Nov 22, 2016

INVITATION: Help design a Pledge for Consuming and Sharing News

I used to spend every morning reading/skimming thousands of social media posts about the Red Cross. This activity taught me a bunch of lessons about being an active and responsible consumer and sharer of social media content.

Below are some lessons I’ve learned about how we might approach our engagement in the global social media community, and a draft pledge for consuming and sharing news. I’d love your input on the pledge and this approach. Is there a better way to look at the fake news issue? Are there more things we can do?

I’m in the “that way there be dragons” camp when it comes to imagining Facebook or Google as arbiters of truth. I think we can pressure tech platforms to design algorithms that expand our individual viewpoints rather than create echo chambers, and also continue to create “safe space” among people who share interests and viewpoints. These are not mutually exclusive and most all of us need both. I don't think it's a great idea to give platforms the power to determine what is true.

I know it’s an uphill battle, but how we handle social media content just might be up to all of us. We determine how we respond, react, and work together on social media platforms and as a society.

What I accidentally learned while reading millions of social media posts
about the Red Cross.

How to ruthlessly question everything I read.
I went to law school and overall had a spoiled person’s educational journey, but nothing honed my critical thinking skills quite like being surrounded by the social web for my career.

There is a caveman-like quality to our brain’s response to social media posts. I used to fall victim to it all the time, but after I got some experience being wrong, I learned to view those strong reactions as a trigger to START asking questions rather than to publicly share and respond based on my gut reaction.

How to spot a troll.
I take a naive approach to this one. I always give negative posters the benefit of the doubt because I believe in the old saying that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Therefore, if someone takes time out of their day to post something negative, that means they care about the issue. I would engage with the person to hear them out, to ask them how they would handle the decision or situation differently, and to offer to work with them to carve a path to creating a better solution.

If the negative poster doesn’t engage in this approach, they are a troll and I have learned to ignore them.

How to spot a lie.
Sure, when there are active tornado warnings it’s tempting to share that photo of a menacing and swirling tornado coming down the highway. Sure, when a superstorm is landing on New York City it’s tempting to believe and share that sharks are swimming on the flooded floor of the stock exchange. I’ve learned that I have to take a beat and check whether those photos are (1) real and (2) about the situation that’s happening now.

The truth is a slowpoke and lies are fast little buggers. Now I know that if something I’m reading seems too good to be true in that it makes me feel super indignant, I need to take a beat and evaluate where it came from and who else has corroborated it.

How to spot clickbait
Disaster response is hard and messy and new every time. It can always be improved. Always. A reporter recently claimed that the org built just 6 homes in Haiti when it pledged to build many more. It’s a scintillating headline and urges most sensible people to feel outraged and indignant. If you look into the situation a bit more, you’ll learn that permanent homebuilding wasn’t politically possible, so the org pivoted to other impactful projects. Its crime was not swindling and lying, but in not being able to capture press attention when it had to change strategies.

This fact hasn’t stopped the story from flying around the web without context. I’ve learned to think about the motivations of the author and to consider other viewpoints than the one being presented in everything I read. It takes a little longer, just like the truth, but it’s worth it.

Everyone wants to feel part of something bigger than themselves
Viral social media content is the best example I’ve ever seen that we all just want to belong. It’s fun and rewarding for us to join in sharing content that reinforces our belonging to groups. This is generally fine, but we owe it to ourselves and our society to push ourselves to look beyond our own groups and viewpoints. We owe it to ourselves to tear down our walls of comfort rather than build them higher.
Out of these lessons, I have started this pledge for how we might all approach consuming and sharing news. I need help and feedback and more viewpoints included:

Pledge for Consuming and Sharing News
I pledge to be an active and responsible consumer and spreader of content.

To read the entire piece of content before I share or comment on it,
To pause and question when a piece of content reinforces or shocks my views,
To consider alternative points of view before I comment or share,
To know who the author and publisher of the content is,
To check whether the content has been validated by more than one source,
To push platform owners to expand our viewpoints rather than continually reinforce them,
To invite constructive disagreement and debate about ideas and actions,
To ...

Jun 24, 2016

Daily Questions

Nerd alert. For the last two years I have been tracking my daily life by answering a set of questions designed to help me reach my goals. The questions change with my goals and other life circumstances, but the practice is always there. 

I traveled this week and found it hard to do as well on Health as I wanted.

How I Started Daily Questions
Introduced to the concept of daily questions in my American Red Cross LEAD program, which is a cohort of employees there being groomed for executive positions, my colleague Carrie and I teamed up and committed to talking to each other every morning for 15 minutes to go over our progress from the previous day. Sometimes these conversations are like therapy and other times a mechanical checking of the box, but every day we are held accountable to one another. 

How Our Daily Questions Practice Has Evolved
I left the American Red Cross in January, so Carrie and I agreed to continue to do our questions daily but to talk just on Fridays. We skip some of them because our schedules are nutso, but by and large we continue to support one another in this nerdy way. 

My questions are divided into 4 categories: Health, Wellness, Learning, and Work Performance, with 3-5 subquestions designed to push me to reach my overall goals. Most of the answers are simple yes, no, with 3 qualitative questions I treat sort of like a diary. 

Since Carrie and I talk on Fridays, I organized my questions to showcase Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday rather than a traditional work week. 

Additional Motivation: Adding Grades
About a month ago, I decided to take it up a notch. I am continually embarrassed that I don't know as much about what's possible with spreadsheets as I should, so I decided to use my questions to teach myself a few formulas and some conditional formatting. I coded the yes/no questions as 1s and 0s, and averaged my scores by category and activity horizontally, and by each day's performance vertically. I then average my scores for the week to give myself a weekly grade. 

It's much tougher to get all As on this report than it ever was in school. 

Week of May 30

Week of June 6

June 13

Jun 18, 2016

Alligator Attacks in Florida from 1970s to now

I grew up in Stuart, FL. I learned to water ski in the St. Lucie River, and I know that river better than I know how to use social media in disasters.

I've never looked at a single body of water without figuring it has an alligator in it, but realize now that's a byproduct of the location of my upbringing. I don't assume I will be attacked, but I respect the possibility and stay aware.

I mapped where and when alligator attacks happen, based on this wikipedia list and this Orlando Sentinel article:

Here's the breakdown of the time of year alligator attacks happen:

Quick side story. My family and I were lucky in July 2011 to attend the final shuttle launch STS-135 Atlantis at Cape Canaveral. My cousin's little boy had fun learning to say, "3,2,1 ... blastoff!" We cheered and hollered while witnessing this historic event in real life. As we walked back to our car when it was over, there was an alligator chillin' in the parking lot. I don't think the little boy remembers the shuttle launch at all, and he reports that the exciting thing that happened that day was seeing an alligator by the car!