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March 6, 2014 7:27 AM   Subscribe

"On Monday, veteran Washington Post editor and New Yorker contributor Marc Fisher published a deeply reported, scrupulous Columbia Journalism Review cover story on how the Internet’s metabolism and economy [including instant-headline video start-up NowThisNews], which places a premium on being first to a story and on attracting clicks, has led to compromises when it comes to the whole accuracy thing. As if on cue, a fun news story has been making the rounds in the past few days: A survey found that 11 percent of Americans believe that "HTML" is a sexually transmitted disease. Other findings included that 20 percent believe a "motherboard" is a cruise-ship deck and 15 percent believe "software" is a type of clothing. The survey itself... may not exist." -- TNR on the Circular Fact Checking ecosystem of online news reporting.
posted by Potomac Avenue (39 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
A respected reporter decided to look into the state of online journalism in 2014. You won't believe what happened next!
posted by Bromius at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2014 [18 favorites]


First post!!!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Slow news is good news.
posted by dumdidumdum at 7:38 AM on March 6, 2014


A respected reporter decided to look into the state of online journalism in 2014. You won't believe what happened next!

The same thing that has been happening in traditional newsrooms for decades? Shoddy sourcing and lazy reportage that relies on colour, public relations-based press releases, written by people not trained in critical thinking, psychology, and other forms of information verification?

People are people -- it doesn't matter where they report someone else's likely stories, it's a never-ending stream of dubious dreck with a few truths that accidentally slip in...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:46 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Breaking news: Experts are saying that slow news is good news*.

*This statement has been extensively fact checked.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:46 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


One of the other sites I read has a game where you go around slipping lies into Wikipedia and seeing how long they last. You get major bonus points if you get quoted in the major media. It's happened a number of times.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:46 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I experienced this in my own small way several years ago writing these little "fun factoid of the day" points for a writing gig... The internet is of course a bona fide cornucopia of weird trivia but trying to fact check anything is a total nightmare because of the echo chamber effect. It's equal parts scary and depressing to observe the utter credulity many people seem to approach things with.
posted by nanojath at 7:49 AM on March 6, 2014


One thing is for certain... if you want to mark up someone's hypertext (like highlight something), HTML won't let you do it. It requires you to edit it instead. It should be called HTEL.
< / PETPEEVE>
posted by MikeWarot at 7:50 AM on March 6, 2014


I would be ok if actually 89% of Americans knew what HTML was... I would be surprised if 89% knew what HTML was, but you know 89% of Americans really don't actually need to know what HTML is.

As to the larger point. yeah. frankly the internet is rapidly approaching ;ludicrous speed irt truthiness
posted by edgeways at 7:52 AM on March 6, 2014


This is an important issue, but this example is one that doesn't matter one bit to the world at large. I'm cool if buzzfeed publishes stupid crap like this, and even that the LA Times publishes it, and even if my friends share it. It's not like the world wasn't teeming with stuff like this before the internet ("85% of body heat lost through your head according to science!")

New Republic surely could have found a better instance than some nonexistent survey?
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 7:54 AM on March 6, 2014


One of the weirdest examples of Wikipedia griefing I came across was someone inserted a significant addition to the page on Margaret Atwood stating that she also wrote under a pseudonym - linked to an actual minor male author who writes like super hardcore militaristic science fiction. So weird, and you know there's somebody out there walking around with this falsehood in their head, just waiting to embarrass themselves in conversation some day.
posted by nanojath at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


Does this mean I can wipe the toothpaste off my nipples now?
posted by valkane at 7:56 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Cure your ignorance with this one weird trick! Know-it-alls hate this trick!
posted by jquinby at 7:56 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


The more information we have, the dumber we get.
posted by kgasmart at 8:01 AM on March 6, 2014


One of the other sites I read has a game where you go around slipping lies into Wikipedia and seeing how long they last. You get major bonus points if you get quoted in the major media. It's happened a number of times.

I want to play this game.
posted by phaedon at 8:01 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can someone put this in list form and then post it on buzzfeed?
posted by Fizz at 8:02 AM on March 6, 2014


The more information we have, the dumber we get.

Or maybe the more information we get, the more we realize how little we really know.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:02 AM on March 6, 2014


Or maybe the more information we get, the more we realize how little we really know.

The more information we have, the harder it gets to separate the truth from the bullshit. People are a gullible as they ever were, and when the new business model is clicks first, accuracy/trustworthiness later, you've got a recipe for a chronically and pathologically misinformed public.
posted by kgasmart at 8:05 AM on March 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


Re/Search #11: PRANKS!
posted by valkane at 8:06 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


The more information we have, the less distinguishable any of it is from bullshit.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:09 AM on March 6, 2014


One of the other sites I read has a game where you go around slipping lies into Wikipedia and seeing how long they last. You get major bonus points if you get quoted in the major media. It's happened a number of times.

I want to play this game.


Y'know, Wikipedia can be a pretty useful resource, and it's a hell of an interesting project.

Deliberately gumming up the works isn't a prank, it's lessening the utility of Wikipedia for everyone.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:09 AM on March 6, 2014 [24 favorites]


People messing with Wikipedia are not helping. Pee in your own bathtub, not everybody else's.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:13 AM on March 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


Deliberately gumming up the works isn't a prank, it's lessening the utility of Wikipedia for everyone.

It used to be we thought of the Tragedy of the Commons as being about people exploiting communal capital for personal gain. In our current era of Animal House Libertarianism* it's just about being a douche, because freedom.

_____
* Tip o' the hat to Thomas Frank.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:18 AM on March 6, 2014 [10 favorites]


In September, NowThis went with video of the twerking girl who falls down and sets herself aflame—a too-incredible-to-be-true viral hit that turned out to be a bit by late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel. “We thought it was real,” says producer Sarah Frank. When the truth emerged, “we did a piece saying we’d been duped.” NowThis executives say viewers are fine with that kind of transparency, but they also say they’d like to find a way to assure that those mistakes don’t get made in the first place. - See more at: http://www.cjr.org/cover_story/who_cares_if_its_true.php?page=all&print=true#sthash.lmnAiFfh.jDzMeeAv.dpuf

I don't see how the twerking girl fail could be considered news in the first place. It's entertainment for sure, but not news. Sorry, that I haven't finished the article yet, so maybe it's been addressed, but I had to stop here for a second and wish that Mr. Fisher would delve into "infotainment."
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:18 AM on March 6, 2014


For nearly two decades, a culture war has divided journalists. The gap seemed mostly generational, but it always boiled down to a battle over the very purpose of what we do. All the dismissive sniping and straight-out antagonism between old-school defenders of the print craft and the young digital brains propelling start-ups came down to a debate over values: The old guard argued that they were driven by the quest for truth, and by their sense of what citizens need to know to be informed participants in democracy. Reporting was all about locking down the facts and presenting them to readers, who would know best how to take advantage of the light we shined. Digital journalists countered that their way was more honest and democratic—and quicker. If that meant presenting stories before they’d been thoroughly vetted, that was okay, because the internet would correct itself. Truth would emerge through open trial and error.

Emphasis added. There is also good argument that not having everything filtered through an editorial board is more open in that it certainly removes any editorial bias on the part of anyone but the journalist.

Whether or not "the internet" is self-correcting remains to be seen though.

People messing with Wikipedia are of course helping to point out yet another one of its deficiencies. As a resource, it is indicative - a good place to start before you find out the real facts - but it will never be in its present constitution an authoritative source of information.

But Wikipedia does provide something you don't find in "authoritative" sources which is the soft information of the editing history. There is some value in seeing "settled facts" hotly debated.
posted by three blind mice at 8:22 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the other sites I read has a game where you go around slipping lies into Wikipedia and seeing how long they last. You get major bonus points if you get quoted in the major media. It's happened a number of times.
I want to play this game.

Another fun game is getting pejorative nicknames on the site by out-rules-lawyering the wiki-nerds who want to suppress them from whitewashed articles.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:38 AM on March 6, 2014


The only thing I can guarantee in this world is that if I'm given an online quiz asking me what HTML is, and one of the boxes is "STD", I am checking that box.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:45 AM on March 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


if I'm given an online quiz asking me what HTML is, and one of the boxes is "STD", I am checking that box.

OMG, that's worse than griefing Wikipedia! People like you are why forum boards get so clogged at the beginning of every year sending out birthday congratulations on January 1st. It's important to know which questions you're asked online need to be answered carefully and sincerely!!
posted by straight at 8:58 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Shocking. I almost fell off my hoverboard when I heard this.
posted by kyrademon at 9:04 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


> It's important to know which questions you're asked online need to be answered carefully and sincerely!!

And which forms let you. My Facebook profile is full of false information because it won't let me write the true stuff. So I ended up putting in symbolic data instead.

example: I moved house a lot when young, so don't have a single "from" location. I ended up putting the city that most represents my personality, Even though it's on another continent. Leads to some good conversations, but confuses advertisers.
posted by EnterTheStory at 9:06 AM on March 6, 2014


So win-win is what you're saying.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:07 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love that Facebook won't stop prodding me for information that's clearly written in my little profile blurb for any human beings that want to know.
posted by straight at 9:07 AM on March 6, 2014


One of the other sites I read has a game where you go around slipping lies into Wikipedia and seeing how long they last.

Deliberately gumming up the works isn't a prank, it's lessening the utility of Wikipedia for everyone.


A friend of mine a few years back made a subtle change to an illustration on a Wikipedia article about cardiac defibrillation. It was a simple black and white drawing of someone using a portable defibrillator in which he photoshopped the image and replaced the defibrillator with a matching illustration of a Super Nintendo console. It was subtle enough that it was not discovered for at least a year or more.

That kind of thing I can appreciate far more than just changing the article's information to give incorrect data.
posted by chambers at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2014


People messing with Wikipedia are of course helping to point out yet another one of its deficiencies.

And also their own deficiencies.
posted by inigo2 at 10:43 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Shoddy sourcing and lazy reportage that relies on colour, public relations-based press releases, written by people not trained in critical thinking, psychology, and other forms of information verification?

Yes. The other day, every single 'news' outlet on the local Yahoo News collection ran a story supposedly written by an AP reporter, about how candidate for Governor Martha Coakley was putting her defeat by Scott Brown behind her. It was obviously a PR piece released by her campaign, but none of those 'news' outlets could resist it. Some of them even had their own reporter claim authorship, even though their version was exactly the same as the AP one. The traditional papers are not more credible than the Web. You have to read all of it critically.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2014


The Internet has long given preference to the loudest voice. And certain people and institutions interested in putting forth disinformation know by now that getting that loudest voice on the Internet is more cost efficient than 'buying' other media.

In 7th grade, I discovered the book How to Lie With Statistics while seeking out a short book for a non-fiction book report. It turned out to be the most influential book I ever read (next to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) for teaching me a healthy skepticism AND guidance for how to dig for errors and bias. Even with 50+ year old examples, it applies even more today.

And considering that survey in which 1 of 4 Americans 'reportedly' believed the sun orbited the earth, a 1 in 10 for "HTML is an STD" seems way too low. Then again, I can give many examples where HTML has been a Virtual STD (see: blink tag).
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:38 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just commented in another thread about "due diligence", and I think one of the points of griefing wikipedia articles is that if all you are doing is reading the article and not clicking on the reference links that are provided to back up the things said in the wikipedia article, you are doing yourself a dis-service. Just like trying to argue about a scientific study without actually reading the study itself, you can't really say you know what the study says if all you read about it are summaries or reporting done by a journalist. Of course, this is also why media outlets like Fox News and CNN can get away with spouting off with complete fabrications about welfare or the ACA. They know that most people will not bother to fact-check them. They know they can just say "a study from [insert authoritative sounding PR/Think-tank here] shows that Americans are the greatest people ever and if you disagree you are a traitor and in league with terrorists" and most people will just go "well, they said it on the news. They wouldn't say it if it wasn't true."

And here's the worst part of it. Most people really do not want to have to research things on their own. They'd rather watch reality television, or anything to escape from their lives that go and learn something through research and fact-checking and finding original sources. The few people who do spend their free time contributing to things like wikipedia and other projects that are trying to formulate good, well-researched and sources knowledge are very few in actual numbers compared to the massive percentage who just want to get a quick summary and let other people do the work of figuring out if something is true or not. And a lot of times, the total distortion of what an actual authoritative "expert" looks or sounds like gets completely mangled by how our culture represents authority and expertise. A majority of the talking-head experts on almost every major media outlet is more often than not just not qualified to speak about the subjects they spout off about. And the people who have cornered the market on media dissemination know this and use this to their advantage. It is the whole reason why propaganda works so well.

Can you tell I've had too many arguments with people who believe that Chariot of the Gods is a documentary?
posted by daq at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2014


And here's the worst part of it. Most people really do not want to have to research things on their own.

No, the worst part of it is that they have to, because there are so many people lying or speaking from ignorance. People should be able to have confidence in information sources. When even reputable (or once-reputable) sources like newspapers are full of bullshit, it's not an irrational attitude to assume that one source is as good as another.

Those who knowingly put misinformation into Wikipedia are liars. Those who do it unknowingly are ignorant.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:15 PM on March 6, 2014




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