I have worked at the Leddy Library since 1999 when I was hired as a Science Librarian. In my over twenty years at Leddy, I have been Department Head of the Information Services Department, Acting Head of the Access Services Department, and since July 1st, the Acting Head of the library’s System Department.
From Science Librarian, I transitioned into the role of User Experience Librarian, and then Scholarly Communications Librarian. While doing so, I also covered a variety of liaison roles for my colleagues, including geospatial-related liaison work when our Geospatial & Data Analyst was on maternity leave. For one year, I was the Clinical Medical Librarian of the Windsor Campus of the Western Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Starting on September 1st, I will be leaving my current role of Acting Head of our Systems Department to take on another Acting role, but this time, it will be outside of the Leddy Library.
§1 Information traps, data voids, rabbit holes, the IKEA effect, and guided apophenia
We already know that
Let us consider how Google’s Knowledge Graph is not only bad, but it is quietly damaging democracy.
The trouble is, many users still rely on Google to fact-check information, and doing so might strengthen their belief in false claims. This is not only because Google sometimes delivers misleading or incorrect information, but also because people I spoke with for my research believed that Google’s top search returns were “more important,” “more relevant,” and “more accurate,” and they trusted Google more than the news—they considered it to be a more objective source. Many said the Knowledge Graph might be the only source they consult, but few realized how much Google has changed—that it is not the search engine it once was. In an effort to “do their own research,” people tend to search for something they saw on Facebook or other social media platforms, but because of the way content has been tagged and categorized, they are actually falling into an information trap.
This idea has been around in various forms for a while now.
danah boyd in her 2018 essay, You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? tells the story of the ramifications of one person following a particularly problematic phrase down a rabbit hole:
In 2012, it was hard not to avoid the names Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but that didn’t mean that most people understood the storyline. In South Carolina, a white teenager who wasn’t interested in the news felt like he needed to know what the fuss was all about. He decided to go to Wikipedia to understand more. He was left with the impression that Zimmerman was clearly in the right and disgusted that everyone was defending Martin. While reading up on this case, he ran across the term “black on white crime” on Wikipedia and decided to throw that term into Google where he encountered a deeply racist website inviting him to wake up to a reality that he had never considered. He took that red pill and dove deep into a worldview whose theory of power positioned white people as victims. Over a matter of years, he began to embrace those views, to be radicalized towards extreme thinking. On June 17, 2015, he sat down for an hour with a group of African-American church-goers in Charleston South Carolina before opening fire on them, killing 9 and injuring 1.
In 2019, boyd worked with Michael Golebiewski to write a report explaining the phenomenon and danger of the data void:
Michael Golebiewski of Microsoft coined the term “data void” in May 2018 to describe search engine queries that turn up little to no results, especially when the query is rather obscure, or not searched often.
In Data Voids: Where Missing Data Can Easily Be Exploited, Golebiewski teams up with danah boyd (Microsoft Research; Data & Society) to demonstrate how data voids are exploited by manipulators eager to expose people to problematic content including falsehoods, misinformation, and disinformation.Data Voids: Where Missing Data Can Easily Be Exploited, October 29 2019
Information traps and data voids lie in wait for participants who stumble upon them as they act on the impulse or the directive to “do their own research”.
Francesca Bolla Tripodi calls this concept, “The IKEA effect of misinformation” in her new book The Propagandists’ Playbook:
Business scholars have found that when consumers build their own merchandise, they value the product more than an already assembled item of similar quality—they feel more competent and therefore happier with their purchase. Conspiracy theorists and propagandists are drawing on the same strategy, providing a tangible, do-it-yourself quality to the information they provide. Independently conducting a search on a given topic makes audiences feel like they are engaging in an act of self-discovery when they are actually participating in a scavenger-hunt engineered by those spreading the lies.
Sorry libraryland, but the article that I have found that helped me the best understand how all of these components come together is A Game Designer’s Analysis of QAnon:
Apophenia is : “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)” …
QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.
QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.
There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at.
§2 The only remaining practical use-case for Boolean
§3 CUZ THE ZOTERO PLUG-IN TOLD IT TO
Not enough people know that your Zotero browser extension is the best and only link resolver you really need.
§4 I work-shopped this on Twitter.
I stand by the above. Fight me.