JMBG

on media, technology & digital culture

What You Read Is What You Believe

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We’re all surfing the digital realm on a daily basis, taking what we read and learn online for granted. It has to be factual, otherwise it wouldn’t be there, right? We have already written about Geert Lovink and how we fail to filter information properly but this time we’re more concerned about verification of already existing information. How do we know what we read online is correct? The answer is that we don’t and that’s where the problem lies.

Obviously, we as a species like to neglect the petty obstacles that stand in our way of fulfillment. Such is the case with Wikipedia. Not everybody fakes their Wikipedia entries, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Fake articles can stay up on Wiki for years before somebody takes notice. To be honest, its not necessary to fake an entire article, sometimes if you alter just a tiny detail, it can change the course of history thereby changing the basis from which you drew your own conclusions. Andy Kessler watched his 15-year-old son alter Wikipedia entries for the animated film “Land Before Time” by “flipping the gender of the character Littlefoot from he to she and back.”

The hoax mentality doesn’t end with Wikipedia. There are billions of articles currently online and to verify their authenticity would take a monumental effort. The Web is a tool and because of its “freedom”, people use it however they like. For instance, one of my colleagues at the Rochester Institute of Technnology made an interesting experiment on how to build an online hoax. You can read about it here. The point of the experiment was to generate fake information online in order to create a myth that the Escherian stairwell was actually built and is being used at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The experiment demonstrates how easy it is to build a hoax and have people not only believe it but invest in it as well.

You can prove anything, you can say anything and you can get away with it. There’s a myriad of other examples that only contribute to this fact and that’s why its pointless to describe more of them in this article. More importantly, is there a way we could solve this? Is there a way to put the authenticity at the forefront of digital information? How could we make sure that everything we see and read online is not fake? There are a couple of solutions to this and each of them could benefit the World Wide Web. So, how do you filter out whats factual and whats not?

01. Change the link color to orange. You probably noticed that whenever links are placed within the article, it’s with the intent of backing up the presented information. You also noticed that those links are blue regardless of the fact whether they link to Wikipedia or an academic source. I vote that we should change the color of the links that lead to academic sources to orange and leave blue for the less factual sources. Why? Because the Daily Mail can’t have the same weight as the Harvard Library.

02. Organize the world’s knowledge according to researched and scientific studies. Like an online Mundaneum, if you will. After we have done that, then we can actually rely on what is correct and that’s when we can use that information as a basis for future research, articles, etc. Apparently, Google is trying to catalogue the entire world knowledge by scanning every book known to man, which is great even though it heavily conflicts copyrights.

03. Make a verification system that works with online information. Google Plus has a verification system that makes you link your official webpage with your Plus profile and by doing so, it increases the Google Plus Page credibility. If you’re a company, you also have to contribute your business email address, which means that you actually own a business. Facebook is not that far off either. Obviously, this system cant be identical when dealing with online information, but it serves as a great starting point. The point is: it can be done.

What are some other verification tips and tricks that could be done to boost information’s credibility? Please, share your thoughts with us in the comments as we are dying to know how to improve the world’s knowledge and make its fluctuation transparent.

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