I recently realized something critical about how the internet works today.
The assumptions readers make about the information they find online — even at relatively “reputable” sites — are wrong. The internet is redefining what “journalism” means. As a result, it’s become even more critical for online information consumers (you and me) to take on a burden we haven’t had to concern ourselves with until now.
The burden of confirmation.
I’ve written about it before, but the sad fact is, you just can’t believe everything you read on the internet. It is now your responsibility to do the legwork and confirm whether something is or is not true.
Yes, I agree: it’s totally broken.
It’s partly our fault.
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What drives the internet
Most websites on the internet measure traffic. More visitors equals more success. It’s as simple as that. Whether the success is measured in advertising revenue or product sales, the bottom line is, more eyeballs are critical to online success.
This is also true for Ask Leo! More visitors make my endeavor more successful.
So, how does one get traffic?
My approach has been relatively straightforward: write articles I think are helpful and informative, answer real questions asked by real people, sprinkle them with my own editorial and other content, and hope that people discover me via the search engines when they’re looking for an answer to a problem.
Unfortunately, that approach isn’t as effective as it once was. Perhaps as a result, more and more sites use different techniques to attract site visitors and their clicks.
Perhaps the most common approach to generating traffic these days is the sensational or salacious headline — one that says something so strong or outrageous you just have to click through to read more.
The resulting article may or may not deliver on the headline’s promise, but the headline served its purpose: it got you to click, the site got a “page view,” and perhaps an ad was seen. Mission accomplished. The fact that the accompanying article was total rubbish or content-free is immaterial.
Many continue with provocative and/or unsubstantiated information, all to get you to spend more time on the site, click through to additional pages, or, even better, share the article with your friends.
All this effort is often at the expense of what we refer to as truth, accuracy, or balance.
The truth is often less than exciting and doesn’t generate page views.
When it comes to the news, however, there’s another factor at play.
News in internet time
Because the internet is instantaneous, there’s tremendous competitive pressure to get articles published as quickly as technologically possible.
This often happens at the expense of facts, replacing them with rampant speculation — speculation that is often presented or interpreted as fact.
Confirming facts takes time and resources. The immediacy of internet publishing has removed the luxury of time and budget; other constraints erode the resources required to even do the work.
Websites that cover current events are faced with a simple choice:
- Speculate today
- Be correct tomorrow
Getting something out today almost always wins — accuracy be damned.
How you and I are part of the problem
The satirical news parody site The Onion nailed it with this article: Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance Was Our Top Story this Morning.
The article is a fictitious “explanation” of why a major news site highlighted the antics of the singer at the previous night’s music awards show on its homepage.
The only thing fictitious about the article is its attribution. Everything else is frighteningly accurate.
It’s all about clicks and page views and time-on-site and advertising revenue and … well, you get the idea.
The fact is, you and I are much more likely to click stories about the outrageous antics of a pop singer than we are to click stories about what one might consider “real news,” such as atrocities happening elsewhere in the world.
News sites give us what we want, as measured in clicks.
The same is true for the salacious headlines, fact-free articles, and sensational speculation-as-truth littered all over the internet.
We don’t click on boring, and we don’t fact check anything.
I have no solution, but…
I’m not about to change journalism or human nature.
We’ll click on what we’re going to click on, and website owners are going to respond as they see fit for their business.
As an information consumer, however, I want you to be aware of two important things:
Your decisions and actions drive the internet. You may believe that it’s big (or small) business doing whatever they want to make money, but the fact is, they can’t do that without you. The more you visit certain sites, the more you implicitly endorse what they do and how they do it. As a result, they’re going to do it more.
Seriously. That’s exactly how it works.
When you reflexively hit the “share” button and spread unconfirmed “news” to the world, or even just click on that innocuous “Like”, you are actively participating in and rewarding the system that is breaking the internet. You’re making things worse.
You can’t believe everything you read on the internet. This pains me deeply, because while almost everyone says this, it seems no one acts like they understand it. It’s absolutely amazing the wild and wacky stuff that people believe because it’s published online. The fact is, even those sites we consider reputable fall into the trap of publishing inaccurate and misleading information1 — and yet people believe it all without question.
And that’s what has to change.
You must question everything
This is where I really believe that internet journalism is letting us down. This is how the internet has broken journalism.
You and I now have do the legwork that we used to assume journalists and authors had at least made an attempt to do themselves.
It’s horrible. It’s awful. It’s frustrating. It shouldn’t be this way.
And yet, it is what it is.
You and I must (and I do mean must) take everything we read online with a grain of salt. Nothing can be believed without question.
Now, you and I must confirm the truth, check sources, clarify statements, and see through hyperbole.
Of course, the practical reality is that we can’t do that for every single thing we encounter. As a result, we develop relationships with sources that we trust — venues that have proven themselves to be honest, accurate, and at least somewhat diligent about presenting truth as truth, speculation as speculation, and avoiding the temptation to do just about anything for a page view.
Naturally, I hope Ask Leo! is one of those sites.
But even for those sites that you trust, you must keep up your guard and do your own due diligence. Accidentally or not, it’s easy to get it wrong.
And if I ever start posting about the antics of half-naked pop stars, slap me. Hard.
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Footnotes & References
1: I try really hard not to, but … it happens. I try to fix it when it does, but as I’ve stated in several places, I could be wrong.
49 comments on “How the Internet Is Breaking Journalism (and What It Means to You)”
I recently saw a sensationalistic post on a friend’s FaceBook page about our loss of freedoms with a link to a video from a “fair and balanced” n̶o̶i̶s̶e̶ news site. I was able to find the truth (a very different story) about this on factcheck.org. Snopes.com is pretty good ad debunking urban legends, but factcheck.org seems to be one of the best at debunking sensationalist news and political claims.
I have been victimized by this sort of thing and upbraided for it justly. Normally, I will not forward stuff I get that is only full of political opinions and is sent to get someone riled up one way or another. But I failed recently and spent a lot of time removing the fire from a note before I forwarded it. The note was false to begin with.
So, I have relearned a valuable lesson. I will try henceforth to screen everything I get to see if it is true or not before I forward it. If it is political in nature, usually it is biased and sometimes outright lies and will not change the mind of the recipient.
Thanks for the reminder. It was unbelievably well-timed.
I hate to tell you this, Leo, since you’re one of the good guys, but along with an ad blocker I use a program that blocks trackers and web beacons that allow you to tell that I’ve visited your page. At the moment, Ghostery is blocking six of them including Google Analytics and Facebook Social Plugins. I despise the lack of privacy we have surfing the Internet.
I do use whatever critical facilities I have to determine whether or not to believe what I read. Your newsletter is one of the few that I rely on to be straight with me, not to mention really useful when my computer has me staring at it in total confusion.
Check out Snopes.com
Sadly, I lost my confidence in Snopes. I’ve found many biased articles lately.
Excellent article. It’d be nice if it got a lot of attention and was widely read but that won’t be the case. (sigh…)
Real Journalism ended when Walter Cronkite retired. :-(
Interesting article, Leo. Thank you.
Unfortunately, as with the press, we get the internet we deserve.
You mean, “as with our Government.”. : (
Leo – Bravo! For writing about what’s been happening to Journalism – the Problems online – and giving some sound, professional advice about what All of us can do about it.
I’ve worked a number of years in communications, public relations and advertising. One of the hardest things I found when I began was to find effective ways – and clients – to maintain integrity in what we created. People like David Ogilvy (Ogvily and Mather founder) and some others were a great inspiration. I read your email newsletters with a great amount of appreciation for not only their valuable information – but for the integrity of their author.
Thanks – you’re helping to get things in the right direction.
Good article but really! Do you think it has ever been different? Do you think the newspapers and magazines of old were better? I can recall witnessing a minor confrontation at my college some fifty-five years ago. The news wires contained a story that had little to do with what I witnessed. I lost my innocence!
On the positive side, if you do want to dig into a story, it is much easier now than ever before. You can usually find contrary views about almost any situation.
In summary, it has always been necessary to be skeptical. Remember the sinking of the Maine? Or the Gulf of Tonkin? It takes work to be an informed citizen. I have the impression that most Americans are not up to it.
Thanks for all your work.
While I enjoyed the insightful comments, my first reaction was, “I wonder if this is true…”. Like many people, my inbox is regularly populated with emails from friends starting with “you won’t believe this but…”. Many are harmless like “amazing paintings look like photographs” (they WERE photographs), however, many are not. Proctor & Gamble is owned by Muslims, small Scandinavian island village regularly slaughters whales for sport… Not to mention the blatantly false and alarmingly frequent political smear emails. I am usually very thorough in fact checking (Snopes is a good start) and responding to the sender with corrections (and sources). Invariably I get a response accusing me of being pedantic.
Unfortunately, the first response of someone getting one of these “true facts” emails is to forward it to their friends. I can’t see this changing but I will continue to annoy people by not being part of the problem. Who was it who said that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for?
By the way, a duck’s quack DOES echo.
You wrote, “By the way, a duck’s quack DOES echo.”
The MythBusters have already confirmed that one. :)
Your article echoes one of my concerns. For over a year, I’ve written comments on forums regarding the mini-stories I read. Then, a couple, three months ago, I started wondering how much and how many of these “stories” are true. I stopped reading past the headlines on most of them, and now seldom leave a comment even on the few I read. I’m amused over the absurdities of life, but the sensationalism? Forget it; I’ve better things to do.
Such as researching the “research” and putting on my old-but-forgotten “question everything” hat.
A timely article. But Leo, aren’t you misinforming us just a little. That photo of you must be a very old one. Or do you still look as young as that? :-)
You homed in on the early-90s George Castanza glasses, I’ll bet.
The photo’s about 5-6 years old, but yeah … definitely time for an update. :-)
As others have touched on: IT’S NOT JUST THE INTERNET.
Thus the rise of the invented celebrity—you know, the ones from whom you can’t get away. The media creates them and drives the need to know their every move. They drive TV ratings and sell magazines. All sides get rich while our standards drop lower and lower.
I’m sorry Leo, I must take issue with you on this assumption:
“Your decisions and actions drive the internet. You may believe that it’s big (or small) business doing whatever it is they want to make money, but the fact is they can’t do that without you. The more that you visit certain sites, the more you’re implicitly endorsing what they do and how they do it. As a result, they’re going to do more.
Seriously. That’s exactly how it works.”
NO, it is definitely NOT how “it works.”. I can quote you chapter and verse from the 1950s to the 1990s on how the overwhelmingly high percentage of stories were NOT “when it bleeds, it leads” or simple sensationalism appealing to the lowest common denominator of readership. I can bring you proof of funding of pro-war, pro-fossil fuel, pro-predatory capitalist practices, active suppression of news about criminal activities by our own government in order to keep the people in the dark about said activity. Don’t tell me they wouldn’t be “interested” in reading that and would prefer Hollywood scandals and other mindless entertainment. You are a knowledgeable man. Study Operation Mockingbird.
Follow your own rule (and mine as well!) and CONFIRM all the following statements rather than tossing them aside as mendacity before you responsibly investigate them.
“You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.” – CIA operative discussing with Philip Graham, editor Washington Post, on the availability and prices of journalists willing to peddle CIA propaganda and cover stories. “Katherine The Great,” by Deborah Davis (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1991)
“The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media.” — William Colby, former CIA Director, cited by Dave Mcgowan, Derailing Democracy
“There is quite an incredible spread of relationships. You don’t need to manipulate Time magazine, for example, because there are [Central Intelligence] Agency people at the management level.” — William B. Bader, former CIA intelligence officer, briefing members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, The CIA and the Media, by Carl Bernstein
“The Agency’s relationship with [The New York] Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It was] general Times policy … to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible.” — The CIA and the Media, by Carl Bernstein
“Senator William Proxmire has pegged the number of employees of the federal intelligence community at 148,000 … though Proxmire’s number is itself a conservative one. The “intelligence community” is officially defined as including only those organizations that are members of the U.S. Intelligence Board (USIB); a dozen other agencies, charged with both foreign and domestic intelligence chores, are not encompassed by the term…. The number of intelligence workers employed by the federal government is not 148,000, but some undetermined multiple of that number.” — Jim Hougan, Spooks
“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government…. I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations.” –former President Harry Truman, 22 December 1963, one month after the JFK assassination, op-ed section of the Washington Post, early edition
As terrible as it is to live in a nation where the press in known to be controlled by the government, at least one has the advantage of knowing the bias is present, and to adjust for it. In the United States of America, we are taught from birth that our press is free from such government meddling. This is an insideous lie about the very nature of the news institution in this country. One that allows the government to lie to us while denying the very fact of the lie itself
Leo, it is cruel joke to believe the many idiotic, prurient and sensationalistic web sites out to keep people distracted and dumbed down on the internet are not every bit as FINANCED with government funds to provide the appearance of popularity as the main stream media propaganda outlets. Pravda and Izvestia are alive and well in our media. As a matter of fact, those old Russian propaganda rags have probably more truth in them since the Soviet Union collapsed than CNN does.
It costs money to run web sites but you fail to mention that the government funds web sites surreptitiously for the purpose of manufacturing public consent. Noam Chomsky is NOT a “conspiracy theorist”.
Sure Leo, we have a small niche where we do the old “compete for popularity” thing. But presenting that niche as “exactly the way it TOTALLY works” is a disservice to your readership.
Operation Mockingbird may have a different name in the internet, but the modus oprandi has not changed and if you don’t know that, it’s time you did.
Your article leaves too much out.
You rejected my other comment. Consequently, you have lost credibility with me.
The comment was not rejected (and in fact I just approved it, though I heartily disagree with it). It went into automatic moderation because it had a couple of links in it. ANY post with more than two (perhaps three, I don’t recall) links goes into automatic moderation and must be approved before being posted so as to filter out spam.
Sorry you’re leaving. Best wishes.
Actually any post with even 2 links (recently changed to 1) goes into automatic moderation, so if you post a comment with 2 or more links, be prepared to wait a short time till it’s approved.
I recently posted a reply (on a different article) which went into moderation, even though it had only one link in it!
That is correct. We had to ratchet down the criteria. You don’t see (and probably wouldn’t believe) the amount of spam that we deal with.
I apologize for the last comment. Please delete it. I see now that you did approve my earlier comment. You have retained credibility with me even though I think the problem with the ‘journalists’ from the main stream media with alleged credibility and trust is the reason people are willing to believe an alternative narrative to history and reality. In short, Leo, the people have been lied to by professionals and those professionals no longer have credibility.
Of course we have to confirm what we read. But the vigilance includes bought and paid for people in the main stream media with fake grass roots support.
The lack of credibility is the government’s fault for not keeping corporate news media honest, not sensationalist seekers on the internet. The victims of all this, the silly people pursuing pop star scandals and other distractions should not carry the blame.
There will always be people that can be led astray. But those who lead them astray are the heart of the problem.
And finally, if I click on a site that misled me to go there with some headline that piqued my curiosity, will NOT return. I think that is the way most people operate. I do not believe mendacity and sensationalism is honored with repeat visits.
I honestly don’t think the average yoyo practices what you preach in your last paragraph. The rule is no longer “fool me twice, shame on me.” More likely the P.T. Barnum sucker born every minute. That’s why the media continues to get away with the claim that it’s only giving the public what it wants.
In the past year or so I’ve found Snopes to be a bit more bias and not always right. Factcheck seems to be a little better but I still check whatever other sources I can find before I pass “news” along. I also wonder how much of wiki is written by people who don’t know anymore on a subject than I do, although, I think they do a pretty good job of finding the bad stuff and getting it straight.
I’ve always found Snopes to be honest and reputable. Karen, can you provide some examples where Snopes was incorrect or biased?
JOURNALISM is dead.
With the advent of television came the concept of ‘high journalism’. A product produced not to make money but created for prestige. Facts and hard news ruled the day.
Prior to this ‘journalism’ was, well essentially gossip rags or a product controlled by very rich people who, as most people do, had an agenda. In between there were some who tried to get the facts out there.
Recently, (last couple of decades) journalism (especially televised journalism) has become big money, owned by very rich corperations and with this money journalism has gone back to the past: (which by no means completely gone) gossip and ‘we’ll tell you what to think’. It has become blatant ‘opinionation’ aka ‘the talking head syndrome’. Facts and information are no longer disseminated freely, just the opinions of the so called ‘experts’, the opinionators, who will tell us what to think. I wonder who tells them what to think… could it be… their boss? The idea that the ‘top dogs’ have some kind of ‘ethic’ that can’t be tampered with? Maybe, but certainly most ‘journalists’ arn’t top dogs and will like all workers, will do what the boss wants.
To be clear this is television, newspaper and magazine ‘journalism’ I am referring to here.
Why should the internet be different? Why is it only singled it out?
Leo the advice you give is very good. But this level of distrust MUST be applied to all ‘journalism’ in all forms!
You are a smart man, shame on you for not pointing this out.
One example that comes to mind: a ‘journalist’ up here in Canada (in Ottawa) felt his opinions were being controlled by his boss (gee just like at a real job) so he quit. I just had to laugh or else I would have cried. His opinion is not journalism, even though he thought so. I could care less than nothing about his opinion. What I want, what I need is FACTS on which to base my own opinions first and foremost, then when supplied with facts, then this ‘journalist’ can present his opinion. And only then can I apply critical thinking to his opinion vs. mine adn others in my own search for ‘truth’.
However these facts come fewer and further apart every day. TV, or newspapers or internet. But at least on the internet the small timers, those ‘lonely purveyors of truth’ who try to disseminate facts can do so. They can no longer afford ‘airtime’ or to print up a newspaper or a magazine. But they can get on the web.
If the truth is out there, the internet is most likely to have it, if you can find it.
As a former columnist in the Chicago Sun-Times, I’ve been appalled at the descent of journalism into the sensationalist gutter during the Internet age and the age of Fox News. In the case of Fox News, never before has an entire television network been the network of a political party. The distortion of the news on Fox, the outright lies, the totally fabricated excuses for news there — they are an embarrassment to the journalists worldwide and to our nation. But the quality of journalism continues to plummet nearly everywhere. The news on the three local broadcast networks in Chicago, for example, has become as poorly reported as on the worst small stations around the country. The obsession with reporting comments from bystanders blocks out real reporting about real issues. The new reporting has become increasingly superficial — witness the frightening decisions by ABC News to strip Nightline of all competency after Ted Koppel left. And Leo is quite right about how the pressures the Internet has created that have led to so many falsehoods being reported thanks to so-called journalists who don’t bother to verify the facts. I strongly suspect that Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Huntley and Brinkley are rolling over in their graves at the state of journalism today.
The comment by Michael, 22 Oct 2013, neglected to include those who would post that using their favorite OS wouldn’t need an orange in the DVD drive – and all the following arguments about which OS is better. Then there would be a long string of arguments about which orange is best, which region produces the best oranges, and possibly what stores sell the freshest oranges. I’m not trying to be funny, either. I’ve abandoned some authors simply because of this reader behavior. The get a lot of views, but none have anything to do with the article – just the following debates.
As Leo said: “Most websites on the internet measure traffic. More visitors equals more success. It’s as simple as that.” That has always been true. years ago I had my own site which included a counter to see how many people visited it. I worked for a popular company during the Dot-Com bubble. Click-throughs were how Internet companies counted success. Again to quote Leo: “The headline served its purpose: it got you to click, the site got a “page view,” and perhaps an ad was shown. Mission accomplished.”
With newspapers and magazines it’s circulation size; with TV and Radio it’s ratings; with the Internet it’s clicks. It all amounts to the same thing – popularity. The more popular a media appears – not necessarily is – the more advertising revenue can be made. Consider the difference in costs for a one-minute ad during the Super Bowl compared to a 10-minute ad during the 2 am rerun of Leave It To Beaver. Which has the most viewers? Popularity is a strong motive to get people to believe almost anything. I’m reminded of an incident in the 1960s. Johnnie Carson was commenting on a rash of “shortages.” He jokingly made a comment that the next thing would be shortage of toilet paper. People took that as “Johnnie Carson says there will be a shortage of toilet paper,” and quickly ran out to stock up. This sudden surge in toilet paper sales actually did cause a shortage that took the companies over six months to catch up.
Leo’s comment on the front page of this newsletter really sums it up: “Even if you end up thinking I’m full of it, I can’t stress enough the importance of thinking about what you read before you blindly believe it.
As long as you think, then I’ve done, in part at least, my job.”
The problem is that most people don’t bother to think. That’s how all these e-mail scams, idiotic “warnings” and malware keep floating around on the Internet. That’s why public opinion is so easily manipulated by the media. These things just prove Leo’s point: we are partly to blame. As an adage from the 1970s goes: “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.”
In my opinion the BBC is pretty reliable as a source for news.
Except where they allowed “stars” and “personalities” to get away with molesting hundreds of children. The BBC is a far left organization and never forget it. Look it up. Start with Jimmy Saville.
ps I’m British.
I read an article by a doctor who said that on her orientation to medical school, the dean said, half of what you will learn here is wrong. Unfortunately we don’t know which half. Something similar can be said of the internet, the difference being that well over 90% of what’s out there is wrong.
I’d just like to point ot to Gil and others who use an ad blocker that it should be possible to allow ads for specific sites – it certainly is with Adblock Plus which is the one I use.
Am very surprised even astounded by this article. Long before I was ever on the Internet myself I forecast what would happen. Discussing same with users today leaves me only with a feeling of hollowness re. the human race. Talking to the same people re. this problem leads only to disbelief and hidden derision. Roll on Big Brother !!!!
Leo, Thank you for starting a much needed thought process about the impact of the Internet on everyday computer users. You received some very good comments by an intelligent set of people. I can’t really add anything to what was already said but I do want to echo the fact that any media that relies on investors or politically motivated ownership will not report the truth unless it suits their own monetary aims. The days of relying on sales of print media to support the operations operating costs are long gone along with the Murrows and the Cronkites.
Timely and incisive piece Leo, good going.
The best thing about it IS the discussion it triggered. And the comforting realization that there are folk who take on responsibility for seeking substance and facts. recognizing unabashed outlets of propaganda like Fox news in the political theater and potentially compromised sources of “solid” facts throughout the fifth estate.
Like some before me here, I don’t see the issue you raise as new, rather “modernized” in speed and scale by the internet. The average American today is not old enough to remember the Berlin wall going UP, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the JFK assassination, or the events that brought us into the Vietnam conflict. much less the mysteries undispelled (though exhaustively revealed) yet.
Your observations seem to apply to the general case, including mercantile claims on products and services, software, hardware and medicine, while the responders above seem to focus on the political divisions, and government actions.
For millions today, the value and ratings of iPad 5 versus Chromebook versus Surface far outweighs the availability of ACA enrollment…. at least for a while.
Yet your admonition applies consistently, whether selecting a product by purchase with money… or your vote.
Years ago, long before the internet when I was ~10 years old around 1974 my father said to me, something along these lines…’Only believe 10% you READ, 10% you HEAR and 50% you SEE”. I can’t remember what the other 30% accounted for, but I’m sure I’ve got the percentages wrong anyway, so maybe you can’t believe ANY of my post in anycase!!
How much of the “click” problem is due to fooling Google algorithms and how much to Google maybe getting paid off. Often – actually very often – when I google an object I get a result for 2 companies, but when I check I can’t find my specific “object”. The 2 companies: Amazon and EBay
I’ve noticed similar results. I think it’s all due to SEO faking out the search engine. If it’s the first 2 or 3 listings on the page, those are clearly labelled as ads. I know Google is in it for the money, but if it were discovered that they were receiving kickbacks, their company would suffer severe losses, so I doubt they’d risk it.
As a few others have mentioned here, I wouldn’t be quite so pessimistic. Information manipulation is of all ages. In Classic times, it was considered a (dangerous) art, called “rhetoric”. Now it is called “communication”. Look up “sophist” (it dates from the 5th century BC). Think of “the Art of Being Right” by Schoppenhauer dating from end 19th century, which is a course in deceiving the others and the public in an argument, to appear to be right. Think of the Ministery of Truth in 1984 (Orwell, 1949).
Most classical deception arose around state functions (the Greek rhetoric found the origin of its success in the power it conveyed through political debate) and state propaganda (Orwell of course), although the art of private deception has always existed too.
I think that what we see with the Internet is the “democratization” of propaganda, which is not an elite and state-dominated affair any more, but that any one is now able to apply rhetoric to its fellow citizen. As such, it is just rendered more visible. Journalism has always been a mixture between proper investigation and deception, but when most mass communication was centralized, it was less visible. Now that all of us can participate in the debate with almost equal means (a website :-) ), the deeply-rooted powers to deceive are simply rendered more distributed and more visible.
So all in all, I think we are actually winning in information quality, because centralized deception has become harder to be dominant, and we’re all getting more trained in seeing rhetoric deception everywhere.
I do have to agree with you about the “democratization” of propaganda, However I do have to disagree about “winning” in information quality due to the speed of the internet. It really has to do with the real time quality and speed at which FUD spreads and the that we seem to be heading into a state that I hear more of that “perception is reality.” While this has always been true, it’s the immediacy and breadth with which is spreads that makes it more striking.
On a more “humerous” note (my humor not necessarily yours) there is a song called Blow by Theory of a Deadman that I love. Please note it is explicit. And one last note…Dewey defeats Truman.
Almost all information known to humankind is available on the web. But over 90% (probably much more) of the information on the internet is false or at best worthless. The problem is distinguishing the difference :-)
“I wouldn’t be quite so pessimistic.” – Agreed. The internet has, without doubt, improved – completely transformed, in fact – our access to news and information. In pre-internet days, our access to news and information was almost entirely controlled by a small number of companies, primarily based in our own countries and usually politically biased. The newspapers and TV and radio stations decided which news to share with us, how much time/space to dedicate to that news and, of course, what spin to put on it. That’s no longer the case. We can now read multiple perspectives – including international perspectives – on the same story as well as reading user commentaries (which are sometimes more enlightening than the story itself).
Similarly, I think the internet has reduced the echo chamber effect. In the past, the majority of our discussions were with similar and probably like-minded people. We’d commute from suburbia to the office with a copy of The Daily Bollocks tucked under our arms and discuss that day’s news – as presented by The Bollocks – with co-workers who’d also commuted from suburbia with a copy of The Bollocks tucked under their arms. In other words, we were limited to speaking to similar people who were likely to reinforce our opinions by bouncing them right back at us. Today, we can debate on Reddit et al with people from different backgrounds and cultures who sometimes hold wildly different opinions to our own. And it can be a real learning experience.
Very important, and a message to deliver to all and sundry. But actually, in the words of Leonard Cohen, ‘Everybody knows’. I suspect when people click and share, they are doing something else as well as interacting with information, so it’s complicated. Some people who interact with written words in this dysfunctional way are people who otherwise wouldn’t interact with writing at all – if it is longer than a soundbite. The question is where is all this going. One thing is for sure: the dynamics of it won’t stay the same for long.
Leo, I nearly always read your articles in the emails you send, it is very rare that I click through to your site like this time (so I could comment). Would it help your analytics if we all clicked through?
Leo, excellent article our “broken journalism “. Finally someone has the guts to state the obvious. It is not only broken, it is now weaponized to distribute fake / false news. All honesty is gone.
Proof of the pudding and your article is CEO Fred Smith of Fed-Ex challenging NYT to a debate. This challenge was prompted by the Times article that erroneously suggested FedEx does not invest in USA and does not pay taxes.
Go Fred- Bring It On !!!!!!!!!!