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Did the pope really support Trump?

In an article in the 2015 Australian Educational Computing journal , I wrote that the increasing use of satirical and misleading websites was catching out lots of people, especially those in a “Facebook bubble”, first proposed by Eli Pariser, who wrote in the New York Times bestseller The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You

I used the metaphor of a gatekeeper; the librarian’s purchases, perhaps, or a known news outlet, or a book spine that proudly proclaimed “Oxford University Press”. These hallmarks were meant to protect us from being misled, and even though there were papers such as the Truth and the National Enquirer, we pretty much knew that they were nonsense.

It got a little more complicated when News of the World, the Daily Mail, and the Mirror raised their ugly mastheads, pushing a mix of racism and soft porn, only occasionally entering into social or political commentary.

Web 2.0, and Social media in particular, made publishing your opinion easy, and over the last decade, we’ve seen these opinions slide to be almost gilt-edged rumour, rarely backed by any fact. So how do we know if the pope really did support Trump for president, (he didn’t), or if Hillary really did sell weapons to ISIS (she didn’t).

The US comedian and talk show host, Stephen Colbert, coined the term “truthiness”, which described a ‘“truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.’[]

At the Victoria University (Wellington, New Zealand), Eryn Newman’s 2012 research has shown that the inclusion of a photograph sways the reader’s opinion as the the truth of the text. She is quoted as saying: ‘the research has important implications for situations in which people encounter decorative photos, such as in the media or in education. “Decorative photos grab people’s attention,” Newman said. “Our research suggests that these photos might have unintended consequences, leading people to accept information because of their feelings rather than the facts.’

A perfect recipe for Facebook posts, and haven’t we seen a lot of it in the leadup to the Trump victory in the US.

This has been exacerbated by the seemingly widespread adoption of false equivalency, equating a false news service with mainstream media in the name of freedom of speech.

But it as not only the so called ‘alt-right’ US based sites that were given this equivalency; Buzzfeed reported that ‘Over the past year, the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) has experienced a digital gold rush as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as,,,, and They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US’

Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, put together a list. A good start, but, because she included sites such as The Onion, and other, known satirical sites, her list was called into question.

Since then, many others have built their own lists. There’s even a website of lists; and it’s hard to keep up with not only false sites, but those that are just misleading [] or designed to be purely clickbait. This last is the reason why the fake news sites are built; to amass income from AdWords.

Does it matter? Can’t we just laugh off those who were duped and refer to every time something comes up that makes you question what you’re reading.

Voltaire, in his 1765 essay,  Questions sur les miracles,  wrote “This who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”

I don’t want atrocities committed, so I raise a couple of pertinent points

Pew research shows that nearly half of US citizens who are able to vote get their news from Facebook. This has risen from just over 30% when I wrote the original article referenced above. When you combine Buzzfeed’s analysis that ‘In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.’  it’s called into question whether these sites had an impact on the recent US election.

So, Google kicked off the action on last Monday afternoon saying it would ‘ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Hours later, Facebook, the social network, updated the language in its Facebook Audience Network policy, which already says it will not display ads in sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.’ [NYtimes]

But do we want the providers to be our gatekeepers? This is a real cleft stick: do we want Google or Facebook to be the arbiter of what is and isn’t right? Or what is or isn’t satire?

Maybe we could try a different approach—let’s use the technology.

There’s a Fake site alert Chrome extension, based on the work of Melissa Zimdars, that communication and media professor from Merrimack College in Massachusetts that I referred to earlier.

Installing the extension gives this on reaching a known fake site

Pasted Graphic.tiff

A good start, but this is a blunt instrument.

During a recent hackathon at Princeton University, four college students created a Chrome browser extension in just 36 hours. They named their project FiB: Stop living a lie. FiB uses artificial intelligence to classify a source as valid, whether a tweet’s image can actually be attributed to the proposed author, and so on.

Irrespective of their intentions, I can see a game of Whack-a-Mole happening here, where one site is killed and another pops up to replace it.

As well, we’re outsourcing our BS detection, dumbing down our approach to news, already hamstrung by blaring headlines and little in-depth analysis.

So I ask, aren’t these tech solutions to what is essentially a sociological problem?

As educators, aren’t you seeing the same approach here as we see with sites deemed to be bad by schools? Banning Youtube or Facebook in a school provides no peg on which to hang valuable discussions. Effectively outsourcing our native BS detectors will remove that same peg. We’ll be left with education washing its hands, Pilate-like, and claiming that it has done its duty by banning access.

More, not less, exposure and discussion is needed here.

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The Digital Evolution of Schooling

So, maybe you cover your eyes and ears and wait ’til the digital noise stops and it’ll be over?

Maybe we can all hold our breath?


On a recent flight, I was reading the Qantas in-flight magazine and came across this:

Stuart Clark, president of the law council of Australia and a partner in Clayton Utz, one of the biggest law firms in Australia, was discussing the role of technology in paw practise, and was quoted as saying that currently, there were 65 000 practising lawyers in Australia and 35 000 law students.

OK – fair enough, but it was the rider that got me:

“Most students at law school now, says Clark, will not practise law.”


You can discuss this further, with similarly minded educationalists, at the

Love to hear from you

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Panama Papers: Email Hackable via WordPress, Docs Hackable via Drupal – Wordfence


Just goes to show how vigilant we need to be with security updates!

The Mossack Fonseca (MF) data breach, aka Panama Papers, is the largest data breach to journalists in history and includes over 4.8 million emails. Yesterday we broke the story that MF was running WordPress with a vulnerable version of Revolution Slider and the WordPress server was on the same network as their email servers when […]

Source: Panama Papers: Email Hackable via WordPress, Docs Hackable via Drupal – Wordfence

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How are ICT decisions made in your school?

Traditionally, schools have made ICT decisions by referring to an “ICT committee” or by following the lead of the ICT head teacher/IT Director.

The ICT committee varies from school to school—some may incorporate teachers or admin staff only, some involve parents, some invite students.

For big issues, such as a school administration system, all of these should ideally be represented.

But there are problems here: problems of knowledge, problems of trust.

The knowledge needed for any large scale project goes way beyond what platform it will run on, or how much it will cost.

Increasingly, data and its manipulation for the basis of any large scale school system, whether that be an admin system, or a Learning Management System, or a simple markbook. Staff want to have ICT save time, not create work, so smooth and seamless flow of data is key to any deployment.

Want to set up a classroom in Google? You should be able to use the existing student names and other relevant data that is already in the school’s management system.

Likewise for student welfare packages, email lists to parents, financial packages and so forth.

While there could be an argument for the one package to do all these things, it simply doesn’t exist, or at least it doesn’t exist unless the workflow of schools is to be changed to suit the software system.

Schools will want to bolt on specific packages that do things the way that they want and therefore it’s important to consider where the truth lies.

By truth, I mean the single source of data so that, say, once a parent’s email is changed, it ripples through everything. Ror the same reason there is only one location that holds student medical, or welfare, or academic data.

There is an additional knowledge component – that of who does what, when, why and how, and I don’t mean only the control of access to data entry.

There’s a cradle to grave flow of data—data that will be used by a variety of departments.

The fact that John was captain of the First IX soccer, or that Janet was House captain in their final year may be of great use to the archivist or school historian and they need to be able to access those data simply, not have to trawl through excel spreadsheets that someone has put onto a shared drive.

The flow of data – who is responsible for data entry and for correction or amendment, and the use of those data are often the province of one or two specialised people within the school.

Hence these people need to be in on the decision making: they know what they want and their input to the discussion should be trusted. They should confer with other users of data so that dulication of effort (and data) can be indentified and extinguished.

This trust should also mean that they are responsible for their area and can’t blame IT for their decision or if things don’t work as advertised. (Let’s face it, very few things work as advertised first time in the IT world)

Computer systems are simply becoming too big for one or two people to have sole responsibility over.

It’s sad when a school glosses over these needs as they “haven’t got the time” to discuss further.