When Texting, One Little Thing Makes a Big Difference

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iStock

When texting in a hurry, punctuation is the first thing to go. Although improvements in cell phone keyboards and a widespread increase in general tech-savviness have rendered such overly abbreviated messages as “c u l8r” old-fashioned and (mostly) obsolete, texting is still a medium that calls for efficiency. However, researchers from Binghamton University have found that text recipients interpret messages differently based on the presence or absence of one simple thing: a period.

In "Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging," a study of 126 college students, researchers from Binghamton’s Center for Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Sciences found that text messages punctuated with a period at the end were considered “less sincere” than identical text messages received without the period. Participants were presented with a series of brief conversational exchanges, in which a brief, informal message containing a question (“Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna go?”) was replied to with an affirmative one-word response like “Okay,” “Sure,” “Yeah,” or “Yup.” In half the cases, the exact reply was “Sure.” (note the period), and in the other half, the response was “Sure” – sans period. Surprisingly, this subtle manipulation was enough to cause respondents to rate the punctuation-free message as more sincere, and the correctly punctuated message as less sincere.

In addition to determining whether the period itself carried interpretive weight, the researchers also manipulated the medium by which the message was sent. Some participants were shown images of texts, represented by messages pictured on a cell phone screen, while others were shown identically worded messages hand-written on photocopied scraps of lined, loose-leaf paper (looking a lot like notes that students might pass to one another in class). Respondents in the hand-written message scenario rated both punctuated and unpunctuated sentences as equally sincere as one another, and both were judged equally as sincere as text messages without a final period. For some reason, then, a period seems to have a greater impact in text messages (a form of what psychologists call computer-mediated communication, or CMC) than it does in written communication.

As to why a digital period carries more meaning than one written in ballpoint pen, the researchers were reluctant to speculate. In the study, they conclude “not so much that the period is used to convey a lack of sincerity in text messages, but that punctuation is one of the cues used by senders, and understood by receivers, to convey pragmatic and social information.” In the absence of vocal inflection, facial expression, body language, pauses, and eye contact, a humble period might be worth more, relatively speaking. There are plenty of believers in the importance of proper text punctuation etiquette already, with various parties anecdotally convinced that ending a message with a period indicates passive-aggression, omitting an exclamation point (or three) constitutes rudeness, or that only old people use commas—but ultimately, it’s between the sender and the receiver to negotiate mutual understanding of what a text means. And if there’s any lingering doubt as to whether a response is sincere or not, maybe someday there’ll be an emoji for that.

[h/t Pacific Standard]

What's the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?

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iStock.com/Grassetto

Despite using it every day, the internet is still a mystery to many of its users. If asked to explain how your home internet connection works, you may start with your router and modem. Both devices are essential to setting up a wireless network, but they serve distinct functions. Here are the major differences between the two pieces of hardware that make home internet run.

What is a Modem?

Cable modem.
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The modem is your home's gateway to the World Wide Web. It's often a skinny box with a row of LED icons on the front that tell you if it's on and connected to the internet. The name is short for modulator-demodulator—a phrase left over from the days of dial-up when modems worked by modulating telephone signals into frequencies that could send digital information.

Today, most modems use broadband connections like cable or satellite to transmit data. There are different types of modems built to fit different connections. If your internet service provider (ISP) uses cable or fiber internet, you'll need to plug a cable into the back of your modem, and if you still use a digital subscriber line (DSL), you'll have to plug in a phone line.

What is a Router?

Internet router.
iStock.com/farakos

You can connect to the internet with just a modem as long as you don't mind plugging your device directly into the Ethernet port. But if you want to provide internet to all the laptops, desktops, and smartphones in your home at the same time, you'll need a router.

Routers usually lie flat and have antennas sticking out of them. The router hooks up to your modem via an Ethernet cable and acts as a conduit between the direct internet and your home network. After connecting your devices, the router "routes" your modem's networking traffic their way, either through Ethernet wires or wirelessly through Wi-Fi (that's what the antennas are for). The router also works in the other direction by routing data sent from your computer back to the web.

Why Knowing the Difference Matters

When they've been sitting in the same spot in your home for years, it's easy to think of your router and modem as basically the same thing. But it's worth knowing the difference—especially if you care about improving your internet connection. Now that you know the router is what directs Wi-Fi signals, you can boost your home network by placing it in a central location away from electronic appliances. And as long as it doesn't interfere with the router, feel free to hide your modem behind a houseplant.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Hackers Used Facebook Quizzes to Steal Data from 60,000 Users

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iStock.com/bombuscreative

It’s been a tumultuous few months for Facebook. A data breach in fall 2018 exposed information about 30 million of its users to hackers. Only a few months later, the company was also criticized for paying individuals to voluntarily install an app that collected information about their smartphone habits. Now, it’s dealing with concerns that some of the quizzes available on the platform have been used to collect data from unsuspecting users.

According to CNN, the scheme is detailed in a lawsuit Facebook filed in California last week against developers Andrey Gorbachov and Gleb Sluchevsky. The defendants, who are based in Kiev, Ukraine, allegedly created quizzes like, “Do you have royal blood?” or “What does your eye color say about you?” as a way to access private user data. When Facebook users interacted with these tests, they were prompted to install browser extensions that allowed the alleged hackers to pose as those users, collecting information as well as taking control of their browsers. The improperly obtained information consisted of names, ages, and friend lists, which hackers then used for targeted advertising that they injected into users' feeds.

It’s possible the breach also resulted in the publication of 81,000 private messages in 2018, which was initially blamed on unspecified malware browser extensions that have not yet been publicly identified. Facebook has yet to confirm the two incidents are related, however.

Facebook said that the primary targets of the operation were Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking users, with 60,000 browsers compromised.

This isn't the only time Facebook quizzes have been tied to data breaches. Last year’s Cambridge Analytica controversy revealed that the firm used quizzes and questionnaires on Facebook to surreptitiously compile data on millions of users.

So what should you do about it? Online security experts caution against third-party apps that are accessed through Facebook. If you’re concerned about utilities that you installed without much thought, you can see a list by clicking on Settings, then the Apps link on the left menu. If you don’t recognize an app, it’s best to delete it.

[h/t CNN]

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