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The Nun Who Got Addicted to Twitter

“My superior is a gamer.“ Sister Helena Burns said, laughing. "You know you’re a media nun when your superior is a gamer." 

You might not expect nuns to be experts on Twitter, Facebook, and multi-player video games, but Burns defies all expectations. With 13,790 Twitter followers and counting, the Daughter of St. Paul calls herself a "media nun”: A woman religious with a calling to communicate the word of Christ, in any way she can.

And yes, there is a gamer-superior in her convent.

“She has this souped-up computer,“ Burns continued. "She gets her own little ministry out there. Once people get to know she’s a nun, they have questions, or they ask for prayers. But you do have to clean up your language when Sister Irene’s out there.”

I imagine Sister Irene sitting in front of a sleek desktop with neon LED backlights, wearing her bright yellow Grado headphones and concentrating intensely on a multi-player RPG. It’s a funny image—there’s such a symbolic disconnect between the stereotypical idea of a nun and a basement-dwelling teenager who loves World of Warcraft. That’s what’s so fascinating about these sisters and their order: They defy stereotypes about who participates in Internet culture, and how.

So how does a nun use social media?

Read more. [Image courtesy of Helena Burns]

A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.” The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

We wondered who was behind that story and why it was written. It appeared on a site that had the look and feel of a local newspaper. even had the local weather. But it had only one news story — the fake one.

We tried to look up who owned it and hit a wall. The site was registered anonymously. So we brought in some professional help.

We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned

Illustration: Fanatic Studio/Getty Images

The Facebook Effect on the News

Around this time last year, I considered writing a story claiming that Facebook and Twitter were the new “homepages” for news on the Internet. It was going to be about how, if the Web had ripped out the article pages of newspapers and magazines and scattered them to the wind, Facebook and Twitter had pinched them from the air and stacked them in easy, vertical columns that were becoming our new first-look sources for the day’s events.

A year ago, social networks are the new homepage seemed like an (almost) original observation. Today, it’s just a boring fact.

In the last twelve months, traffic from home pages has dropped significantly across many websites while social media’s share of clicks has more than doubled, according to a 2013 review of the BuzzFeed Partner Network, a conglomeration of popular sites including BuzzFeed, the New York Times, and Thought Catalog.

Facebook, in particular, has opened the spigot, with its outbound links to publishers growing from 62 million to 161 million in 2013. Two years ago, Facebook and Google were equal powers in sending clicks to the BuzzFeed network’s sites. Today Facebook sends 3.5X more traffic.

Read more. [Image: Facebook]

Behind the Machine’s Back: How Social Media User Avoid Getting Turned Into Big Data

Social media companies constantly collect data on their users because that’s how they provide customized experiences and target their advertisements. All Twitter and Facebook users know this, and there is a broad array of feelings about how good or bad the persistent tracking of their social relationships is. 

What we do know, though, is that—when they want to—they are aware of how to go behind the machine’s back. They know how to communicate with just the humans without tipping their intentions to the algorithm. 

In a new paper, University of North Carolina sociologist Zeynep Tufekci explores some of these strategies among Turkish protesters. She looks at these behaviors as analytical challenges for researchers who are trying to figure out what’s going on. “Social media users engage in practices that alter their visibility to machine algorithms, including subtweeting, discussing a person’s tweets via ‘screen captures,' and hate-linking," Tufekci writes. "All these practices can blind big data analyses to this mode of activity and engagement.”

The same practices, though, from the user perspective, can be understood as strategies for communicating without being computed. All they require to execute is thinking like an algorithm.

Read more. [Image: Renee Magritte via Wikimedia Commons/The Atlantic]

When You Fall in Love, This is What Facebook Sees

Facebook might understand your romantic prospects better than you do.

In a blog post published yesterday, the company’s team of data scientists announced that statistical evidence hints at budding relationships before the relationships start.

As couples become couples, Facebook data scientist Carlos Diuk writes, the two people enter a period of courtship, during which timeline posts increase. After the couple makes it official, their posts on each others’ walls decrease—presumably because the happy two are spending more time together.

Read more. [Image: Facebook]
Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb
Steve Hilton – the former adviser to David Cameron and potential mayoral candidate

“The notorious selfie is a threadbare form of expression, encouraging young women to post inane pictures of themselves every hour of the day in order to feel important. In short, their lives are viewed as meaningless unless they are doing something online. Teenagers don’t want to leave their bedrooms, they are so locked into this twilight world.”

“A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We’re Gone” via Molly Roberts

Ancient peoples sent their dead to the grave with their prized possessions — precious stones, gilded weapons and terracotta armies. But unlike these treasures, our digital property won’t get buried with us. Our archived Facebook messages, old email chains and even Tinder exchanges will hover untouched in the online cloud when we die.

Image: iStockphoto

#92 (IMAGE) It’s the era of streaming media! But you have scads of obsolete technology clogging your closets/attics/garage. Take your old VHS tapes, CD-Roms, decommissioned cell phones, powercords that have nothing to power, and create - and model - a haute couture look worthy of a fashion show. Pose wearing your masterpiece (as if you were a mannequin) in a shop window next to actual mannequins wearing ordinary clothes .

A Eulogy for Twitter

We’ve been trying to figure out the moment Twitter turned, retracing tweets to see whether there was something specific that soured the platform. 

Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing. 

Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. And it’s maybe not a very important demographic, this very weird and specific kind of user: audience-obsessed, curious, newsy. Twitter’s earnings last quarter, after all, were an improvement on the period before, and it added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million. The thing is: Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.

Read more. [Image: Matthias Töpfer/flickr]

Can Physicists Find Time Travelers on Facebook?

Twitter and Facebook have been asked to save journalism and overthrow autocrats. Now, two physicists have proposed an application even more ambitious: Can social media find time travelers?

Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson, two researchers at Michigan Technological University, thought they might. In a study released online last week, the two scoured Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and a few other websites to find “prescient information”—that is, tweets and statuses about current events posted before the events became current. The only way someone could write such a post, they reasoned, is if they were visiting… from the future.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

7 Google Myths That Complicate Our Lives

1. Search is simple.

2. We can succeed without metadata because artificial intelligence will triumph (someday).

3. No one wants advanced searching.

4. Users like results to be personalized.

5. Algorithms do the evaluation for you.

6. Google is the universal library.

7. One click is the only way to go.

“Search is not simple. It has been given the illusion of simplicity by a search engine that has a vested interest in convincing you that it is simple.”

From an outstanding article from William Badke in the May/June issue of Online Searcher. Not available for free (which kind of proves many of his points) but OS is indexed in Academic Search Premier.

Don’t have any idea what Academic Search Premier is? Ask a librarian!

(Image from WOI Media.

Study: Consumers Will Pay $5 for an App that Respects Their Privacy

Ever since the iPhone came out in 2007, the going rate for many of the most popular apps has been exactly $0.00. Consumers pay nothing.

But of course, nothing is free. Instead, consumers pay with their data, that’s sold to marketers, or with screenspace, which is forked over to make room for ads. It’s a trade consumers are happy to make.

But are they?

A new study from economists at the University of Colorado finds otherwise. It shows that the average consumer would prefer to pay small fees for their apps, in exchange for keeping their information private and their screens uncluttered.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

The Psychology of Begging to Be Followed on Twitter

“Twitter is the best and Twitter is the worst.”

This was the response Dr. Marion Underwood, clinical psychologist and University of Texas at Dallas psychology professor, received from one of her 15-year-old daughter’s friends when she asked what the girl thought of the social networking juggernaut.

“I can’t get off of it,” the girl elaborated. “I can’t stop getting on Twitter.”

If these sound like the words of an “addict,” it’s because they (at least kind of) are. Underwood was inspired to take her informal poll after watching the teen in question spend the entirety of her daughter’s birthday party glued to her phone, reading and sending tweets. What’s more, she says that social media can be highly addictive. Millennials are perpetually accused of self-centeredness, but it isn’t self-promotion, in and of itself, that they’re addicted to, Underwood says. It’s the positive reinforcement they receive from peers for doing it. For some teens, however, there’s a source of reinforcement even more addictive—and elusive—than their peers: their favorite celebrities.

Read more. [Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP]