Doubt in Dakota

“Fake news” has poisoned the well of information we all depend on, and it is just one facet of the digital polarization we’ve been studying in Digital Studies. Fake news has made us doubt all news, as it has become so pervasive and convincing that all consensus on the facts has evaporated in the heat of the battle between what is true and what supports our own opinions. A brilliant new project, the Digital Polarization Initiative, aims to combat this problem and put us all back on an even playing field. This wiki turns every outlandish claim tumbling down your Facebook feed into a mini research project, including the one I worked on.

A report on Softrep claimed that there was a huge oil spill just 150 miles away from the highly contested Dakota Access Pipeline, which I honestly doubted considering I hadn’t heard about it on any of my normal news outlets. It turned out to be  true. 176,000 gallons of oil leaked into a creek 2.5 hours from the NoDAPL camp, but the site that made the claim throws up a bit of a red flag, as this US Special Ops news site that focuses on military issues and politics, so the environmental article was a little out of place. They plagiarized most of it from CNBC, and left out some context, but the facts of article were true.

This example and many others like it wait on DPI to challenge our bias and find the facts. It’s a life raft in this sea of disinformation, and there’s room for everyone. Welcome aboard.

Streams, Gardens, and Roots in Wikipedia

This week in Digital Studies, we studied Wikipedia. I now have sufficient ammunition for rebuttal of parent and professor alike should they challenge the credibility of this invaluable resource, and it’s pretty empowering. Not to mention that I’ve been allowed to make a copy of the keys to the kingdom, that I can now create and edit Wikpedia pages myself. I’ve been empowered to give back to the community I have depended on for so many years, to push back against some of the problems facing this platform, under-representation being chief among them.

One of the articles we read to prepare us for this undertaking was The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral by Mike Caulfield. Much like when I first took psychology and political science, within a few paragraphs I thought to myself “Oh, there’s a word for that.” I kept thinking how these concepts were far from foreign, and yet I had never studied them, never had the words or the structure to do further research. I was inspired by this article, and look forward to curating Gardens and consciously floating down Streams.

Caulfield gave me the words to describe something I’d been doing artlessly since I first found Wikipedia and fell in love with research. While doing genealogical research  as a favor for family, I’d gotten a mite involved (read as hopelessly obsessed) with the story of someone we might be related to- William Waller, the purported owner of Kunta Kinte, the slave made famous by Alex Haley and the TV show “Roots”. People have been trying to trace the connections between Kinte and the Wallers since the book first came out, and yet concrete evidence was lacking. As I started looking through the research, I was categorizing it in folders in my favorites, the way I do with the myriad of topics that momentarily entrance me. Reading though Caulfield’s article, I realized that it was in many ways my own rudimentary garden. I’d been mapping sources and ideas in folders that I could then walk back through the next time I was on break from school or needed a distraction, ordered in topics and linked to relative concepts, not ordered by date last viewed. This method led me to discover not only new information that I think may prove the final links between my family, the Wallers, and Kinte, but also to a new source. Turns out all this time a physics professor at UMW has been researching the same thing. This new method of organizing information online has immeasurable potential.