Recent Reads Isn’t Written by Bots – We Promise

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It’s pretty incredible how quickly the phrase fake news has permeated public discourse. The term itself has been around for a long time – but it really blew up during the 2016 presidential election. Our lead item in this edition focuses on the role of social bots, which continue to hold some sway despite the retirement of those dumb egg photos.

We’re also reading about how being a journalist can be bad for your mental health, how one ski bum got political, how blue dogs (not the political kind) descended on India and a look at who really makes Trader Joe’s popular products.

With that, here’s Recent Reads.

First Evidence That Social Bots Play a Major Role in Spreading Fake News — Fascinating and relevant to the PR industry, this article explores findings from a first-ever systematic study of the way online misinformation spreads. The key finding: social bots are the main player in the spread of fake news soon after it is published. One way to combat this problem, according to the authors, would be to outlaw specific social bots. However, knowing which bots to outlaw is challenging because many social bots spread legitimate information. A modern day conundrum that was unimaginable even a decade ago now challenges our ability to make informed decisions, based on facts, that align with our values. Maybe that’s dramatic, but the fake news problem is anything but trivial. – Pam Munoz

When Being a Journalist is Terrible for Your Mental Health – Many journalists (perhaps too many) have written about their personal struggles over the past few years, as traditional outlets have been forced to adapt, sometimes painfully, and layoffs have decimated newsrooms. But this article addressed journalists’ mental health, a topic that probably doesn’t get enough attention. Throw in the vitriol directed at the news media – and the fact that the journalists covering the most important news are people, too – and it’s no wonder that many of them are likely struggling. – Paul Wilson

From Ski Bum to City Council – As a college student in Colorado, I had plenty of friends who longed for the ski bum lifestyle. So it was refreshing to read about Eric Balken, a long-time ski bum at Utah’s famed Alta Ski Resort, and his transition from ski bum to City Council member. As a bum, he learned that vacationers to resort towns largely take things like public transportation, affordable housing, taxes and other community issues for granted. Seeing an opportunity help his town, Balken leveraged his years growing up in Utah and working at a local non-profit to add his voice to the issues. Now, who’s going to fill Balken role in the ski bum trade? – Padraic Swanton

Blue dogs roaming India lead to discovery of chemical firm’s river contamination – When a group of activists in India saw dogs and birds turning blue, they knew something was amiss. The critters had been wandering around an industrial area in India, which led the state pollution control board to investigate the strange occurrence. They found that Ducol Organics, a plant that exporters, manufacturer and supplies pigments, was releasing untreated waste, specifically blue dye, into the air and Kasadi River in Taloja. Officers immediately shut down the facility. As for the animals? Don’t worry – they’re safe. Blood tests performed on some of the affected dogs showed the dye was water soluble and no threat to the hounds’ health. – Dana Provost

What Brands Are Actually Behind Trader Joe’s Snacks? — Using big data (publically available via government filings), Eater uncovered the origins of Trader Joe’s private label snacks and food. While the conclusions are hardly earth-shattering, I like the way the reporters used data was used to uncover and support the hypothesis that Trader Joe’s food isn’t as hip or boutique-y as it seems. The authors then went a step further, with primary research (taste tests) to further support their findings that the food tasted no different from its name-brand counterparts. – Kevin Iredell

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