S1E14: Vulnerability (Happy Holidays)

Podcast published date: 

Dec 18, 2020


Misinfo Weekly Episode 14: Holiday Vulnerability

Fri, 12/18 4:40PM • 38:01


misinformation, vulnerability, people, vulnerable, context, community, talking, information, individual, facebook, thinking, information literacy, news, part, outcome, networks, consuming, important, level, trust


Shawn Walker, Michael Simeone


Michael Simeone  00:00

This is Misinfo Weekly, a somewhat weekly program about misinformation in our time. Misinfo Weekly is made by the Unit for Data Science and Analytics at Arizona State University Library.

Hello, and welcome. It is Friday, December 11, 2020. And we are here with our holiday episode. We anticipate that this episode will probably be the last one that comes out before the holidays. And so it's holiday themed. Shawn, what are we talking about today?


Shawn Walker  00:28

They were talking about vulnerability. Sounds familiar? Right?


Michael Simeone  00:30

It's a perfect, hol, yeah, right. I think, the holidays, everyone feels...we put on a brave...like a stiff upper lip during the holidays and we smile. But, deep down we're all very vulnerable.


Shawn Walker  00:41

Everyone is vulnerable, happy holidays and Happy New Year.


Michael Simeone  00:44

So I guess we'll begin with the idea that everyone is vulnerable. But we want to talk about vulnerability and misinformation. I kind of want to start with this idea of Cambridge Analytica. Shawn, Cambridge Analytica kind of rocked the world a little bit because of how they were using Facebook.


Shawn Walker  01:02

Yes, I think Cambridge Analytica was pretty shocking to a lot of people because of how the information was captured in this fairly sort of secretive down-low...


Michael Simeone  01:11

Seemed innocuous, right?


Shawn Walker  01:13

Yeah, I fill out a Facebook quiz. And then now this application has access to all of my Facebook data. And that wasn't on the list of things that I thought was going to happen whenever I was trying to figure out which say, you know, Harry Potter house, I should be part of.


Michael Simeone  01:27

Right. And, you know, just the idea that you could even have computational psychology, and that people could be profiled to the depths that they were profiled in terms of their likely behavior, or what kinds of messages they might be susceptible to, etc, etc.


Shawn Walker  01:43

And anecdotally, I have a lot of colleagues that were surprised because they're supposedly, not supposedly, they are experts in the areas of information and mis-and-disinformation. And even they, too, were fooled or tricked into becoming part of the Cambridge Analytica data processing store.


Michael Simeone  02:02

Yeah. And I think just how insidious it can be. And you know, how people hadn't encountered something like this before, knowingly. And so it sneaks up on folks. It is ingenious in, in how it works, and then what it's able to do. But I feel like, you know, why we're talking about Cambridge Analytica right now is I think this is one of those kind of headline examples of how someone's misinformation operation can get a lot of attention. Or if we think about, say, the origin of a misinformation campaign or disinformation campaign, and we track it back to a Russian troll farm, or, you know, a botnet, I think a lot of times when misinformation makes the news, it's because of detective work to figure out where it came from, and to try to ascertain the intentions and tactics of the people disseminating the disinformation.


Shawn Walker  02:58

Well, we've had cases of, you know, vaccine conspiracy theories. And, but I think 2019 and 2020 have been sort of qualitatively different misinformation environments, it's felt different to a lot of folks because of the pervasive out front nature of the mis and disinformation this year, it's been less.... It's been less secretive in a way, or at least it seems less secretive.


Michael Simeone  03:28

Absolutely, absolutely. And it, you know, but even then, right, if it's disinformation, being kind of put out there by a political figure, we still talk about the motivations and the tactics behind the misinformation. And so I think, you know, talking about Cambridge Analytica, or revisiting it, or thinking about a lot of the kind of elaborate attention paid to the origins of disinformation, or even now, as you've mentioned, great more recently thinking about disinformation as a political tool that's just out there in the open, that is becoming more normalized. There's so much attention on intention, there's so much attention on why a current operator or group of operators is doing the misinformation or what their purposes. But that's a little different from vulnerability, or I think that makes it more important that we talk about vulnerability.


Shawn Walker  04:16

In one way, I think of the assumptions that we make about why we might be vulnerable. And those assumptions are predicated upon how we expect misinformation operations to incur or whether intentional or unintentional, we have this perception of, "I'm going to receive misinformation in this fashion, or it's going to, you know, sneak into my life via X, Y, and Z. So then I think I'm vulnerable in these ways, because this is how I assume mis and disinformation works."


Michael Simeone  04:45

Yeah, so your vulnerability is a function of your expectations. Because what you're not expecting is probably where a lot of vulnerability is. Did I sum that up?


Shawn Walker  04:55

Yes, you said that in a much shorter fashion.


Michael Simeone  04:57

Thinking about vulnerability is like turning the camera around. To face the other direction, right? Normally, we think about observing the intentions and tactics of misinforming and disinforming parties. But talking about vulnerability means flipping the camera around to yourself and asking, what are your.... What is your inventory of vulnerabilities, if you will? Or what's the landscape of all the different ways that you could be susceptible to misinformation? These are really hard questions to ask. And in some ways, this kind of conversation is a decent bookend to our very first podcast, for 2020, which was about you know, why information literacy is so difficult. Information literacy in a lot of ways is about evaluating the sources, but it's not about evaluating the reader.


Shawn Walker  05:40

Right, and vulnerability is about your likelihood to respond in most likely negative ways to mis and disinformation. Rather, you're not necessarily being resilient at that moment in time. It's, are you (it's hard to not use the word vulnerable to then describe vulnerable), but when presented with misinformation, are you going to basically buy into that? Or are you able to resist that? And, you know, what are the ways that you might be open to considering that misinformation versus resisting that misinformation?


Michael Simeone  06:15

Yeah, and I think once we start to understand what vulnerability is, then we start to understand how complex misinformation can be. So vulnerability could be believing something that isn't true. Vulnerability could be sharing something that isn't true, or that's like an outcome that you could be vulnerable to, right. So vulnerability is the vulnerability to have a certain outcome happen, right? And what are those outcomes and so believing something that's not true, or sharing something that's not true, or, you know, having your emotional state affected, even if you don't tweet anything out, but you know, feeling more on edge is, is is an effect, right? Even if you don't share one thing, if it snowballs and like makes you more anxious or more angry, so that you share the next thing or the third thing, that that is an outcome that has an impact. And so when we're talking about vulnerabilities, we're not just talking about vulnerable to one particular kind of outcome. In general, we're talking about vulnerability to a whole number of outcomes that are generally favorable to a misinforming party, who generally wants to accomplish things like make people unable to communicate or inhabit any kind of common ground. Sow division and chaos and confusion, create political polarization, etc.


Shawn Walker  07:32

Yes, and we can also be vulnerable to then perform certain actions whether voting, donating, or other actions could be disengagement due to the confusion in the environment. So there are a whole host of goals that someone might have with a miss or disinformation campaign. And some of those goals might necessarily not be so obvious, and over time, by exposure to misinformation can then make us less resilient, to participating in conversations about that information, or make us more vulnerable or open to that information over time, because our defenses have been worn down and we're exhausted or in this heightened emotional state.


Michael Simeone  08:12

There's the set of outcomes, and there are vulnerabilities to make those outcomes happen. And it's important to think about, as you kind of think about how broad the outcomes could be, that helps you get a sense of all the different possible vulnerabilities, there could be. So thinking through, you know, a kind of classic example of just kind of being on Facebook and seeing a story and sharing it. At that point, let's use this as an example to talk through a number of different scales at which to understand vulnerability. So Shawn, and I think about vulnerability in terms of an individual level, collective, or community level, and then a context level. And we'll kind of walk through all of those with this example of scrolling through Facebook, seeing a news article and sharing that news article, so that other people can see it as just a very simple scenario here. Shawn, at the individual level, if someone has just gone through that they see a piece of information on Facebook, it's not true, they share it, what are some of the vulnerabilities that that have been exploited in a situation like this one at the individual level?


Shawn Walker  09:23

So we can go first to various literacies that might be exploited. So if the information is say science related, what is our understanding of science? What is our understanding of the media? What is our level of fatigue? What is our emotional state? So these factors, I think, are kind of first level factors for an individual and then also potentially what group someone is part of and are they part of a specific religious group? Does this misinformation target that group in various ways to make you vulnerable? Are you part of say the LGBTQ population so that information can make you vulnerable if it's connected to that. So we have sort of levels of literacy and levels of comfort with information, then we have these individual factors that in groups that the person belongs to that increases kind of those surfaces of vulnerability. 


Michael Simeone  10:15

Okay, so what I'm hearing here is, on the one hand, there's a certain like capacities that are related to training and education that might have something to do with your vulnerability, to being able to parse out if this story is false or not, or if it's kind of manipulative or not. And then it sounds like there's this other bucket of individual vulnerabilities that has to do with what you want to hear. And what you want to hear sounds like a vulnerability as well. Some of the examples from the summer that you and I have talked about...where and very educated people will share fake stories, is, it's because those stories were something that made that person feel good. And so what you want to hear is, is an important vulnerability to reflect on. You know, I'm also thinking with this example of a Facebook story, when we're thinking about another individual vulnerability is just where like, what your general habits are about where you tend to get your news.


Shawn Walker  11:05

So that's pointing to basically the breadth of information that someone's consuming with respect to news. So as someone only looking at various areas of Facebook, for news, are they only looking at single news sites, so they only consume, say, in the US that have Fox versus only consuming CNN, versus consuming all of that news in various ways to then, you know, have a bigger breadth. So this might be what we call like a sort of a bubble effect. So are they sort of bubbled in a certain environment? Or is their bubble kind of burst and intersects with different environments, things that connect with their existing cognitive beliefs and biases? Or do they also consume material from outlets that might challenge some of their beliefs and biases?


Michael Simeone  11:49

Yeah yeah. And I'm thinking also of the pace of the news that you get, right? If you're only getting your news from Facebook or from Twitter, the pace of the news is super fast. And again, that's one of those things that we keep hearing over and over again, is that the speed at which you consume your news is a contributing factor, is a vulnerability. And so getting your news only on social media can have the unintended outcome of speeding up how quickly you're exposed to news, and really how many different items are in your personal news cycle,


Shawn Walker  12:21

And how you're consuming that news via social media. So if you're watching this unfold via Twitter in real time, then you're getting sort of these various chunks of the story as it develops. So the first couple releases of information about something may have been incorrect. But then as that gets updated, versus reading a new story that's published the next day and say, a newspaper that then takes all of that, and does the fact checking before it's published, and then synthesizes that for the reader. That's different than consuming all this content in real time. And then, in many ways, readers are then acting like sleuths, and journalists in their own right.


Michael Simeone  13:01

Yeah, and I think that that, that goes to the next aspect of this individual vulnerability is just, you know, your participation in this, your trust in institutions, matters as well. Something like QAnon, which is a storm of misinformation relies on people having a fundamental mistrust of institutions, and is anticipating and encouraging that people fill in their own details and want to participate in this kind of thing. And so, in a way, curiosity can be a vulnerability. And furthermore, your orientation toward institutions, right, that part is not surprising, can make or break your vulnerability to certain misinforming narratives. Let's jump out of frame. Now let's think about communities about how at the community level, there can be vulnerability to misinformation.


Shawn Walker  13:56

Well, I'm thinking about what communities you belong to, and how different those communities are from you. Again, going back to, you know, do you connect with a diverse number of news sources? Do you connect with a diverse number of different communities? And who are the gatekeepers in those communities to who controls what information is legitimate? And what information is shared with those communities that can have a huge influence on what sort of mis and disinformation you're receiving and whether or not in those communities you can challenge that information or whether information that circulated within specific communities is sort of the law not to be challenged.


Michael Simeone  14:35

Yeah, and a lot of times when people are exposed to misinformation, they're not exposed to misinformation from the source. In fact, you know, given the network properties of how these different things are propagated, it's likely that you're not going to be coming into contact with the point emitter of the misinformation. You're going to be two or three degrees away. You're going to get a retweet. You're going to get somebody who shared it off somebody else, that's going to be your contact, and so mixed into your kind of decision to believe or to be affected. Or sometimes that's not a decision at all right? But mixed into those impacts is what your relationship is to that other person who shared it. If you're part of a smaller community of people on Facebook, or you don't have as many friends, but you trust them all. And then they're sharing this misinformation that is a vulnerable situation, if you, you know, are at the individual level, you're on Facebook all the time. And that's where you get your news. But at the community level, you're relatively tight knit, infecting those kind of tight knit network groupings becomes something that, you know, there have been studies where people actually see that as a contributing factor that you have a narrow collection of folks that you trust. Once that tips over to the side of misinformation, everybody who's in that little group is at risk. 


Shawn Walker  15:55

And I think that word trust is really important. So depending upon the source of that information, whether that's a leader of a community, like a church or community organization, the leader of that organization, you might trust more, so whenever they spread information, then you're more likely to believe that that is true, or you're going to be less skeptical. Or for example, you know, say we're friends on Facebook and Michael, you send something out, am I going to be more or less skeptical of that? Because of my...my relationship with you? 


Michael Simeone  16:27

Yes. And you know, so the Nadia Bashir is the cognitive psychology researcher, who did one of the studies that looked at, you know, the likelihood of you believing something being dependent on what your friends were doing, and how kind of narrow of a social community you are actually working. In that span or breadth that you were talking about works at the content level, where you know, if we wanted to turn this around very briefly, to talk about best practices, if you wanted to think about best practices is having a broad spectrum of sources that you consider a broad spectrum of people also seems to matter as well for reducing that vulnerability to misinformation.


Shawn Walker  17:08

Do you think there are certain communities or types of communities that make someone more or less vulnerable to mis and disinformation?


Michael Simeone  17:15

So it is the case that other scholars and even in our own experience with looking through data for this podcast, that misinformation tends to skew right, but I would resist any temptation to try to say that, you know, "well, it's these kinds of political communities that are mostly vulnerable." I don't feel like I want to make that kind of judgment call, I would, I would be much more interested in the actual structure of those networks instead. There are other individual vulnerabilities that that we've kind of touched on before that I think are important to think through. And that sometimes really help explain the political valence, and the political impact of different misinforming narratives. If we're just talking about the community level, I don't want to single out any single type of community. But I do think that the way that those communities are structured really matters, right, but they're very insular. And they tend to trust one another. That could be a strength. But that seems like a fragile situation, right? Or maybe brittle is the word that I'm looking for. Right? where it might be hard at first, but then easy to shatter that kind of dynamic. Seems like it could go either way.


Shawn Walker  18:19

Well, excellent. That's more what I was asking, are there sort of attributes or types of communities? Not necessarily, can you name specific, you know, the top five Facebook groups that make you more vulnerable if you're part of them? But more? 


Michael Simeone  18:31

I mean, absolutely. Right? The QAnon followers for AZ, definitely vulnerable to misinformation. I think, you know, I don't want to like peddle around too much, right? If you're a QAnon Facebook group, and you're probably vulnerable to misinformation. And yeah, I don't think that's like a super controversial claim. But yeah, just in terms of I think that some of this other stuff might be more obvious, but just in terms of the networks themselves, yes. You know, the other thing is that how much of your life you spend online, or how invested you are in those networks matters, too. So you know, to some people, they might have a small Facebook network, but they're actually not on Facebook very much. So it might not matter. And so you start to see some of these individual and community properties compound, one another, so that if you at the individual level, you have low trust of institutions, and at the individual level, you're, you know, not that interested in science, or evaluating science or scientific research or medicine, then you're in a community and you're on Facebook all the time, and then you trust a smaller group of people, then when Plandemic comes around, it might be a little bit easier to have that misinforming effect or that suite of misinforming effects happen. So yeah, just to call attention to the interaction between some of these layers that we've been talking about so.


Shawn Walker  19:48

So we would call it there's homophily, right, or there's a lot of similarity within a community. You share a very specific sets of beliefs like maybe lack of trust in science. lack of trust and authority, you agree on only a certain set of experts versus a community where there's less homophily or less similarities. And so we have opposing views that are discussed. I would say the community that has more homophily would probably have a tendency to be more vulnerable than the community that has less homophily and more sort of opposing views and discussion. But it's not a hard and fast rule. It depends right?


Michael Simeone  20:25

Certainly, yeah. And I mean, can we find a group on Facebook or Twitter that actually has discussion about opposing views? I don't know if "discussion" is the word I would use all the time. But I take your point, I think this homophily or lack thereof is a really, really interesting thing to dial in on when you're thinking about the overall qualities of networks, rather than just like what their explicit beliefs might be.


Shawn Walker  20:46

And the homophily, in some ways, could stack, right. So if you have homophily within each group, and then sort of homophily between those groups, so you have similarities within each group, and then similarities between each group, that means you're kind of suppressing the amount of diversity. So this goes back to some of the individual factors that we just discussed, that are potential vulnerabilities. And if you're looking at single sources of information, rather than a plethora of sources of information that could potentially increase your vulnerability, and then that can kind of just scale up to the various communities that you're connected to. And then spending more time online, which, you know, do you think that these vulnerabilities around spending time online have increased due to COVID? And a lot of the restrictions on movement, just so we're trying to keep everyone safe?


Michael Simeone  21:31

The easy answer seems to be yes, that there's a lot of people who are spending more time online, therefore misinformation. But I think it's important to add on to that as well, that when people are anxious, they're also vulnerable to misinformation. And so, you know, COVID-19 has kept people home, they might be online more, but the base level of anxiety is higher. Our political environment is also such that, you know, it's not just the outcome of misinformation. It's also the prerequisite for misinformation. And so political polarization is one of those things that continues, right. So if people are in a politically polarized environment, if they're anxious, and if they're not talking to people a lot, and they're online a lot, okay, all those things together, those really start to feel together like a set of vulnerabilities.


Shawn Walker  22:21

What I really like about your answer is that it's complicated. And that it depends. And these things interact, in we are often looking for in a whole host of areas, not just in misinformation, but we're often looking for these simple solutions, or simple cause and effect patterns. So just saying, well, people are spending more time online. So now we're more vulnerable to misinformation. That's actually not true. It's a lot more complicated than that. So I think that's a really important thing to bring out is that these are really complicated behaviors and interactions between people that are often right now mediated, or technology sits in between our communications. But that doesn't mean they're any less complicated than they were before. They're probably even more complicated now.


Michael Simeone  23:04

Let's talk a little bit about our last item on our checklist for, you know, layers of vulnerability to think about, right, we talked about individual levels of vulnerability, talked about community levels of vulnerability. And then this last bit that we, that we had laid out is this idea of context, the context of vulnerability, and that could, you know, encompass the broader political climate, which is what we've talked about a little bit we could talk about, you know, that the actual pandemic going on, that's part of the context, the behavior of the social media platforms. And the way that they treat data and show you data is also part of that context. Shawn, what are your thoughts opening up thinking about context?


Shawn Walker  23:43

Well, then we can go back to the context of each of the individuals that are participating, as well as the communities that are participating. Those also have context. We also all have histories about who we trust, who we believe, those become part of that context. So why an individual might be posting or commenting in a specific way. That's all part of this context. So as you know, I say in my classes with my students, all data emerges from a context there is no sort of data hanging out by itself. It's created within a context. So if we're talking about, you know, a post about COVID in April, that's within the context of that moment in time in April, right. And then that has to be compared with, say, the context of yesterday, for example, when we're talking about vaccines, after you know, the FDA advisory board is meeting to discuss vaccines. Those are two different contexts to talk about COVID in so we have to contextualize everything that's happening with the moment that it's referring to are emerging from.


Michael Simeone  24:46

And how do you see that really play out when it comes to misinformation?


Shawn Walker  24:50

Well, I think misinformation preys upon that context. It takes advantage of it. And often when we're kind of looking back at misinformation, we look at it with a benefit of hindsight. And sometimes things look really obvious because we have new information and we have a different context. So that's one way, we can often then act like people that were brought into misinformation or were super vulnerable to that. We'll treat them and talk about them as being dumb or not understanding something. But oftentimes, they only have limited information at that moment in time, because that's the context that we were operating in. So I think that's, that's one way. 


Michael Simeone  25:27

So that's, that's interesting. But let me, I'll break in for a second, I want to just emphasize something that I really liked about what you said, which is being attenuated to context doesn't necessarily mean knowing everything. It means understanding that you don't know everything. So being attenuated, the context doesn't mean you have a big board with yarn, connecting all the different pieces and how they're related. Being attenuated to context can mean, "Actually, there's a lot of stuff I don't know. And I should proceed as if there's a lot of stuff out there that I don't know."


Shawn Walker  25:56

Yes, we always have limited information. And oftentimes, when we're doing sort of this analysis of an event after it happened, or we're looking at the media, or academics might look at, well, how did this misinformation travel? Or why did people believe this misinformation? They're looking at it again, with that benefit of you know, we can go back to the example say, of, you know, the Boston Marathon bombings that happen in the United States. And during, right after the bombings, there were people posting online that were saying, "This is the bomber, I've seen this person, here's their, here's their address, here's their information," and they were incorrect. And then they deleted that information that they were operating in this time of high stress, high levels of anxiety, right after a domestic terrorist attack, which people were harmed, especially people in Boston, were feeling that because it happened in their city. And so they're just trying to find a solution to make the community more safe. So we can then capture those individuals that were responsible for that. So that makes sense that they would operate in this way. But then looking at it with hindsight, it might then seem ridiculous that someone on the internet that wasn't part of the police, or FBI or any of the authorities would be able to figure out who did it. But you know, where you have hindsight, we have this emotional distance that someone didn't have during that moment in time. It's really complicated. The context that they were operating in was really, this terrorist event.


Michael Simeone  27:18

Yeah. So the kind of citizen sleuth being able to find the culprit, it makes sense why it worked at the time, and why that story worked at the time, even though it's easy to judge it now. I want to come back, you had a second point that you are going to make. And I wanted to make sure that we came back to it in thinking through why context matters or why and attenuation to context matters when we're thinking through vulnerabilities.


Shawn Walker  27:39

So context also provides a basis for us to understand the beliefs at that moment in time, too. So someone's history, someone's interactions than when social network, all of that provide context to understand what information they were receiving, why are we operating in this way? You know, so if we think about about COVID, saying misinformation, a lot of people feel uncomfortable, because we don't have answers. You know, if you do X, Y, and Z, you won't get COVID. If you do have COVID, we have very limited treatments, we don't have a vaccine as of this recording, right? So this is a this is a context that can explain why there's a high level of uncertainty. So therefore, people are more vulnerable to those people that offer a level of certainty, even though it's incorrect. I think that's the second thing, that context does for us.


Michael Simeone  28:27

You know, I'm also thinking, by way of context, this just the platforms that we're using, or that we're often engaged with, that social media platforms, try to guess what we want to see. And that is part of the context, that should be part of our understanding. But if we've got a platform that's going to say, you know, like Facebook has done for a while, which is boost posts, from community members, rather than like mainstream media outlets, that actually is a vulnerability baked into the platform. That means that if we're going to not allow gatekeeping information organizations to spread information that will outpace or be shown at the same pace, as kind of friends and family or smaller scale outlets, that may sound like inspiring and democratic, right, that these big, big media outlets aren't going to have the same capacity to spread information. But the outcome is that it's a vulnerability that can be exploited, right, where now you have all kinds of stuff being spread around on Facebook by kind of smaller, do we call them creators? I don't know. But that, you know, it kind of opens the door for other kinds of misinformation to spread. So understanding or trying to get a sense of what are these feed algorithms actually presenting us? What is their reasoning, because looking, you know, this is something that we were talking about before recording today that what you see on social media is a sliver of all the stuff that's on social media and so you want to be able to ask, "why am I seeing this stuff?" And even if you don't have an answer, it's still an important question to hold close, because this is just a drop in the bucket.


Shawn Walker  30:05

Right, those environments shape what we see. And those choices that the platform's make, they might actually have good reasons to do so. So say, let's give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment, they then have consequences. And some of those consequences are unintended. Sort of like in policy studies, we talk about externalities, or unintended consequences of a of a policy, we might decide to build a certain type of business in an area. And then that has unintended consequences for the other businesses or the infrastructure. We didn't mean for that to happen, but it happens. So it's a similar thing that's happening in the social media platforms is that, you know, they try to shape the platform in a specific way, for reasons it might be to sell more advertising, it might be to suppress certain organizations information, because they're, you know, they're spreading with the platform detects as misinformation or problematic information. But then, you know, when you pop it down, you pop this misinformation down, and when area, then it's going to reemerge in a different form in some other area, there's not one single solution to this problem, and the problem is not going away.


Michael Simeone  31:06

Yeah. And I think why it's nice to think about vulnerability, as a series of interconnected layers, right? Individual, community, and context. Is that it gets us away from the information literacy perspective, right? In the sense that information literacy assumes that you are this agent, this person who has these capacities, and there's the information out there. And if you can just sharpen your capacities, then you'll do better. Okay, that's not all wrong. And I'm not trying to say that, but I, I think when you're encountering Facebook, instead of feeling like you're the reader, and then Facebook is the text and you're reading the text and evaluating the text, I think it's, it's more interesting to think about it as if you are looking at Facebook, then you, you and Facebook should be thought of as the same, or part of the same information processing, being or...organism, right, and that sounds kind of far out there. But you are inheriting all of Facebook's vulnerabilities, when you are scrolling through Facebook. And you are inheriting all the vulnerabilities of your community of your followers, or the people that you follow on Twitter, when you're scrolling through Twitter. So all of these vulnerabilities are experienced together. And it's important not to think that you can somehow, you know, separate them out too cleanly that oh, well, if I just think hard enough, then I won't be vulnerable. Once you start using these platforms, you inherit their vulnerabilities. And as you mentioned, in the conversation about context, it's very difficult to see or anticipate all the different vulnerabilities of these platforms. So using them isn't just a matter of consuming the content. Opening Facebook and using Facebook, I think is a much more engaging relationship between your brain and the networks of information out there.


Shawn Walker  32:50

And building upon that. It's not just that you're inheriting all these vulnerabilities, you then, you bring your set of vulnerabilities and then you share that with the others that you interact with, too. And the communities that you're a part of.


Michael Simeone  33:02

Yeah, platforms bringing some vulnerabilities, your community is bringing some vulnerabilities, you're bringing some vulnerabilities, everyone's bringing vulnerabilities together. And it just makes this big extravaganza of susceptibility to misinformation.


Shawn Walker  33:16

With lights and holiday music and a roaring fire.


Michael Simeone  33:18

Right, it warms my heart to think about.


Shawn Walker  33:22

But we're all sharing those vulnerabilities. So I think that's that's a really good point is that those vulnerabilities are kind of vying for prominence. And they're the sort of open opportunities that misinformation operations, and unintentional misinformation can take advantage of. All that misinformation needs is that...that opening. And, you know, I agree about information literacy. That's an important component. What we're often treating information literacy, and I think heavily connected to that fact checking as these like two primary defenses to make us less vulnerable, like, It's our only armor. But you know, we then only have one piece of armor versus a whole set.


Michael Simeone  34:03

Yeah, misinformation oftentimes doesn't care. Right? Or it doesn't. It doesn't matter what the intent of the misinformation was, even though there's probably some intent, right? But depending on the vulnerability, right, you can just comment right that the ASU COVID parties was a really interesting example of that. We're not sure why someone decided exactly to spoof these COVID parties, Instagram accounts. And we're not sure exactly what kind of effect they were going for. But we do know that even if you just saw the account, and you didn't even click on it, your pre existing orientation towards how people were behaving around COVID, whether you were frustrated with it, or you thought people weren't doing enough or whatever, that was a vulnerability, and that misinformation could exploit that vulnerability. And so, you know, this is why thinking through vulnerabilities is important, is because they're oftentimes accidental in the sense that the person who designed the misinformation might not have thought about it at all. Or didn't care or is happy with any or all of those outcomes. So it's not as if misinformation is this kind of precision operation, where we have one set of ideas that we're trying to change people's minds about. It's much, much sloppier than that. And the plethora of vulnerabilities that we experience collectively through our individual scales, community scales, and contact scales, right. All those together is what makes misinformation as such an effective thing.


Shawn Walker  35:26

Well actually, if you think about misinformation, most of the time it fails, but you only have to be successful a couple of times, so you can throw out, you know, various methods. And, you know, one operation might contain dozens of different tactics that are being used. Not all of those are going to be successful, but just one of those has to be successful, for them to be happy about that success. And if we go back to this issue, COVID party's case, right? That also, there was the individual level, then there was a community level, because those pages were impacting members of ASU university community, their perceptions of their colleagues, as well as the public's perception of ASU. And then even got to the level of the university administration actually responding to that. So we can see how these kind of start to stack. And then our vulnerabilities morph. So some of them decrease some of them increase as a result of these interactions.


Michael Simeone  36:20

So where does that leave us with vulnerability?


Shawn Walker  36:22

Talking about vulnerability on these three levels is different than your specific tactics that you're vulnerable to. So I think this is a more expansive awareness of vulnerability, so that we can be reflective of that while not just being exhausted by it.


Michael Simeone  36:36

Yeah, I think that's a good way of putting it, there's just no way to know all the different ways that you're vulnerable.


Shawn Walker  36:41

Well, and also points are vulnerabilities are not static, they're changing over time, you know, some vulnerabilities are increasing, some are decreasing. So it's this dynamic thread, that we just have to try to be aware of as best we can.


Michael Simeone  36:55

Everyone's vulnerable, there's no way to fully inventory all of our vulnerabilities. But having a general orientation towards them, and thinking about them in a reflective kind of way is still healthier and better for everyone.


Shawn Walker  37:08

This is all hard and that's okay. And talking about it, is also okay, too, because we're going to make mistakes. And if we strive for perfection, then that's just going to be soul crushing. I think.


Michael Simeone  37:18

Havng conversations about vulnerability might be even harder right now.


Shawn Walker  37:22

Yes, One more zoom call about vulnerability. That's what everybody wants in their week. Right? 


Michael Simeone  37:27

Right. That sounds just exactly how everyone wants to end out the year.


Shawn Walker  37:31

My vulnerability circle zoom call.


Michael Simeone  37:33

I mean, it could be a thing, but probably won't be a thing. Okay, well, I think that's all we have this time. 

Thank you for joining us this time around, be thoughtful and be well. For questions or comments, use the email address datascience@asu.edu. And to check out more about what we're doing, try library.asu.edu/data.