Saturday, June 30, 2007


A few exhaustively fact-checked assertions from the traditional media -- in this case, Michiko Kakutani's review of The Cult of the Amateur by Weekly Standardwriter Andrew Keen, in yesterday's New York Times:

Mr. Keen ... points out that Google search results -- which answer "search queries not with what is most true or most reliable, but merely what is most popular" -- can be manipulated by "Google bombing" (which "involves simply linking a large number of sites to a certain page" to "raise the ranking of any given site in Google’s search results").

Er, except that Google has tweaked its algorithms to thwart Googlebombing (the famous Googlebomb that led readers to the White House Web site when they searched for "miserable failure" no longer shows up on page one of the search results for that phrase, although pages about the Googlebomb show up instead -- which makes sense, given the fact that the Googlebomb is now the item most associated with that phrase.)

Because Web 2.0 celebrates the "noble amateur" over the expert, and because many search engines and Web sites tout popularity rather than reliability, Mr. Keen notes, it's easy for misinformation and rumors to proliferate in cyberspace. For instance, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia (which relies upon volunteer editors and contributors) gets way more traffic than the Web site run by Encyclopedia Britannica (which relies upon experts and scholars), even though the interactive format employed by Wikipedia opens it to postings that are inaccurate, unverified, even downright fraudulent.

Er, perhaps that's because all of Wikipedia's content is fully accessible to everyone who's online, while the bulk of's content is subscriber-only?

I haven't read Mr. Keen's book; he may actually address these points. But readers of the review of his book in the sober, professional, old-media Times don't know them, while readers of this amateurish, anarchic blog do. Well?

Oh, one more from the review: Mr. Keen points out, the idea of objectivity is becoming increasingly passe in the relativistic realm of the Web, where bloggers cherry-pick information and promote speculation and spin as fact. Whereas historians and journalists traditionally strived to deliver the best available truth possible, many bloggers revel in their own subjectivity, and many Web 2.0 users simply use the Net, in Mr. Keen’s words, to confirm their "own partisan views and link to others with the same ideologies."

Hmmm ... a medium where people seek to confirm their own views and link to others who share those ideologies. Where have I encountered such a thing before? Could it be ... on my AM radio dial? For roughly the past twenty years?

Once again -- as is so often the case in the mainstream press -- the history of modern right-wing talk radio completely disappears from sight. Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have never been on the mainstream press's radar; if you lived on the moon and got all your earth news from the traditional media, you might have no idea talk radio exists. The point is that a culture of snarly advocacy predated the Web and would exist without it. Keen doesn't seem to know that -- and Kakutani certainly doesn't.

(Oh, and as for "promot[ing] speculation and spin as fact," what was Unfit to Command? Why, a book. What could be more old-media than books? And yet there it was, helping to bring down John Kerry's presidential campaign, largely with the assistance of cable TV "news" channels -- which allegedly also live up to professional standards. And what was The Clinton Chronicles? A video, promoted on radio and TV, that charged Bill Clinton with responsibility for multiple deaths. Sorry, Michiko, "promot[ing] speculation and spin as fact" didn't begin with the web.)

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