Tag Archives: gatekeeping

Misinformed

A few days ago I read about the uprising in Egypt on Tumblr.

Bits and pieces of information littered my dashboard and I became engrossed. Social media helped organize a revolution, so any former thoughts of Twitter as a useless dumping ground for opinions disappeared.

When I discovered the Internet was shut down in Egypt, it was difficult to absorb. The place where anyone can have a platform to speak was cut off in an attempt to silence the protests. This is the first time in my lifetime–that I know of–where such blatant and widespread censorship occurred. (This is not counting censorship in areas where people never had the right or freedom to express themselves in the first place.)

While the power of social media has gained respect due to these events, much is being done to harm its reputation as well.

Information is disseminated so rapidly that fact-checking and context can be lost. As I’ve said before, the Internet can be full of lies, and we should remember that especially when everyone is clamoring to read the latest breaking news.

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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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