My Media Diet – (With a Generous Helping of Misinformation)

Tuesday January 11, 2022

7 am: As I silenced the alarm, I saw I had one notification on Facebook. It was a message from the Marketplace for Nike sneakers that the algorithm thought “I might like.” I didn’t. I felt like Charlie Brown: I didn’t get a cheerful good morning from an old friend, or a joyful announcement from a family member, I got an ad.

8 am: Opened up Twitter, lots of people playing “Wordle.” I’m not tempted to see what all the hype is about. I only play two online games, both analog immigrants to the digital world – the card game Euchre and Sudoku – that’s enough for me. I have no time to waste, the new semester’s begun. I start listening to a lecture for my course on War and Media.

9 am: As I make myself an egg muffin, I listen to Seth Meyer’s “Closer Look” segment. He is broadcasting remotely again, having contracted Covid despite being vaccinated and boosted. He attributes his less severe symptoms to the vaccine. The rest of the segment skewered Senator Ted Cruz for backtracking on his 1/6 insurrection comments in a TV appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show.

10 am: While going through the course readings for Misinformation and Society, I came across this sentence:

“In 1977, Fisher cofounded the Manhattan Institute in the United States with George Casey, who managed Reagan’s successful 1980 presidential campaign, and later became his CIA director.”

I read this in Chapter 1 of The Disinformation Age and knew it was incorrect, so I Googled and found that the man’s name was William J Casey, who was also Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs under Richard Nixon. He was a notorious figure who I plan to look at in greater detail at a later date. I returned to my coursework.

11 am: I looked at my phone notifications and read an AP story about Myanmar and how they have imprisoned former president Aung San Su Kyi and continue adding criminal charges in the aftermath of a military coup.

12 pm: As I was heating up my lunch, I played the online card game Euchre. I use the free version, so after every round or two there is an ad to watch or click through. When an ad for a Dr. Oz sponsored diet popped up I knew I’d need to scrutinize that ad.

1 pm: Walked the dog and listened to Top Think’s 12 Simple Habits You Should Do Every Day. Then I returned to my studies

2 -5 pm: Turned off my phone to charge and set up my folders and materials for this semester on my computer, listened to lectures, took notes and continued reading until my wife and son returned home.

6 pm: Cooked stir fry and listened to the greatest hits of Yes.

7 pm: After dinner, I scrolled through Twitter and Facebook and found someone had posted Norm MacDonald’s performance at the Comedy Central Roast for the late Bob Saget. Norm bombs, on purpose in a master class of absurdist performance art, a la Andy Kaufman.

8 – 10 pm: My wife and I binge watch three episodes of the French police drama, Astrid. It is well worth the time.

11 pm – 6am: lights out – alarms set

My Twitter and Facebook feeds were relatively free of questionable content. Most of the misinformation I see daily comes from my family and friends on Facebook. My three step-brothers are right-wing anti-vaxxers who have had Covid twice and relentlessly share conspiracy theories and pro-Trump propaganda. They didn’t pop into my feed on the day I kept my log because I mute them for a month at a time whenever they post something ridiculous or offensive. (Yes, they’re usually muted) One came back into my feed today with this “delightful” meme. (Yes, he’s muted again)

It wasn’t too hard to find coverage that disputed the claims made in the Dr. Oz ad. This article from US News and World report said buyer beware, calling it a “celebrity-pitched diet.” It turns out – this isn’t even the same diet!

The Total 10 diet is from 7 years ago! In the same game where I saw the Dr. Oz diet, there was another weight loss ad, a Keto supplement with Mehmet Oz that had appeared on Shark Tank (Spoiler Alert: it hadn’t) – I was skeptical, and I found this fact check in USA Today. Now I’m not sure if this is the same product either, because when I searched “shark tank diet keto pills” on Yahoo, the search engine returned 327,000 results – including an ad for Noom and imposter sites like “ConsumeReview” which at first glance looks like Consumer Reports. Confused? In the world of misinformation that’s a feature, not a bug.

Keeping a 24-hour log of my media intake during the first week of classes showed me that I regularly spend many hours reviewing course materials and other content related to those materials. I have no problem looking up a definition or a deeper dive into the topic, occasionally taking a detour into unrelated but interesting information. I tend to choose content to engage with based on my interest in the subject and availability. I listen to humorous clips, music, or podcasts while doing daily chores. Or I might pull up a ten-minute late-night show monologue as I take a shower. In other corners of the internet, YouTube especially, I see a lot of questionable content, and later in the week, I inadvertently created some myself. 

I was up late Wednesday, binge-watching Boba Fett on Disney+ when I saw this from CNN.

I didn’t read the article. I took the headline and ran with it. People in my Twitter feed were also talking about Senator Durbin’s remarks, so I created this snarky tweet at 1 am Thursday.

Others in the media had seized on the Senator’s comments as well.

I saw the entire Durbin clip in the morning and realized that Senator Durbin wasn’t denouncing President Biden’s tough talk; he was justifying it. Later that day, CNN reframed the story.

In the wee hours of the night, I let my emotions get the better of me and created a sloppy tweet.

I’ve deleted that meme, but I feel guilty – I know better.

In times like these, I realize how lucky I am to have so few followers. 😉

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