Trump, Prostitutes, and 4chan. Still want to ban sites that publish fake news?

Today the big story on the web is that a story leaked from a ‘British intelligence officer’ about Russia blackmailing Donald Trump, published by BuzzFeed, and then dutifully re-posted by other major established media outlets was allegedly made up by posters on 4chan.

Whilst the articles state that the claims are ‘unverified’, and ‘contain errors’, it appears that there has been very little in the way of fact checking or corroboration of sources going on. Indeed, publishing allegations without due dilligence is exactly the operational basis of other sites that don’t fall under the banner of ‘credible’ media. The fact is that the outcome in either case is the same: either willingly or blindly (through a desire to publish content first to drive advertising revenue), these sites are spreading misinformation. Looking at the Mirror’s coverage, one would be forgiven for thinking that the info was at least partially credible:

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It’s all too easy to scoff at the Mirror, or BuzzFeed. Nobody takes them seriously after all; everybody knows that! That clearly isn’t actually the case, and it demonstrates the problem with the reactionary drive towards ‘banning’ or filtering sites that publish fake news from online platforms.

Of course, these claims to have made up the story could very well be made up themselves… but that doesn’t invalidate the criticism. If anything, it highlights the issue with asking or expecting third parties such as online service providers to filter out untrue content.

To echo the questions I raised in my previous post on this topic: Exactly what constitutes fake news, where do we draw the line, at what point do ‘credible’ news sources lose that credibility, and who makes those determinations? Should BuzzFeed articles be removed from Facebook? What about The Mirror? What about CNN? Maybe only articles claiming to have made up fake news should be treated as fake news. Where does it stop?

For an interesting read on this that was shared by my colleague Davide recently, check out this page:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/08/blaming-fake-news-not-the-answer-democracy-crisis

It only gets worse when charges of fake news come from the media, which, due to the dismal economics of digital publishing, regularly run dubious “news” of their own. Take the Washington Post, that rare paper that claims to be profitable these days. What it has gained in profitability, it seems to have lost in credibility.

Edit: I published this earlier today before Trump’s press conference, and felt compelled to update it as a result of what he said. Responding to questions from the media, he apparently decided to pick up the ‘fake news’ mantle:

When Jim Acosta, Senior White House Correspondent for CNN, attempted to ask Trump a question, the President-elect refused to answer. “Not you. Your organization is terrible,” Trump said. “I’m not going to give you a question, you are fake news.”
So now Trump has appropriated the term ‘fake news’ to thwart off any criticism without response. That’s what happens when you set up an empty vessel as something that is inherently wrong with no real definition. This should have been easy to avoid. – (source)

This is precisely why setting up a straw man term such as ‘fake news’ is so dangerous, because an empty vessel that is inherently bad without any clear definition leaves the power in the hands of those who want to wield it for their own ends. If we want to try and combat ‘fake news’, we first need to understand what it is we are fighting against. Otherwise, the question becomes whether it is our version of fake news that is bad, or Donald Trump’s?

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Productivity Apps: Hazel

Time for another look at one of the tools I’ve found that has come to be invaluable in staying productive whilst working online. That is ‘Hazel’: a personal maid for your computer.

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CC Picture by ‘Robert Wade’

No, not that kind…

This kind:

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Hazel is the most wonderful sort of productivity app, because you just set it up, and let it go. It carries on quietly in the background making sure that your Mac is kept clean and organised without you having to worry about anything. It’s so good in fact, that I had forgotten most of the tasks I had designated Hazel to look after, and so had to go back in and check for writing this article.

So what is it for?

I used to always get criticised by colleagues for having a desktop cluttered with all sorts of files – the tech equivalent of having a messy bedroom. The reality was that the desktop was the first place to pop up in the save dialogue, and it was handy to drop things there for quick access. I tried everything to get it under control, including monthly clear outs, and apps like desk drawer… eventually I just hid the icons on the desktop completely, so at least nobody else would know that they were there. The shame.

Hazel takes repetitive tasks like clearing up your desktop, and does it for you automatically. Ever since I hired in her help, my laptop has been more organised than ever before.

How does it work?

Setting Hazel up couldn’t be much simpler. There’s no intrusive menu bar icon (unless you want there to be), and the app runs as from a straightforward preferences pane. Here’s what mine looks like:

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You choose the folder or location on your computer where you want Hazel’s actions to take effect on the left hand side, and then in the right hand side you set up the sort of things you want Hazel to do.

What sort of things can you do?

Let’s take the top example from the above image for a closer look: ‘Move Screenshots to Pics > Screenshots’.

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I take a lot of screenshots throughout the day. Some of them are useless, and should be thrown away eventually, but others are quick notes, or things I want to hang on to for later reference. The default OSX behaviour is to place them on the desktop, which is convenient… at first. It can be a real pain to go through and move them all manually into a different folder. In the above image, you can see that I’ve set up different criteria. Basically if Hazel finds an image on the desktop that contains the words ‘Screen Shot’, it moves that file into a dedicated Screenshots folder under Pictures. That way I know where they all are, and periodically can go through them to see which ones I want to keep. The important thing is, they aren’t cluttering up my desktop, mixed in with all sorts of other guff.

Let’s say you don’t want to keep any of them indefinitely though. All you’re interested in is keeping the screenshots for the amount of time it takes to upload them online somewhere. No problem. Head on back to the main Hazel screen, create a folder grouping on the left for the Screenshots folder, and then create a new action to tell Hazel what to do with them:

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There’s all sorts of things we can have Hazel do here. In this case, if the screenshots have been added more than a week ago, we can get Hazel to Move them to the trash, or maybe Sort them into a subfolder named ‘old’, or archive them… or add tags to remind us to go back and clear them out. There’s all sorts of possibilities.

What’s even cooler is the level of gradation you can get in the timescales:

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You can get pretty specific about when, to make sure you target exactly the files you want.

What do YOU use it for?

Here’s an idea of the things that Hazel does for me:

  • Launches downloaded torrent files, and throws them away afterwards
  • Moves all downloaded, compressed files (zip/rars) into a single folder after 1 day has passed
  • Moves all downloaded RTF, DOC, DOCX, and TXT files into a ‘Misc Documents’ folder in ‘Documents’ after 1 day has passed
  • Moves all downloaded DMG files into a dedicated folder after one day has passed, and then deletes them from there once they get over a month old
  • Moves all downloaded app files into the ‘Applications’ folder (something I always forget!)
  • Moves all downloaded PDF files into a dedicated ‘Misc PDF’ folder under ‘Documents’ after 1 day has passed
  • Organises GIF, JPG, PNG, and PDF files into appropriate folders away from the Desktop
  • Deletes incomplete downloads that are aged from before this quarter

I also make use of the handy Trash settings:

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The above is pretty self explanatory, but essentially it means that I hardly ever have to look at the Trash again.Oh, and the secure deletion option is pretty sweet. Not just restricted to Trash, Hazel can also keep an eye out for when I delete Apps, and offer to clean up the residual files that get left behind. If you later change your mind, and reinstate the application after deleting it, Hazel will offer to reinstall all of the associated preferences files for you!

Hazel keeps things ticking over, without me needing to worry about the little details in life.

But wait, there’s more…

Up until now I’ve really only scraped the tip of the iceberg with what Hazel can do. What I haven’t mentioned is that one of the actions that can be performed is to run an AppleScript or Automator workflow. This means that there are plenty of fairly complicated ways you can make use of Hazel if you sit down and take the time to work out the sort of tasks that would be helpful to your specific workflows. You are only really limited to your imagination (or the extent of AppleScript, anyway).

Here are some examples:

  • Set up a dedicated ‘resizing’ folder, where any images that get dropped in will be resized by Hazel and spat out to a subfolder.
  • Get Hazel to organise different files into different places based on coloured ‘flags’, like learning to ignore certain files from deletion if they are flagged ‘green’.
  • Organise PDFs saved from specific websites into dedicated folders. For example, if you download your payslips every month, Hazel can analyse the source and make sure they get put automatically into the right place.
  • Look out for e-mails from designated people, and send them to a particular Evernote project.

If you come up with any cool workflows, I want to hear from you.

How much and where!?

I know, I know. You want to employ Hazel right now. It’s understandable. You can get a free 14 day trial, or dive right in for a cost of $29 from Noodlesoft here.