UOSM2008: Topic 2 reflection

This post is part of a series published as part of the University of Southampton’s Living and Working on the Web module. To find out more, including links to all of this year’s student blogs, check out the UOSM2008 website.

Understanding news and contemporary media is a particular interest of mine – my ongoing dissertation work is on how journalists and publishers use digital tools and their perceptions and reactions to the “post-truth” epidemic – so it’s fair to say this has been my favourite topic so far. With this issue of authenticity so prevalent, in my post I looked to summarise the assorted facets of fake news, to what extent social media has played a role in it, and, using a MOOC exercise, how to critically assess what we see to determine trustworthiness.

In response, Nikhita Sharma raised a challenging question: why now? After brief deliberation, the conclusion that made most sense to me was to look primarily at how the wider cultural context is being reflected online, rather than any explicit technological factors. On his blog, Tom Pethick noted the associated concept of the Overton window, as explained by Vox‘s Carlos Maza.

In my comment on Tom’s blog, I also cited Tom Rowledge‘s alarming statistic (from Gabielkov et. al., 2016) that 59% of links shared online haven’t even been opened, which itself was cleverly buried beneath a bogus headline bold enough to entice me to read further. The interactive activity he embedded also proved a fun, accessible insight into how easily online influence can be built when integrity is set aside.

Throughout the module I have been enjoying Jeremy Luzinda‘s witty takes on each topic, and his infographic for this topic is too memorable not to share here.

Five steps to assessing online content. Source: Jeremy Luzinda, 2018

My comment ventured beyond increasing users’ media literacy into how the service providers themselves might be compelled to act. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t discuss this further – I find Facebook’s survey example perfectly straightforward, but is handing users the power to shape authenticity an irresponsible and flawed approach? Only time can tell…


Word count: 299

Author: Xavier Voigt-Hill

I write words. Sometimes say them on the radio too.