Spinning it out

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A few weeks ago, my eye was caught by an article in The Guardian, Overconfident of spotting fake news? If so, you may be more likely to fall victim.  Natalie Grover reported on a recent survey of 8285 Americans which suggests that 90% of participants thought that their ability to distinguish between fake and accurate headlines was above average, that those who had over-high perception of their abilities were more likely to visit websites which tended to publish false or inaccurate news items, and they were also more likely to share fake news; on the other hand, those who took a more thoughtful approach to their news reading were less likely to be misled by or to share inaccurate and false news reports.

There have been many studies of over-confidence in recent years.   It may be this misplaced self-confidence which leads students (and people generally) to go for and to use without question whatever comes up as Google hit number 1, this regardless of anything they have been told and taught about website evaluation.  It may be a form of cognitive dissonance – knowing that they have to slow down and think about what they find online while at the same time accepting what they find online without thinking about it.

Who needs those CRAAP and WISER and CARRDS or other evaluation tools?  Why bother to laterally read and think, or use Four Moves?   We do not need to think, we cannot be taken in, we know best.

Think again.

I am not sure about my own general news-reading habits, but I do know I tend to be extra careful when reading reports of surveys. I prefer to know who was surveyed and when and who by, the size of the survey, who was behind the survey, how it was carried out, the questions asked and how they were asked, how the sample taking part was chosen and how representative it is of the general population and more. I like to read the research report behind the newspaper report.

So the Guardian article:  I could not decide, reading Grover’s report, whether those who took a more thoughtful approach also thought of themselves as having higher-than-average abilities or whether they lacked self-confidence in their ability to identify fake news and so were more careful. All the more reason to get hold of the original research report.

There was a link in Grover’s report in The Guardian. Unfortunately, when I clicked on it, it led to an error message:

Annoying.  I completed the “Report this error” form and sent it off, not really expecting anything to happen, and went searching.*

Grover said the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, but I could not find it there.  So, search engine.  The search terms [“Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” Lyons 8,285] brought up just two likely hits, the Guardian article and another article, this in Insider Voice.**

There was a link in this report too … and it brought up the same DOI error message.

For one article to make a mistake in a hyperlink might suggest a typo. For two articles to make the same mistake does tend to suggest that one article is a copy of the other.

A quick check showed that these were not the same article syndicated to different outlets, as sometimes happens. They had different authors: Natalie Grover in the Guardian, Gary Miller for Insider Voice.  The titles were not quite the same either:

Overconfident of spotting fake news? If so, you may be more likely to fall victim” (in the Guardian) and
Overconfident about spotting fake news? If so, you are more likely to be a victim” (in Insider Voice).

There were other differences in the text, all small, such as in these three non-consecutive paragraphs: 

The Guardian Insider Voice
Although Americans believe the confusion caused by false news is all-pervasive, relatively few indicate having seen or shared it, something the researchers suggested shows that many may not only have a hard time identifying false news but are not aware of their own deficiencies at doing so. Although Americans believe that the confusion caused by fake news is ubiquitous, relatively few report having seen or shared it something the researchers suggested shows that many may not only have a hard time identifying fake news, but are unaware of their own. deficiencies in doing so. then.
“No matter what domain, people on average are overconfident … but over 70% of people displaying overconfidence is just such a huge number,” said the lead author, Ben Lyons, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah. “No matter what domain, people on average are overconfident … but more than 70% of people who are overconfident is a huge number,” said lead author Ben Lyons, assistant professor of communication. at the University of Utah.
Although the study does not prove that overconfidence directly causes engagement with false news, the mismatch between a person’s perceived ability to spot misinformation and their actual competence could play a crucial role in the spread of false information, the authors wrote in the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Although the study does not prove that overconfidence directly causes engagement with fake news, the mismatch between a person’s perceived ability to spot misinformation and their actual competence could play a crucial role in spreading false information, the authors wrote. authors in the publication. study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The differences, most especially the errors in punctuation, strongly suggest that the Insider Voice article is a copy of the Guardian story, confirmed by a check of the time stamp in the Page Info information of the articles.  (Additionally, the Guardian is the more reputable newspaper. Insider Voice has a long way to go; if it has a reputation, I doubt that it is a good one.***)

I might have pursued this and published more quickly if I suspected that it was the Guardian‘s story which was a partial re-write of the other story but all indications pointed the other way.  With other work needing my attention,  I made notes on the re-use of Grover’s article, made screengrabs, saved the pages, and put it all aside for possible use later.  (Later came sooner than I thought it would.)

Spinning it out some more

Then came the Fred Mogul story.  In my last article Feeling the draft,  I told the story of Mogul’s sacking from an online radio station as a result of allegations of plagiarism in the draft for an online news story.  It seemed that Mogul had attributed whatever was alleged to be a plagiarism in the style used by his company but his new chief editor did not recognize that style of attribution.  The situation was further complicated in that the problem passage did not appear in Mogul’s story as published, we do not know what he actually wrote or how he wrote it.

In trying to work out for myself just what had happened, I realised there were several issues worth following up – not in the article which Mogul had written but in the reports of his sacking.  As I said in my previous post, I thought the Nation World News report was curious; It was not just the story, it was the headline that attracted my attention.

The Nation World News headline runs This is the ‘mean-to’ moment of the media. Stop shouting and go to HR. My first thought was “mean-to” was a pun on the #Me too movement, and maybe it is.

The first paragraph reads

Perhaps worse, Ms. Cooper quickly remarked that she had never heard of Brian Lehrer, the beloved WNYC Morning host, whose slowly-scrutinizing, public-spirited interview materializes the station’s appeal, and That he did not “get” why he was popular. WNYC spokeswoman Jennifer Houlihan Roussel said in an email that she has since believed “Bryan is the soul of the station and in many ways the city itself.”

Perhaps worse…”?  “Perhaps worse” than what? I wondered.  This article reads as if the story is starting in the middle.

Further in, we read:

Ms. Cooper refused to talk to me …

Who is “me”?  This story is attributed to the Nation World News Desk.  I am not surprised that “Ms. Cooper refused to talk to me,” I would refuse to talk to a desk as well.And there is something odd about the end of this paragraph and the next two as well :

… But then a number of stunned radio journalists questioned the move, explaining that they regularly included the AP copy in on-air stories, and the practice at WNYC’s small website, crediting the AP at the bottom of the story Was imported.

“go Through each of our articles and set us all on fire, because that’s what we all did, “Rebecca Ibara, a host, told her.

On February 10, more than 40 employees, including Mr. Lehrer, signed a letter calling for Ms. Cooper to reconsider and firing a “disturbing precedent.”

… crediting the AP at the bottom of the story Was imported“???  we read.  What “Was imported”?

Then there is the punctuation of the next paragraph, which starts with the lower case “go” followed by the upper-case “Through.”   Also, there is a misplaced quotation mark in front of “Rebecca,” it should go before the space, not after it.

And that last paragraph in the extract above “more than 40 employees … signed a letter calling for Ms. Cooper to reconsider and firing a “disturbing precedent.”“:  did the “more than 40 employees” fire a “disturbing precedent” – or did they describe the firing as “a disturbing precedent”?

This looks like a spun article, an article originating somewhere else, copy-pasted (in this case badly) and put through an article re-writer or spinner, so changing a few words here and there.

Sure enough, my search for [fred mogul plagiarism] also brought up an article on WorldBestNews, It is the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Instant. Quit Yelling and Go to Human Resources.   This is datelined 23 May 2021 so a day earlier than the Nation World News article.  There is no byline to the story but here is a tagline, sherzod@worldbest.news.  Below the same photograph, the story again seems to start in the middle:

Possibly even even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d under no circumstances listened to of Brian Lehrer, the beloved WNYC morning host whose carefully probing, public-spirited interviews embody the station’s enchantment, and that she did not “get” why he was well-known. She has due to the fact occur to the watch that “Brian is the soul of the station and, in many ways, the city itself,” a WNYC spokeswoman, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, claimed in an e-mail.

Possibly even even worse…” it starts.  Even even worse than what?

And the story continues in the same vein as the Nation World News article though with even less-grammatical English…

And Ms. Cooper started out pushing the radio journalists to decide on up their rate and to file stories for the net. That appeared like a sensible request, but it led to yet another stumble in early February, when an 18-12 months veteran of the radio facet, Fred Mogul, filed a story with just one paragraph printed in a different font. The editor recognized it was Connected Press copy Ms. Cooper instantly fired Mr. Mogul for plagiarism with no a assessment of no matter whether he’d at any time finished it prior to.

I rather think that,  far from the Nation World News story being a rehash of the earlier World Best News story, they have both found and used the same story found elsewhere – one using an even more thorough spinbot than the other.

It could be that they found the original on one of those sites which spreads long news stories over several web pages – which might explain why the story starts in the middle, they had spun page 2 of the article but not page 1?

But what was the site from which they copied and spun?  There is a whole bunch of articles from which to choose!

News Chant 23 May 2021. It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources which starts

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d by no means heard of Brian Lehrer…

Tash Solution 24 May 2021.  It’s the Media’s ‘Imply-Too’ Second. Cease Yelling and Go to Human Assets

Maybe even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d by no means heard of Brian Lehrer…

Alice. Update to the Date News 24 May 2021. It’s the Media’s ‘Imply-Too’ Second. Cease Yelling and Go to Human Sources

Perhaps worse, Ms. Cooper noted early on that she had never heard of Brian Lehrer…

Espanol News 24 May 2021. Es el momento ‘malo’ de los medios. Deje de gritar y diríjase a Recursos Humanos

Quizás incluso peor, la Sra. Cooper comentó desde el principio que nunca había oído hablar de Brian Lehrer…

Germanic 24 May 2021. Es ist der “Mean-Too” -Moment der Medien. Hören Sie auf zu schreien und gehen Sie zur Personalabteilung

Vielleicht noch schlimmer, bemerkte Frau Cooper schon früh, dass sie noch nie von Brian Lehrer gehört hatte…

I have found three sites which had the grace to include a link to the original story, published in the New York Times on 23 May 2021:

Laura Foti. World News Era 23 May 2021.  It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer…

GWN/ Good Word News. no date This is the “mean” media moment. Stop yelling and go to human resources 

Perhaps worse still, Ms Cooper noticed early on that she had never heard of Brian Lehrer…

Sahil. Global Circulate 24 May 2021.  It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer…

The original article was written by Ben Smith and published in The New York Times on 23 May 2021.  Its headline reads It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources and the report begins

For 20 years, the WNYC radio show “On The Media” has been the sort of place where the hosts’ on-air repartee makes it a fun listen, while their off-air screaming matches send producers diving for cover.

But times are changing.

The story that all those rewriters are picking up on starts at paragraph 16 of the New York Times article; this begins:

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer…

The story copied and/or re-spun in all those articles begins at paragraph 16 of the original New York Times article – and somehow all the rewritten stories include the same photograph taken from the top of the NYT article.  Perhaps even more odd, though maybe not so odd to an unintelligent AI re-writer, is that the photograph shows Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone – neither of whom appears in the shortened and rewritten versions carried elsewhere.

Now had I but world enough and time,**** I might go looking for a rewrite of the New York Times story which uses the complete article.  It was possibly, probably, not necessarily, maybe that story which these others (and many many more since I began writing this piece) have picked up on and spun?

What so amazed me, what makes me feel small and naive (as I indicated in Feeling the draft) is that there is a whole rewriting industry out there!

End-note

I found those NYT rewrites as I was writing my previous blog piece.  They came up in my Google search for [cooper mogul lehrer].  The New York Times article was #7 in the list of hits.  So much for Google’s recognition of authority. Beware, those who use Google #1 as their gospel without thinking – you may be a touch too overconfident of your website evaluation skills.

Before I could come back to completing this post, copyright and plagarism guru Jonathan Bailey published a blog article on 23 June 2021, telling us Why Plagiarisms Can Outrank Originals in Google.  It seems that even when Google is aware which site published the original article and which sites have copied it, it may well prefer to place the pirate sites above the original.

Lateral reading really does pay off – step number one, check who and what your sources really are.

Reader, be aware! Beware!!

Notes

*    The link was corrected the next day and now provides a direct link to the article.

**   Repeating the search as I wrote this article, I find many many more copies and spins on the original Guardian article.  The Insider Voice version was the first copy I found; it was and is not the last.

***  The Guardian is the more reputable newspaper. It is one of the UK’s leading national newspapers with an international reputation, and is this year celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding.

      Insider Voice, according to its About us page, is less than 10 years old and was founded by Gary Miller, the author of this piece.  The first paragraph of the About us page reads
        Apart from its claim to “101% original content,” I cannot help wondering which “united state” that was?  But then Insider Voice makes me wonder about a lot of things, in this paragraph, elsewhere on the site…

**** Not being coy, but what Andrew Marvell actually wrote was “Had we but world enough and time.”

2 thoughts on “Spinning it out

  1. Thank you for all the search work done and the most interesting commentary on the news story of Ferd Mogul. I hope to be able to use it in the teaching of information and media literacy.
    When I double checked the sources of the Guardian story, I encountered no error messages, but a straight link in the article to the American study in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The DOI was the same as the original one. I wonder what happened there….

  2. Thank you, Marion – and for your own detective work.

    I was tempted to continue the saga – but it gets even more complicated and convoluted – and a changing story too.

    As you see, the link to the study (in both the Guardian and Insider Voice) now leads to the article on the PNAS site. I think DOI.org quickly contacted PNAS and the other players and the link was corrected.

    I do not know enough about the DOI protocol, but I do know that where the original link in the Guardian article was to
    https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2019527118
    the article now links to
    https://www.pnas.org/content/118/23/e2019527118

    I think the “e” in after the last slash in the URL might be significant, and I think there might be a bit of redirection going on.

    There might be more detective-work coming up!

    Cheers, John

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