and other search engines dome from the “surface web.” The results that you're not getting returned would be from the “deep web” or “invisible web”.
Are those things hidden because they are evil or illegal. Actually, much of it hidden for less dramatic reason. Some of it probably would not be relevant to most searchers, or it's old and outdated. A lot of it is in databases that Google is either not interested in indexing or barred from accessing. That is sometimes good for our privacy. You wouldn't want Google to be indexing your phone apps, the files in your Dropbox account, or your social media accounts. Other places, like subscription academic journals and court records are also deeper in the web than search engine can or want to go.
Actually, Google has a separate search engine called deeperweb.com. Give it a try. Search for yourself or some "deep" subject. It doesn't really go deep into the dark and scary Net. Reading their tutorial, you find that DeeperWeb is their metasearch engine that employs tag cloud techniques for navigating through regular Google search results and using Topic Map methods gives results relevant to a specific topic.
A lot of social media shares occur in what some people call “dark social” which comes from the “dark web” but it might be better called "deep social."
The dark web is different from the deep web. This darker side is is only accessible by means of special software. Many people using that software to search want to remain anonymous or untraceable. That does sound a bit evil - and it might be. Although someone might be searching anonymously because they would be embarrassed by their search being discovered, someone else could be trying to avoid law enforcement. These darknets form a small part of the larger deep web.
Dark web sites are also where narcotics, firearms, and stolen credit card numbers are bought and sold. They are sites that get shut down sometimes because someone uses them to search for hitmen or share pornography or something else illegal.
But it is not all evil. Journalists and whistleblowers use it to exchange sensitive information. Depending on how you view someone like Edward Snowden, this usage is either treasonous or heroic.
The most common way to access this darknet network made up of servers scattered around the world is through something like Tor. The name is short for The Onion Router (Darknet website URLs often end with .onion rather than .com or .org.) The Tor browser relays traffic through encrypted connections and all the traffic bounces between relays located around the world, making the user "anonymous."
Before you decide to go over to the dark side, know that although your ISP and the government might not be able to view your activity when on the Tor Network, they do know you are on the Tor Network. As this guide to the deep and dark web notes, "that alone is enough to raise eyebrows. In fact, a recent judgment by the US Supreme Court denoted that simply using Tor was sufficient probable cause for the FBI to search and seize any computer around the world."
Many Tor users add a further layer of security via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But I use VPN provided by my university in order to connect to the their network from off-campus using my own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and have secure access to the university's network resources from anywhere at anytime. Every tool can be used for good and evil.
As part of Twitter's efforts to limit the visibility of abusive posts, the company is using more automated methods. They (and other social media and news sites) have gotten a lot of bad press the past year for allowing the spread of harmful content. This is certainly a worthy goal, but a difficult one to implement. At one time, many sites relied on human monitors and community managers to respond to abuses, but the volume of posts makes that impossible.
Twitter has expanded its mute and filter features. Now, they will also notify users when they take action on harassment they reported, even if it's not directed at them.
Perhaps most pwerfully - and therefore most frighteningly - Twitter is implementing tools that can automatically identify patterns in the way harmful tweets are made and distributed. CNN reports that "If it identifies a harmful account, it will truncate the user's visibility. For instance, if a user routinely replies to accounts that don't follow it, or repeatedly violates Twitter's rules, Twitter might make it so that the tweets are invisible to everyone except the user's followers for a set amount of time."
That means if you routinely reply to a favorite celebrity (even with kind words) and the celebrity doesn't follow you (and most will not) that invisibility function kicks in. The algorithm thinks you are stalking/harassing the person. This is what someTwitter users have called "Twitter jail."
What behaviors might trigger the algorithm and put you in jail or ban you from Twitter? The company won't say because they don't want people to find workarounds.
Big Brother isn't watching you - an algorithm is...
I have written elsewhere about a perceived "skills gap" for current employees when it comes to using social media in the workplace. Some social media consultants have said that 90% of workers don't have the skills to leverage social media as a business tool.
It would seem logical that there would be a "market" and interest in higher education to fill in that gap, and more social media courses are being offered at colleges - generally in marketing and communications programs. But for just-in-time training, current employees are also looking to online courses, MOOC offerings and free on-demand resources.
Hootsuite is one of those providers, but it also offers a Student Program that provides educators and their classrooms free access to social media tools and resources. They have a Hootsuite Academy, which obviously uses their own Hootsuite dashboard which is a widely used platform for social media management. They also offer free certification for students who complete the program.
Because I teach social media courses at a university and I also do social media consulting, I looked into the Hootsuite Student Program as another way to integrate hands-on activities into NJIT's online program.
I also see frequent mentions online about a broader “digital skills gap” with employees who don’t know how to use, or are not aware of, the technology available to them. According to a Harris poll survey in Entrepreneur, only one in 10 American workers have mastered their employers’ tools and this gap "Bleeds $1.3 Trillion a Year From US Businesses."
Social media is just one part of this larger gap, but the “meteoric rise” of social in U.S. over the past decade to more than 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide can't be ignored.
Some of the materials in the Hootsuite program were topics that I have always included in my curriculum for designing social media. For example, having students conduct an online reputation audit on a real local gives students a better idea of creating a strategy for a brand versus their personal accounts. Students do research and present an analysis in order to create a strategy to improve their client's social marketing. They research target audience, popular content channels and types, competitor social media use, and make recommendations for future social media marketing activities.
I have students create a social media campaign with objectives, target audience, and metrics. It no longer surprises me that my students often make very little sophisticated use of social media themselves, and have a very limited understanding of how organizations are using it.
One gap I have been attempting to bridge this past year is the lack of knowledge (and interest) in social media ethics and law. That gap is not only in students but in those currently working in social media.
I believe that this learning process has value beyond making students just being able to do marketing via social media, but that creating a social strategy through research, analysis and application, and doing it in a digital world can help bridge a number of skills gaps.
Social media can be viewed as a distraction. Some people rely on it as a news source. Companies use it for marketing purposes. And some of us study it in a more academic way.
In higher education, we at least touch on all four approaches. Some teachers find it all a useless annoyance. In communications and journalism courses, it is studied as another medium. In business school, it has moved into marketing and advertising courses and conversations. Beyond the theories of social media use, there is learning about the design and analysis of social media.
Studying online communities and social networks is leading to developing new tools and methods for analyzing and visualizing social media data. One of the better compilations of social media research tools has been curated by researchers at the Social Media Lab at Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University. Their site has more than fifty tools that they have reviewed academically. Many are free tools to use and are fairly simple to implement and use to collect data for analysis, while others require some programming experience.
We heard a lot about the "fake news" that we (Americans) were consuming in 2016. The election of President Trump brought the topic to the top of the news feeds.
Fake news is a new entry for Wikipedia which describes it this way: "Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation in social media or traditional news media with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. If often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news-stories in order to increase readership and online sharing."
Though some fake news is about making a profit in the same way that clickbait does by ad-revenue generated compensation, some of it is to forward a political or social agenda.
Some fake news sources are anonymously hosted or lack known writers and publishers (which makes it more difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for libel or slander). It is hardly a new kind of news.
I wrote earlier this year about fake news and information literacy, but the more I read about it, the less optimistic I am about the situation improving.
Our history courses taught us in earlier decades and centuries about yellow journalism and political propaganda, and some of the same strategies are used. But the media, 24-hour news' appetite for content and especially the Internet and social media have made it so much easier to produce and distribute it to the world.
As an educator, I'm anxious about the spread of fake news, and I wonder if the current commitment, or lack thereof, to media literacy programs is enough to combat its spread.
We have been teaching at all grade levels for a long time about fact-checking and verifying the accuracy and veracity of sources. We did it as educators with print and we adapted it in the digital and Internet age. But I don't think it's working. It is not only the younger generations that seems to be taken in by fake news, but also older generations who are long out of the classroom.
Danah Boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. In her book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, she examines how "...society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions."
I remember well trying to get my fellow faculty to examine, use and teach students how to wisely use Wikipedia back in 2001. It was a tough sell. Boyd has seen the results. She says "Students I met were being told that Wikipedia was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to do research. As a result, the message that many had taken home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not. Understanding what sources to trust is a basic tenet of media literacy education. When educators encourage students to focus on sourcing quality information, they encourage them to critically ask who is publishing the content. Is the venue a respected outlet? What biases might the author have? The underlying assumption in all of this is that there’s universal agreement that major news outlets like the New York Times, scientific journal publications, and experts with advanced degrees are all highly trustworthy."
The time is now to review how we teach media literacy.
Am I hopeful? No. Not if we continue teaching it the way we have in the past few decades.
Danah Boyd feels "The path forward is hazy. We need to enable people to hear different perspectives and make sense of a very complicated — and in many ways, overwhelming — information landscape. We cannot fall back on standard educational approaches because the societal context has shifted. We also cannot simply assume that information intermediaries can fix the problem for us, whether they be traditional news media or social media."
Boyd writes that "As a huge proponent for media literacy for over a decade, I’m struggling with the ways in which I missed the mark."
What needs to change? A lot. She says that we need to "build the social infrastructure necessary for people to meaningfully and substantively engage across existing structural lines." I don't know how we do that. I don't know anyone who has a new approach in place. But I agree with her that we can't ignore hate speech, fake news, biased content and propaganda online and expect that things will get better.
I had only posted about social learning here recently, but a few days after that post someone sent me a link to an article about "Four Myths of Social Learning."
Myth 1: Social Learning is a New Fad - Learning and social are a very natural ways we want to learn. A Google search on "social learning" will get you more than 44 million results.
Myth 2: Social Learning Means Only One Thing - Social learning means different things to different people. We even use different terms to describes types of social learning, such as guided social learning, communities of practice, networked learning, communities of inquiry, social networks, and social media.
Myth 3: You Don’t Have to Be Social to Get Social - You do.
Myth 4: Social Learning is About Forcing Your People to Use Your New Social Learning Platform - As Helen Blunden writes in that article, "Instead of focusing on your social learning system, consider how your people are searching, finding and sharing information currently and helping them to improve this.