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Using the Right Equipment

The last time I went camping I cooked over a campfire for the first time. I made a large pot of chili. It was delicious. The only problem was that I used the wrong type of pot. The bottom of the once shiny pot was blackened by the char from the campfire. The pot was not ruined, but it took quite a bit of work to clean it up. Even after scrubbing, it was never the same. For my subsequent meals I used equipment better for campfire cooking (sticks and tinfoil) and had a much easier time cleaning up.

Online there is a tool that is used with undue caution or avoided altogether. That tool is Wikipedia. My digital media literacy training in middle school and high school consistently taught that Wikipedia is not a reliable resource because anyone can edit it. The fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia is part of what makes the site such a powerful tool. Properly using Wikipedia requires some verification skills, though. This video shares some quality information on how to use Wikipedia correctly and what makes it a great source.

Just as there is certain equipment that works best for cooking over a campfire, there are certain guidelines that should be followed when using Wikipedia. I recently had the opportunity to work on one of Wikipedia’s collaborative projects, WikiProject Newspapers, and I learned some valuable things about using the site.

To begin my contribution, I looked at a list of newspapers in Washington that needed articles written about them. The list had already been created by contributors to the Wikiprojects Newspapers. This made it easy for me to have somewhere to begin. I initially began looking at a paper that was just listed as “County Chronicle”. I had a hard time finding information on Mondo Times and the Library of Congress about the paper. Knowing that there are probably multiple papers called “County Chronicle”, I tried to narrow the results by state and still came up dry. As I last ditch effort I did a Google search and found out the paper’s full name is likely The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle. There was already an article for that paper. I ended up leaving a note stating this with a link.

Screenshot showing link to Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle
Screenshot with my contribution to the list

I decided to move on the Goldendale Sentinel. I was able to immediately find information about the page on the Library of Congress and Mondo Times. These are both good secondary sources. The newspaper existed and was still in print. The next part was trickier. Before I started working on the page I wanted to make sure that the newspaper was notable, otherwise it would not necessarily need its own Wikipedia article. I began by checking to see if there was news about the paper in other newspapers. There wasn’t. I also checked to see if the paper had won any awards but could not find information on that either. I finally checked Google to see if it had been mentioned in books. There was a book that actually had history about how the newspaper started. It also mentioned that it was the oldest newspaper in eastern Washington. When I checked Klickitat County’s page I also found that the newspaper was listed as a community media source. These last two facts gave me enough confidence in the notability of the newspaper to begin drafting a page. It doesn’t have much, but it lays groundwork for some future collaboration.

Screenshot of Goldendale Sentinel Wikipedia article draft
Screenshot of my Wikipedia contributions

Putting in the work to find information and working on a project that many other people confirmed many of the things that I believed about Wikipedia. For one thing, the collaborative nature of the site is what makes it so powerful. My research was somewhat limited but other users can add more information later. Further, Wikipedia uses citations heavily. The sources have to be secondary sources and should be credible. For me, the sources are what makes the site functional. While users don’t know who wrote the article they can find where the author got the information. Wikipedia is a great place to do introductory research, just like cooking over a campfire is a great way to cook in the woods. Both just require the right set of equipment and skills.

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To Play Online

I spent a great deal of time outside as a child. Growing up in rural Iowa gave me plenty of space to play. One of the houses that I lived in even had a creek next to it. It was like having the woods in my own backyard. My parents gave me clear rules for playing outside: don’t leave the yard without permission, don’t go in the street, be home by the time the streetlights come on, etc. These rules gave me the guidance needed to have fun outdoors safely. There were still risks, but not enough for my parents to keep me indoors. Parents today have a new wilderness to set rules for: YouTube.

YouTube is popular with kids. Pew Research revealed that nearly 80% of parents with children under the age of 11 allow their kids to watch YouTube at least sometimes. The platform does offer plenty of free, quality content for kids. With this comes plenty of things kids should not be exposed to, though. From Momo to creepy videos with Peppa Pig, kids have seen a lot of things they shouldn’t on the platform. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from researching children’s use of YouTube it’s that YouTube has drug it’s feet to create tools that help parents use the site safely. This has left a lot of the work to parents.

One of the number one things you can do is to set up YouTube Kids or use the YouTube restricted modes available, as displayed in the video above. The video above shows how to set up the restricted settings on YouTube’s main site. Using these tools does not mean that kids will not see inappropriate content. It can still slip through the algorithms that filter content. It does, however, greatly reduce the likelihood that children will see it. In my opinion, YouTube Kids is likely the best option as it offers the most options for parents and lets content get filtered by age group.

Even with all of the tools available for parents for YouTube the systems aren’t perfect. YouTube itself admits that inappropriate content can still makes its way onto YouTube Kids. The best advice I can give is to continue to keep a close eye on what kids are watching. Pre-screening every video is impractical. Creating playlists with videos from trusted channels is a reliable alternative. As obnoxious as kids content can be, an easy step is to require kids to watch videos without headphones so it’s easier to hear if something inappropriate comes on. Have conversations about what content is okay and what content they should click out of, as well.

Using YouTube safely for kids often feels more confusing than creating rules for playing outside safely. These guidelines don’t eliminate all risks of using YouTube just as my parents rules didn’t eliminate all risks of playing outdoors. Using these guidelines allows parents and children to benefit from all that YouTube has to offer with far fewer risks.

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Camping the Copyright Way

Back in September my best friend Beca and I took our first camping trip together. Anyone who has spoken to us since can verify this because it’s all we talked about for weeks. It was our first adventure together and we needed to do a lot of research before we headed out to get lost in the woods (or, more accurately, headed to a well-established campground in the Chicago suburbs). Resources were easily available for us to find the information we needed to prepare. We looked at Pinterest camping lists, watched REI videos, and talked to our outdoorsy friends. The trip was a success.

photo of Beca Putnam and Abby Eastvold
Beca and I on our camping trip (Photo by me)

Navigating the copyright rules associated with sharing works such as photos online can feel like trying to prepare for a camping trip without the same resources we had to guide us. It’s easy to save and share other people’s work and for other people to do the same with your work. This does not necessarily mean that it is ethical, though. Copyrights give original creators the rights to their works online, whether they are professional or not.

Not only is Beca my best friend and adventure buddy, she is also a professional photographer. I decided to sit down with her and ask her about her experiences with copyright and sharing work online. The conversation helped to make the best practices a little clearer. Beca helped to explain best practices for ethically sharing others’ work online. We mainly discussed Instagram, as that is where she shares a lot of her work. Each platform has its own Terms of Service and sharing and tagging functions. Best practices may vary from platform to platform. With that in mind, many of the same principles apply across platforms. Her experiences provided further insight for me. Beca and I had a great time recording this interview. I hope you all find the conversation equally informative and entertaining.

Conversation with Beca Putnam

To view more of Beca Putnam’s work follow her on Instagram.

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Uncanning Spam

Over the past several months I have noticed a sharp increase in the number of spam phone calls I was receiving. The number quickly increased from maybe one or two a week to several a day. I was left feeling like I wanted to defenestrate my phone and disappear into the woods forever. Before doing this, I decided I should first do some research on how spammers get phone numbers and what if there was anything I could do to stop it.

I know I am not alone in my issues with spam calls. In fact, Tech Crunch reports that spam calls increased 18% in America in 2019. Phone calls are not the only way people receive spam. E-mail is also a common medium for spam. Most people don’t notice this, though, because most e-mail hosts have proficient spam filters that are default settings. There are filtering services for cellphones as well, but they are not always default settings. This should be default with the growing issue of spam, in my opinion. I activated my phone’s spam filter and used the other tips included in this video and have noticed a sharp decrease in spam calls. My plans to disappear into the woods are now on hold (for now).

As a side note, I would like to make the distinction between spam calls and robocalls. While robocalls are often spam, they are not always spam. Robocalls are often used for emergency alert systems or to provide necessary information, such as school closures. Because of this, stopping robocalling altogether is not a solution. Spam calls may have a live person on the other end.

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My Brief History in the Woods

As a child in the early 2000’s, media literacy was always a part of my education. I’ve previously compared my media literacy education like the story of Little Red Riding Hood. This to me remains the most appropriate description. The conversations always presented the Internet as something to be feared. It was as dark and scary as the woods. It was best if I just stayed out of them. There were multiple Big Bad Wolves lurking and waiting to prey on me. If I absolutely needed to journey into the woods the path I needed to walk was narrow.

narrow trail with dark woods
Photo by Abagail Eastvold

Most of the conversations that I remember having about media literacy was that people on the Internet may not be who they claim to be. They were wolves in Grandma’s clothes. It’s not hard to imagine why educators found this to be an important point to make. Anonymity was fairly easy. Stories about malicious users posing as innocuous peers were common. The death of Megan Meier was the most famous. Her story confirmed teachers’ and parents’ worst fears about social media in particular. Even with supervision, kids could still fall prey to what today would be considered a troll. The safest option seemed to be to stay out of the woods altogether and to never journey in alone.

By the time I reached my senior year in 2012, many of my peers and I had been running through the woods unsupervised for some time. According to Pew Research, 77% of teens at the time had cellphones and one in four had smartphones. By this point, a cellphone without a camera was unheard of. We could send and receive pictures in moments. The conversations shifted with the technology. Instead of being told to stay out of the woods, we were told to take caution in how we behaved. We were warned that what we post on the Internet could hurt our ability to get jobs later. Another danger was the fact that the information could be shared outside of our intended audience. Instead of being told to stay out of the woods, we were told to journey cautiously.

photo of Abby Eastvold in the woods
Photo Courtesy of Beca Putnam

Today, the Internet is a part of everyday life for most Americans. Staying out of the woods is no long an option. Concerns over who has access to information online is more complex. If the Internet is like the woods, new trees are constantly growing, old ones are falling, and we don’t know all of the wildlife living in them. Media literacy needs to evolve with the Internet. Now that I have shared my history with media literacy I feel confident to share the tools and principles I have learned and am continuing to learn to navigate the landscape.

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