Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Have another link, won't you?

“The goal of the site is aggregation, not news generation. We’re chasing traffic and there isn’t always time to make sure that everything is accurate. We're really just a factory for links." – Staff member of the Huffington Post web site
Give the HuffPo person credit for honesty (and, probably a severance check if his or her identity is discovered).

Folks, this is how the Internet works. The last real research on Internet “news” found that web sites generate about 4 percent of the original news content floating around out there. The rest of it originates with newspapers, TV stations and magazines, mostly.

So when people spout questionable information supported by the claim, “I Googled it,” I usually consider the information bogus. You must do more than just Google something to learn about it.

The situation at HuffPo that led to the rare confession above was a post on the web site alleging that a certain video clip making the Internet rounds had been altered. Turns out, it hadn’t – HuffPo simply lifted the claim from a column in the New Republic. It did no vetting of the claim, as it simply doesn’t have the staff (or inclination) to do so. HuffPo ultimately issued a retraction and an apology.

Of course, it will now change course and insist on only quality journalism for its site. Riiiiggghht. And the moon is made of cheese, etc., etc.

The Internet is kind of like a chain letter that gets sent around the globe, regardless of what the letter actually says. It’s the world’s most spectacular distribution vehicle. It is agnostic to truth or lies – it cannot distinguish one from another. Humans must do that.

When you are confronted with anything from a snippet of information to the full-blown telling of a major scandal, ask a few questions:
1.     Who or what is the original source of the information? If you can't find that answer, you can stop right there.
2.     Once the source is determined, learn about it. Who is behind it? What are their objectives? What ethical standards do they espouse and uphold? How did they discover and confirm the information? Is the information presented in its full and appropriate context, or pulled out of context and, therefore, misleading?

I like the term “factory of links” used by the HuffPo staffer. That’s what most sites are – link factories, and we can continue the sausage metaphor further yet. Do you really want to know what’s inside that yummy link?
The problem is that most of us love to get our hands on a juicy link and don’t want to be bothered to read the nutritional facts.  It’s well past time that we started.

(Thanks to Kathy Stanger for the news tip on this one.)

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