21 Oct

Think before you share: How to spot an online hoax

Social media users are among the worst for clicking share absent-mindedly. It was only this morning that I saw street artist Banksy has been arrested yet again (he hasn’t). Lately we’ve also seen a three-breasted woman, reports of being able to charge your new iPhone in a microwave,  and so many crazy things reported about the latest Ebola outbreak.

Everyone can afford to be a little more skeptical about online reporting. Here are some top tips:Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 10.03.30

1. Evaluate it’s likelihood.

I remember a couple of years ago there was a story that surfaced that claimed ‘SAMSUNG PAYS APPLE $1 BILLION SENDING 30 TRUCKS FULL OF 5 CENT COINS’. They didn’t. They most definitely didn’t. You couldn’t fit $1billion in 5 cent coins into 30 trucks. You couldn’t even fit them into 1000 trucks. And you most certainly couldn’t get your hands on that many coins in the first place. This interesting article from the Guardian explains in more detail why.

2. Evaluate the source.

Just because something was retweeted thousands of times on Twitter doesn’t make it true. Actually, more credible sources sometimes get it wrong too. The problem with journalism in the digital age is stories are shared so quickly and can be written by absolutely anyone that myth can easily be taken as fact by thousands, even millions of people. So what is a good rule to go by? “If a story is viral, truth may be taking a beating”.

3. Is it satire?

There are some really excellent satirical news sites out there. I still see people sharing these articles with shocked emoticons or outraged tag lines attached. Then about ten or so of their friends replying with equally angry comments before someone has to point out their mistake.

4. Do I really know what I’m sharing?

The internet has exploded with info graphics and memes lately. Anyone can create one, and anyone can make them for their own agendas. This means that if you see a picture of a melancholy pensioner with a caption that angrily states his pension is less than that of an immigrant, alongside some facts and figures, it’s probably best that you stop to consider the bigger picture.

One of the biggest culprits of this is Britain First and their ruthless Facebook campaign.

As Another Angry Voice states, “Britain First use populist infographics to dupe unsuspecting people into following their hate group. In between Islamophobic rants and immigration lies the Britain First admins intersperse images that the majority of people agree with (infographics decrying animal cruelty, anti-paedophilia memes, support our troops/football team memes, don’t leave dogs in hot cars memes …) so that ordinary people get hooked in to following their page.”. Read the full article here.

Ease of communication with millions around the world is one of the most exciting things about the world we live in today. Just use the power wisely. Remember George Orwell’s novel 1984, and the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history. We were always told “don’t believe everything you read”, which is now more relevant than ever.

Boromir meme

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16 Mar

The best bits of Facebook

There’s so many things I hate about Facebook. I think we all despise it in some way. The lack of privacy, the endless inane drivel, the social politics… the list goes on.

I stick with it though, but why?

Half of me feels forced. It would be foolish to exclude myself completely from this big player in the social networking scene, at least for now. The other half sticks around because I wouldn’t want to miss the few pieces of absolute gold found somewhere amongst the dirt. Scrolling past the selfies, food porn and cryptic status updates begging for attention, I stumbled upon the two best Facebook pages I follow.

  1. Humans of New York – Posts that include a photograph of a person and a caption. That’s all there is to it. The person will be snapped in New York, mainly in the street going about their daily business, and the caption will be a quote from the person. It is beautiful, and so well put together that every post is intriguing and thought-provoking in a way that I never thought possible. People are wonderful things, mostly, and they all have their own stories, opinions, beliefs, issues, heartache and love. Take a look. I promise you won’t be disappointed. (Full website here).Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 18.32.20
  2. I f***ing love science – or the more child/work-friendly Science Is Awesome. I want to read at least 90% of the things posted on this page. It’s the fun and interesting side to science; new discoveries, amazing facts, microscopy images, animations of the way things in the universe work. It’s just a great collection of things. (Full website here).Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 18.29.35

It’s worth staying just for the exposure to these delights (of course, StumbleUpon is much better at this…). Do you have a favourite Facebook page that never fails to brighten your day? Let me know in the comment box below.

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15 Dec

Escape the Titanic: A “Free” App

It’s not. I’m going to start off by saying it most definitely isn’t free.

Escape-the-Titanic

I downloaded this app because I love the film, and it was on the trending list on Android Play. But after playing a really fun, well-designed puzzle game for maybe twenty minutes (I wasn’t timing, but it didn’t feel like long), I got to a stage where it asked me to pay to continue with either answers or hints. They are both paid-for options. The other option was a tiny ‘no thanks’ link at the bottom. Naturally, I pressed ‘no thanks’ and waited to continue without my answers or hints.

mzl.lblbdyqg

It took me back to the main menu. I pressed the play button and it the same ‘answers or hints’ screen loaded. You can’t progress without paying for hints. It’s 61p for hints, and £1.85 for full answers. So, not a lot for the hints but as this review from Gamezebo points out, the hints are just basic instructions and not at all helpful.

But I wouldn’t know. I refuse to pay for a game that calls itself free. And a quick scan of the reviews on the Android app store reveals that a lot of other people have felt duped by this too. Okay, so you get a few puzzles for free, but it should at least come clean in the description.

As for the few puzzles I did play, I did think it was fun. I like a good puzzle game as much as the next geek, and the imagery was great too. I felt like a cartoon Jack Dawson.

It’s a shame it was advertised as free, when it should have just been advertised as 61p. It’s better to have less people downloading the app, than making everyone annoyed by it!IMG_2737

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20 Nov

I hate love hate Candy Crush

I’ve been addicted to this app, Candy Crush Saga, since its 2012 release. Originally a Facebook game, it is theraputic as well as frustrating. King has done a good job of keeping me hooked, but I hate it too. I’ve spent too long shuffling little sweetie icons around my phone but somehow I can’t stop!

Candy Crush Saga for Android Screenshot

Candy Crush Saga screenshot

I only have two rules.

  1. Never ever post anything to Facebook (a great way to annoy your buddies).
  2. Never pay for any upgrades. I say this because where is the fun and sense of triumph in just paying your way through the game? It’s possible, no matter how many weeks/months it takes to complete that one level… and a lot of people have been caught out spending a little here and there, to find they end up with a bill that could have paid for their groceries that month.

I would advise not to even download this app unless you spend most of your days looking for things to fill your time with. I wish I hadn’t. I’m now stuck in an endless cycle of brightly coloured sweets. At the time of writing, I’m on level 320 and I would hate to find out how much time I’ve spent on the thing. It’s brilliant though. It’s so addictive and it is cleverly designed to give you a little victory just at the moment you are about to give up. The little animations in-between games are delightful and the whole app looks and works fabulously.

Try it, or don’t, but I can’t be held responsible for any time lost by downloading this app.

Someone actually made these. Stud earrings available from beadhappy08 on Etsy.co.uk

Someone actually made these. Candy Crush stud earrings available from beadhappy08 on Etsy.co.uk

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09 Nov

The e-reader battle continues: Amazon infiltrates bookstores

E-reader

I was one of the early ones to switch sides and invest in a Kindle. I had the Kindle Keyboard for years, until the screen recently stopped showing nicely formed letters and started showing lines instead. I loved my Kindle so much that my most recent Valentine’s gift from a very generous husband of mine was a brand new Kindle Fire. It has become one of my most used gadgets, along with my smartphone and my laptop.

I love my new Kindle, despite it not having nearly as much battery life as my old faithful Keyboard, it’s definitely nicer to use, and has other functions that I use regularly and wouldn’t know now how to live without.

My favourite being the touch screen and automatic dictionary definition search. I’m reading a book, and stumble across a word I’m not familiar with. Previously, I would either whip out my phone and spent a minute searching it on there, or just make a reasonable guess from its context. Neither of these options really satisfied my thirst for quick, easy bursts of knowledge.

Now, I simply touch and hold the word I want to look up and a definition summary pops up on screen. Five seconds later, I’ve learnt a new word and I carry on reading knowing that I’m gaining a little from the whole experience. Brilliant.

I’ve been converted well-and-truly. I still prefer real paper books for certain things. Kids books don’t work as well on an e-reader in my opinion, and reference books, and books about art and design with a lot of images. I still have a small bookcase that houses these glorious items and I won’t ever give these up.

But for a regular novel, I have never looked back.

I have read some absolutely wonderful books, all stored safely on my Amazon account, taking up the space of less than one book and each one costing less too. From a consumer’s perspective, what is not to love?

At the same time, I would hate to see bookshops disappear altogether. More and more people are now adopting e-readers, and a quick Google search for “how many people own an ereader” returns some interesting research showing how massively they have taken off.

The most recent development is a move by Amazon to try and get independent bookshops to sell Kindles by offering them a small cut of e-book sales after the sale of the e-reader. I can only see how this will benefit Amazon, furthering their reach but hindering the other parties more, and that is the general consensus among high-street booksellers. What is to stop the customer going directly to Amazon?

The war between high-street and online rages on.

I don’t even know which side I am on. Can I chose both?

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24 Oct

The way in which we get customer service

It is never a good decision to give customers just one way to get in touch. There are times when an email is best – you don’t want to hang around on hold listening to the same song over and over, and it’s not that urgent anyway.

Sometimes a quick phone call is all it needs, then you can stop worrying and know that everything is sorted.

Phone Clock

Can technology reduce the amount of time we spend waiting on the phone?

And sometimes, yes even in this digital age, a letter is what is needed. I recently sent a letter to a company telling them what a good member of staff they had. It’s rare, but it does happen.

It’s irritating to say the least when a company is faceless. Take eBay for instance. How do you get in touch with someone just to explain a situation? It took me too long to find a number. I am certain that this is no accident.

We all have to deal with the endless phone queues though. As I write, I have been listening to the same ‘thank you for waiting, we will answer your call as soon as possible’ for over 15 minutes. All I want is a new PIN number. It’s not even an account I use much. Please, why is there no online contact form that I can just fill out and they can send me a new one?

Banks, council offices, utility companies, doctors surgeries, dentists… why is there no easy way to contact them? You’d think, in this day and age, they would have figured out that the longer they keep us waiting, the less likely they will be to get a polite and understanding customer on the end of the line?

There has to be a solution to this problem. Internet chat has come the closest for me, except at the point when they are clearly reading from a script – or when the problem is far from solved and they say ‘is there anything else I can help you with today?’

Surely technology can help with this. We are supposed to be in an age of global communication, and I have to wait twenty minutes to speak to someone in a bank I could have crawled to in this time.

 

*Note – 35 minutes and I gave up. What a way to make an issue out of something so routine!
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