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As a digital ghost town, the outdated Yelp pages for Paradise (as seen online) are the equivalent of boarded-up windows in abandoned storefronts with the lights left on. What makes looking at the former version of Paradise online feel transgressive (voyeuristic or recreational) is the fact that it hasn’t been properly updated to reflect its current status. Roland Barthes explains in Mythologies that images which shock are horrifying because we are electively looking at them from a safe distance, looking outward from “inside our freedom.” Street View, of course, is not an “interior view,” yet the images of fire-damaged and gutted abodes feels wholly invasive — semi-permanent and digital fodder for desk-bound looky-loos, “outside” and “in public” and therefore invaded by our view. A ghost town hangs onto traces of life for a distanced but recreational experience, but images of ruins feel more akin to incidental snapshots; Street View and the Cal Fire images let us look with nose pressed to the screen as private voyeurs.

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What makes a tweet believable?

Generic picture of person texting

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At times of natural disasters, terror attacks or unrest, Twitter lights up with first-hand experiences, emotion, rumours and speculation. The bigger the news, the more sensational a story, the more noise there is, the further information travels and the harder it becomes to detect the truth. Yet this is when it is also most important to sort out fact from fiction from the frenzied maelstrom of social media.

That’s when swearing comes in. Cussing is one of the clues to figuring out whether a tweet is coming from someone caught up in a major news event rather than a fraud. Letting off a string of expletives seems a natural reaction to a life-or-death scenario.

The f-word turns out to be one of the ingredients in the magic formula sought by scientists studying how to automatically rank the credibility of individual messages. At times of stressful events, such as a plane crash or natural disaster, swear words tend to suggest a message comes from someone in the middle of it all.

Scientists trying to detect the language of truth are less concerned about the actual content of a message. For them, the clues to truth lie in the wording and punctuation of a message.