The Internet is Full of Lies

You can’t trust anything you see here.

I don’t mean that in the philosophical skeptical sense, where you could be dreaming your existence right now. I mean that, according to former Internet entrepreneur Andrew Keen, the Internet is full of lies and the truth is hard to find.

Keen is the author of “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.” He is a staunch advocate for traditional media and the editorial and review process that comes with it.

From “The Cult of the Amateur”:

“Today’s editors, technicians, and cultural gatekeepers – the experts across an array of fields – are necessary to help us sift through what’s important and what’s not, what is credible from what is unreliable, what is worth spending our time on as opposed to the white noise that can be safely ignored.”

Sounds reasonable to me. I don’t want to waste my time on junk. I, too, believe that traditional media sources are the best place to turn for important news. The public needs to be aware of local, national, and world events that will affect their lives, and traditional media is a reliable source.

One Man’s Trash…

However, sometimes what one person considers “white noise” is what another considers Grammy material. There is a niche market for just about everything. That’s why it’s important for us to have that pile of junk to dig through.

I think there is an important distinction that needs to be made. The “junk” is separated from the “good stuff” because it appeals to people on a different level. For traditional news we turn to traditional media (even if it is in a roundabout way, like through news aggregators). However, for our quirky interests and hobbies, and even just for entertainment, we look through the junk.

Sifting through all that is on the web can be exhausting. However, I liken it to shopping. Bargain stores, thrift stores, garage sales, or even just hunting through the sale racks can be such a pain. I won’t even try if I’m not in the mood. However, when I find the perfect item, it feels awesome. Afterwards, the urge to share my find with everyone is overwhelming.

…Is Sometimes Just Trash

Unfortunately, not everything is going to be a great find. Sometimes junk is just junk, no matter who is looking at it. There is no clearly defined “Opinion” section here, and opinion can be espoused as though it were fact.

Keen uses Wikipedia as just one example of the way false information is spread on the Web. Not only has it contained outright lies about people, but also the content can be edited with a bias.

“That is why, in February 2007, the Middlebury College history department banned students from citing Wikipedia as a source for research papers,” he wrote.

I agree wholeheartedly that Wikipedia shouldn’t be used for research papers. But was a ban necessary? I don’t think so.

Use Your Brain

“These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com,” Keen wrote.

I think that my generation needs to be given a little more credit. We should all know that Wikipedia isn’t fact checked for us. Heck, they admit it freely. It can be a good starting point, but following links and finding original sources for the material it contains is important. We just need to use our brains. That’s what they’re there for.

Sure the Internet contains a lot of white noise, and I appreciate the gatekeepers who filter out the important news for us. However, every once in a while I want to find something beyond the traditional, and I can do a little filtering for myself.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Internet is Full of Lies

  1. Joseph

    Sounds pretty spot on to me. The amount of complete garbage on the internet is astonishing. Just about every advert uses some underhanded trick to try and get you to click them, and networking information out of people is as simple as ever, and all it takes is a little lying to get it out of them. Take it from me, who has hijacked countless emails and forums by just getting people to give out simple information like their dogs name.

  2. Johnrap

    Great post. Thank you.

    I found this article by entering “why is the internet so full of lies” in Bing.com. Anyway, great article. I like the analogy about the yard sale, or whatever. It’s like yeah, mostly it’s junk on the internet, but sometimes it’s not. Or, if you happen to need that nugget of junk, it’s not to you. Plus, as long as you realize you’re just looking through someone else’s junk for the fun of it, then sure, knock yourself out.

    I personally never look stuff up. I program computers for a living. Computers are so detached from reality to begin with that nothing matters. I could think up is down, black is white and stars are made of cheese and it wouldn’t really affect my job performance. Design data flow, use program syntax to express to computer, test, repeat.

    Although I do hate the mainstream media with a passion. If you ever attend an event in person, or have first hand knowledge of some industry or place or technology then you read the New York Times write up on the same thing, you’ll come to the conclusion that the NYT is either deliberately full of lies or such a pile of nonsensical fluff that you’d get better information sifting through the junk piles of the internet and adding some salt and common sense.

    For example, the New York Times thinks that the Catholic Church, one of the largest charitable organizations in the world, is actually some sort of systemized child abusing ring. I mean, there are a billion Catholics in the world, but the only ones covered in the New York Times are the ones that committ crimes, even if those criminals are lower per capita in the Church versus the population in general.

    Call the NYT on their bias and they’ll tell you something about it’s only a news story if a man bites a dog. Yeah, that’s convenient. I suppose if they applied that principle consistently it’d be fine. Of course they don’t.

    • Emmalee

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked the post.

      As you said, the oddity of a situation is what can make something “newsworthy,” and as a result there can be a high concentration of negative press associated with a group at a given time. A good news organization should acknowledge that effect and include sources in its stories that provide context to the situation. A recent example would be coverage of the proposed Islamic cultural center in New York. Balanced coverage would include voices for and against the project, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

      Others who have expressed a dislike for mainstream media have embraced citizen journalism. It comes with its own set of pros and cons, but it’s nice that the Web allows virtually everyone to have a platform.

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