Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) newsletter #97

Welcome to issue #97 of TL;DR. This is a weekly synthesis of things you need to know about education, technology, and literacy. Feel free to share with someone that you believe would benefit. Subscribe to this newsletter if you haven’t already.

This week’s issue is all about resisting bots & weaponized disinformation.

I try to keep the information below a bit brief. This week there is far more detail, and nuance as events of the week pulled together some important themes. Please read across the links and let me know if you see the same patterns that I do.

This week I had a great chat with Peggy Semingson about teaching & learning in higher ed. You can watch the video here.

Please get in touch with me at You can review archives of the newsletter here or on Medium. I also share the quotes at the bottom of the newsletter on Instagram.


Net Neutrality II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (19:32)

We’ve talked a lot about net neutrality here in TL;DR and the ultimate effects on the Internet and your freedoms. John Oliver brought this issue to the attention of many with his previous piece on the FCC. If you’re trying to make sense of net neutrality, I recommend watching both of these videos. Please note that these two videos contain some language that is NSFW.

This latest video gives an update to the net neutrality debate and the current politics of the situation. In the video, Oliver instructs his viewers to flood the FCC website to urge the FCC to keep strong net neutrality rules. The caused the FCC website to crash for a period of time due to the traffic.

In response to this, a flood of bots have been leaving comments on the FCC websitethat run contrary to the work from this initiative started by Oliver.

I think in our future we’ll need to make plans and policy to address these swarms of bots that are released to sway public opinion.


Why the Macron hacking attack landed with a thud in France

This past week, the French election was held and a lot of eyes were watching to see the effects of the media, spammers, bots, and hackers on the results. I was paying a lot of attention as I’ve seen the effects of these forces in the Brexit vote, and in the U. S. Presidential election.

I definitely recommend reading the following pieces for more background on the hacks and disinformation attacks surrounding the election:

The final verdict on the role of these forces in the French election appears to be that hacking and disinformation attempts failed to sway the election. It is still too early to fully understand the different forces and decisions that addressed these attacks. Nevertheless, we need to study these events to identify ways to address future concerns.

Human-robot interactions take step forward with “emotional” chatbot

Last year after the Facebook Developer’s Conference, I spent some time thinking about the potential future uses of bots, and most specifically chatbots in educational contexts. A bot is basically a set of scripts, or a program that is taught to act in specific ways. It automates functions you would typically perform on your own.

This piece in The Guardian discusses advances in “emotional chatting machines” or ECMs that have the ability to produce factually coherent answers while also imbuing emotions into responses.

I think there are tremendous opportunities to develop chatbots, or ECMs for use in working with students to support them to answer basic questions. Perhaps they can also provide some praise and critique along the way.

My thinking on this was all thanks to this post from Terry Freedman.

Hacker steals millions of user account details from education platform Edmodo

Congrats, if you’re an Edmodo user, your information (usernames, email addresses, hashed passwords) may be for sale on the dark web.

The for-profit breach notification site LeakBase shared a sample of over two-million user records for verification purposes. The passwords have been “hashed” with strong encryption. This means that hackers still have a lot of work to do to access your actual login credentials.

I think there are several key takeaways from this report. Hacks like this will occur, and will continue to occur. It’s important to make sure all individuals can quickly and easily change their password, or delete their account at any point. Do not use the same password for all accounts. Use a password manager and two factor authentication for your login credentials.

Why so many web-fueled protest movements hit a wall

This post from Zyenep Tufecki in the MIT Technology Review shares some insight from her upcoming book, Twitter and Teargas: The power and fragility of networked protest. In this post, Tufecki shares the challenges that exist as we try to move online outrage and connections to the real world.

Tufecki notes:

When you looked at the March on Washington in 1963, you were seeing the Civil Rights movement’s organizational strength, the effort and discipline it took to be out in those numbers. The recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C., was also very large, but it was the first step of a potential movement, not the culmination of a decade of work. Without a Twitter hashtag or Excel spreadsheets to do your logistics, you really had to build a lot of [organizational] muscle. If you want to be a credible threat to the powers that be, you need to build those muscles.

Antigonish 2.0: A way for higher ed to help save the Web

Bonnie Stewart shares a model to potentially use web tools and distributed groups to build an infrastructure to add some “gatekeepers” to the knowledge and power available online.

Stewart posits the following three layer infrastructure to galvanize collective action at global, regional, and local levels:

  • Layer one — A distributed international network of media and education leaders who develop, curate, and maintain a resource hub using the #Antigonish2 hashtag.
  • Layer two — Building institutional capacity & inclusive citizenship in classrooms from K up through higher ed to develop regional hubs of expertise, resources, and conversation.
  • Layer three — “Study clubs” that consist of people in their own communities focusing on needs and interests as consumers in an attention economy.

Stewart closes the piece by indicating that this may be the lever needed to reopen the web to its participatory, democratic potential.


10 apps for writing and collaboration

Jesse Stommel shares insights as he works to abandon Google Docs in search of another writing platform. Stommel explores a variety of writing platforms and shares insight as to their value in his workflow.

As I’ve been leaving Evernote, I have started to use Google Docs more often. With the recent news about the Google Docs hacks, I’ve been thinking about running my own, open source version of Evernote.

I recommend problematizing your writing and collaboration workflow to see if there is a better system that works for you and your team.


FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real

- Unknown

Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) #97

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