Reaction Paper #3

For this assignment, I will be evaluating four prompts using the SIFT method as laid out by Mike Caulfield and team in the “Check, Please! Starter Course”. The method goes as follows: when reading information online, Stop and ask yourself if you trust the source before sharing it around. Investigate the source you’re currently reading from, and/or, if you care more about checking the truth of the root claim than evaluating this one source, Find other coverage of the topic. The last piece is Tracing quotes, statistics, and other media back to its original source. There is no one right way to employ this method, and I will use multiple tactics when taking on the prompts below.

1. Child Poverty Rates Worldwide

For this first prompt, I had to find the source of the statistics cited in this tweet:

A tweet from the account @Public_Citizen posted on September 27, 2019. It lists the child poverty rate of 33 countries from lowest to highest. The last listed is the United States of America with a 21% child poverty rate. The tweet concludes with the text, "Good thing we recently passed *checks notes* tax breaks for billionaires."

My immediate reaction was to see if there was additional info in replies to the tweet. Lo and behold, the original poster replied to the tweet with a link to their source: a chart publicized by the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The default window of data provided is 2014 to 2018, so it is fairly up to date, and when I doubled-checked specific stats (like the numbers for the USA and France) between the chart and the tweet, they were accurate.

To make sure this data was coming from a reliable source, I went to the about page for the organization. The international group has apparently existed for just under 60 years and works with “governments, policy makers and citizens [for] establishing international norms and finding evidence-based solutions to a range of social, economic and environmental challenges”. As a final check, I looked up the organization on Wikipedia, and found some more detailed information. The group has 36 member countries, had a total budget of €374 million in 2017, and is an official United Nations observer. I find a group with such international support to be extremely credible.

2. Abraham Lincoln Quotes

Of the listed quotes, I first decided to check this one, predicting from first glance that it was true because of the list of sources above the quote:

A screenshot of a Facebook post from the account 'Inspiration and Motivational Instances, Quotes, etc.' posted on October 14, 2016. The post has an image with the following quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending." Above the image is a caption which lists multiple supposed sources for the quote, including "Abraham Lincoln, Facts for the People: A valuable campaign document" and "Lincoln's Springfield speech".

However, I realized quickly that many of these “sources” didn’t seem related to Lincoln at all, such as the phrases “Trumbull’s Chicago speech” and “the political record of Stephen A. Douglas”. When I tried searching, “lincoln’s springfield speech there is nothing good in war except its ending”, the first result was this goodreads page, which the Facebook quotes page seems to have copied word for word (or the other way around). The next result was an article from The Washington Times which said this quote was one of many incorrectly attributed to Lincoln, but it provided no further information on that particular one. The article cites a website run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that apparently lists this quote among others misattributed to Lincoln, but the link was broken.

I didn’t have full confidence in this source, so I tried just searching the full quote on Google. Again, the first result was the goodreads page, but the second was an article from the New York Daily News titled “Five things Lincoln didn’t say — but people think he did“. The quote I was researching was the last of the five listed, and this site gave an explanation for where it came from. Apparently in a season 3 Star Trek episode, the character of Abraham Lincoln appears and says this quote, but it was not based on anything the real-life Lincoln was recorded as having said. The article links to another article which provides a YouTube link to said episode; unfortunately, when I tried to open the video in another tab, it was unavailable, likely having been taken down for copyright reasons.

While I don’t have time to track down and watch the Star trek episode, and I didn’t do a full background check on any of the three news websites, they all seem to be in agreement. And with there being no evidence to support that the quote originally came from the actual Abraham Lincoln, I feel it’s safe to say that the quote is misattributed.

The second quote I decided to research was this one:

A tweet from the account @AmyMek, a blond white woman based on the profile picture. The tweet was posted on February 12, 2019, and reads as follows: "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." The tweet attributes the quote to Abraham Lincoln.

I had never heard Lincoln being referred to as particularly religious person, which made me wonder if this quote was falsely attributed to Lincoln as a way of saying, “You all know this intellectual, well respected, historically significant individual? Well guess what, he was also religious!”

Since this quote didn’t have any source mentioned, I started by just searching the whole thing in Google. Among the many generic quote sites that came up, I noticed that the third down had a date attached, so I checked that one first. This took me to a website titled “Prof. Boerner’s Explorations”, specifically a page on Lincoln’s 1858 Senatorial Speech. Many quotes were listed there attributed to Lincoln, including the one I was researching; however, it didn’t make it clear whether or not those quotes actually came from that speech, or if they were just there because Lincoln (supposedly) said them. At the bottom of the page, the quotes were cited as having come from the website BrainyQuote, but that website doesn’t provide sources for the individual quotes either.

Feeling I had hit a dead end, I went back to the first page of search results and scrolled down further. Soon I found an article from Politifact, which I’ve found to be a reliable source for fact-checking before. The article was reporting on something Sarah Palin said a few years ago, which included a paraphrasing of the Lincoln quote. Near the end of the article, the reporter tracked down the Lincoln quote to a book titled Six Months in the White House with Abraham Lincoln. The original quote, coming from page 282 of the book, is as follows:

“‘I am not at all concerned about [the Lord being on our side],’ replied Mr. Lincoln, ‘for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

– Francis B. Carpenter quoting Abraham Lincoln

In short, it seems the version of the quote in the original tweet is based on something Abraham Lincoln did actually say, but it has been reworded to be more positive and straightforward over the many repetitions of it in popular culture.

3. Arsonist Birds?!

For this prompt, I was asked to investigate the truthfulness of this article from the National Post. Right away, the wording of the headline made me suspicious. The phrase “Australian birds have weaponized fire” implies the birds are doing this intentionally, and the article’s subtitle seconds this.

Raptors, including the whistling kite, are intentionally spreading grass fires in northern Australia, a research paper argues. The reason: to flush out prey and feast.

One key difference, however, is that the second half of the headline (“because what we really need now is something else to make us afraid”) makes it sound like the birds are specifically targeting humans. It makes the subject matter sound more urgent and sensational than it actually is.

That being said, a brief look at the research paper cited makes me confident that the article’s main claim is true. The paper has multiple authors, was published just two years ago, and a quick glance at the Wikipedia page for the journal that posted the article, the Journal of Ethnobiology, gives just enough for me to see it as credible. It is peer-reviewed, has been running since 1981, and the editors-in-chief are university professors. In the paper’s abstract, not only does it talk about the specific species of bird which have been observed participating in this phenomenon, but the researchers say that aboriginal communities have been aware of the fire-spreading birds for some time, which the National Post article also brought up.

4. Bizarre Creature from Under the Ice

For the final prompt, I had to evaluate this article from Express, a news organization based in the UK. The article is reporting on a discovery supposedly made in a documentary titled “The Secrets of Antarctica” that was posted to YouTube on July 9 of this year by the channel TRACKS. The YouTube video description contains a link to the channel’s Facebook page with the caption “From Expedition Antarctica”, implying that they are the ones who ran the expedition. However, it is evident from the Facebook page that TRACKS is not a scientific organization, but rather a self-described “Media/News Company” & “Local & Travel Website”.

The Express article seems to just recap what is said in the documentary without factchecking it; it does not contain any conversations with the “scientists” involved with the expedition, other than quoting what one scientist said in the video itself, or any outside experts. So I tried searching “antarctica expedition sea cucumber 3,500 meters under ice” to see if there were other articles on this subject listed under Google News. The second result was an article with the same exact headline from a website called Unilad, another UK based publication. This article is basically just a slight rewording of the previous article, with some tweets from random people added on at the end. There were no other relevant results under Google News; a few more articles come up on general Google, but none of the websites had names I recognized. If this discovery were as ground-shaking a discovery as the two articles I found presented it as, I’m sure more reputable sites would have covered it by now.

Reaction Paper #2


This unit of my Digital Citizenship and Identity course was focused on privacy and security online. One additional reading I did for this class was a New York Times article titled “Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police”. It focuses on the example of a homicide case in Phoenix, Arizona where police made a false arrest based on data tracking the suspect’s phone to the site of the crime and security video including the model of car said suspect, John Molina, owned. To get the phone data, the department ordered a “geoforce” warrant, specifying a time and location, and Google sent them information from its database called Sensorvault about the devices that were there, labeled with anonymous ID numbers (though we’ve discussed in class how nothing digital is truly anonymous). From there, according to the article:

“Detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information.”

In under a week, the Phoenix police found more evidence that exonerated Molina, and later arrested his mother’s ex-boyfriend, who sometimes borrowed his car and already had a criminal record.

This article reminded of a different NYT article we had to read at the beginning of this unit, titled “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret”, which went into depth about the deceptive ways apps record and use their user’s location data, creating whole maps of their daily routines. One woman’s phone recorded her coordinates as often as every two seconds. Most smartphone users these days understand that their device records their location, but the way that data is used, and who gets access to it, is rarely made clear when first activating location services for an app, often only laid out in its esoteric privacy policy/terms of service.

The first article shows the practical consequences of letting ourselves be tracked through every hour of the day, and it comes across as much more serious than the now apparently begrudged acceptance of targeted ads based on our commodified personal data. While that article provides multiple examples where the data proved genuinely helpful in criminal investigations, it also points out the following:

“According to several current and former Google employees, the Sensorvault database was not designed for the needs of law enforcement, raising questions about its accuracy in some situations.”

Both of these articles were authored primarily by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. She has worked for years reporting not just for the New York Times, but also the Wall Street Journal and ProPublica, researching the ways issues of technology, privacy, and computer security intersect with the business and legal worlds. This included serving as a lead reporter for the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize qualifying series on digital privacy, “What They Know”, from 2010 to 2013. Ms. Valentino-DeVries has a master’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. This all makes it sound like the topic of this particular article, how Google’s technology is being used by law enforcement and the potential ethical implications, is right up her alley.


This part of my paper is directed at my younger brother Kamden, who, like me, uses an iPhone. After the readings I’ve done for this class on strengthening the privacy settings on our devices, there are some practices I’ve taken on that I think he (and perhaps you, dear reader) should adopt as well. Open the Settings application and scroll to the bottom, where you can view what features each app you’ve downloaded has access to. You can change a few things from here, such as which apps have access to your location and which apps send you what kinds of notifications. I recommend turning off access to location for any app that doesn’t require it to function, and if you don’t want anyone peeking at your notifications, you can set them to not show up on your lock screen and/or to not be saved to your notification center. 

One other thing I learned from the article “How to Check and Tighten All Your iPhone’s Privacy Settings” on How to Geek is to go to Settings > Safari and make sure it’s set to prevent cross-site tracking, warn of fraudulent websites, and block all cookies. As the article notes, blocking cookies will mean “you’ll need to log in to services more frequently and some features… will not persist between sessions.” However, if having to log in to sites repeatedly sounds like too much of an annoyance to you, the article also recommends alternate browsers that were made with privacy as a priority, such as DuckDuckGo.

Works Cited

Brookes, Tim. “How to Check and Tighten All Your iPhone’s Privacy Settings.” How-To Geek, How-To Geek, 8 July 2019,

“Jennifer Valentino-DeVries.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company,

Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer, et al. “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 10 Dec. 2018,

Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer. “Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 13 Apr. 2019,

Reaction Paper #1

One factor which makes a huge difference in the culture and toxicity of online communities is the level of anonymity they provide. After all, if no one can trace what you say back to you, you can say whatever you want without consequence – at least in theory. As Anil Dash brings up in the article “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault”, there is a difference between the anonymity provided by having a pseudonym that you publish things to the community under, and true anonymity1. A prime example of this is tumblr: users have the ability to send each other “asks”, and they can choose whether or not to let the receiver see the name of the account that sent it. Anonymous asks have developed a negative reputation among the community, because people are more likely to send cruel asks to others when it can’t be traced back to them. 4chan is another community that is infamous for both the level of anonymity it provides its users and for generally being a very negative space.

Another factor in the level of tolerance an online community appears to have for hurtful behavior is the systems it has for dealing with said behavior. On Discord, for example, every server is run solely by the people who make it, and a select few others whom the server creators give moderation powers to. The server can easily become an unpleasant place to be under any of the following circumstances: the moderators are not active very often; there are very few of them compared to the overall number of people in the server; they are lenient on people who break the rules, or even actively support them and their toxic behavior. Even on sites like YouTube and Facebook that have corporations behind them and huge teams employed to monitor for content that breaks their Terms of Service, there is so much content posted regularly that keeping up with it is a monumental, if not impossible, task. 

On top of that, there is a mental and emotional cost for the people who take on such roles. Back in February, Casey Newton wrote an article for The Verge about the experiences of some of the people who review reported content on Facebook. Their job is a balance of “striving to purge Facebook of its worst content while protecting the maximum amount of legitimate (if uncomfortable) speech,” 2 and they are evaluated based on their efficiency and accuracy. The article goes over many sickening aspects of the situation, such as how employees are allotted very little break time because of the sheer number of posts there are to review. Exposure to horrific posts like video of people being killed causes many of the workers to develop PTSD or other mental illnesses, while consistent exposure to offensive humor and conspiracy theories bleeds into their personal lives and, seemingly antithetical to the purpose of the space, creates a working atmosphere where these things are tolerated. Most of the former employees interviewed for the article quit the job after a year3.

The main impression I took away from this article is how impossible it is to regulate online communities on a large scale. This is why I do my best to regulate which segments of online communities I participate in. For example, I used to be in a few different discord servers, but some of them occasionally posted political content from sources that I deeply distrusted, and some of the biggest members in those servers would repeatedly say casually bigoted things. When I realized that I couldn’t trust the mods of the servers to keep things on topic and crack down on the bigotry, I quietly left the servers, and have since been much more active in the couple I feel comfortable in. 

The readings I’ve done for this class, particularly the article by Jennifer Peepas for Coral, have only further reinforced that I made the right decision. She tailored her blog, Captain Awkward, to be a community where visitors are assured the opportunity to “have a reasonably civil and constructive discussion” centered “around the idea that there is power in speaking up…  It was always about the words”4. To me, this is the biggest part of being a digital citizen: regulating your own online experience to get the most out of it. Use the tools at your exposure, like blocking people and filtering tags, so you can have a good time in the communities you’re interested in. 

Works Cited

Dash, Anil. “If Your Website’s Full of Assholes, It’s Your Fault.” Anil Dash, Anil Dash, 20 July 2011,

Newton, Casey. “The Secret Lives of Facebook Moderators in America.” The Verge, Vox Media, 25 Feb. 2019,

Peepas, Jennifer. “Why Captain Awkward Wanted A Different Kind Of Comments.” The Coral Project Guides, Vox Media, 26 July 2017,