The net deals with ‘acute’ issues better than the ‘chronic’

Interesting piece from +Daniel Drezner in which he lauds the network of the web as a fact checker (not to mention dealing with idiots), but then argues that it also “permits an amplification of conspiracy theories that can attract pockets of people that otherwise would never bother to organize”.

He continues:

“The problem comes with slower-moving facts — those arguments or statements that are so “out there” that no significant online media would bother to check out until and unless it attracts a large number of devotees.  Myths and conspiracies that spread unchecked for a significant period of time are likely harder to root out.

“If myths are given time to grow, then devotees to those myths can also develop defense mechanisms to rebut attempts at fact-checking.  Paradoxically, this kind of myth is more likely to take root if it spreads slowly, requiring a “police patrol” of the Internet to find it.

“By the time it is doused with “the truth,” there are people who have bought into the myth with sufficient psychological investment that they can tolerate a fair amount of cognitive dissonance.”

This is just one of the consequences of the democratisation process which the net has brought forward: akin to that moment in modern war when – as David Kilcullen has observed – that civilians “rush the field”.

The problem is how to work out the wheat from the chaff: ie, what matters, what’s truthful and what’s not, or doesn’t.. it seems to me that journalisms of all descriptions has risen to the challenge of dealing with the near term, but is poor with dealing with just such long term issues…

It’s as though through the internet we’ve developed a single minded talent for dealing well and efficiently with ‘acute’ conditions rather than with the ‘chronic’, if you like…

One of conventional journalism’s big problems in an era when news is far from scarce: is that it is being incrementally dispossessed of its institutional memory.

As old hacks are paid out, and younger (cheaper ones) take their place, the memory of even the semi distant past fall outside that institution’s human remembering.

Enter the Memex (or ‘memory extender’) that was the focus of some of Berners Lee’s intentions…

Perhaps it’s this reluctance (or inability) to process information over a prolonged period of time – the privileging of the urgent NOW – that’s contributed to the Internet being seen as such a poor distance runner?

What do you think?


  • Mister_Joe

    There is a lot of truth in what he says. I have occasionally challenged something that someone has put forward as a fact only to have them say “It’s true, I read in on the internet”. Alas, nothing can be done, I believe.
    As David Hannum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. I know it was not P.T.Barnum who said that because I read it on the internet.

  • aquifer

    But are the mainstream media taking the opportunity that digital media offers to follow stories through, adding the telling detail to correct or amplify?

    e.g. Politicians threaten legal action, but what comes of it?

    For this has a bearing on how seriously we should take anything the politician says the next time.

    And now that bandwidth is infinite we can judge how important victim’s stories are considered. Not very.

    Journalists having taken a lot of trouble to dig up and check facts it seems a pity that they are not often indexed to enable the public to find them again.

    How to discriminate between reliable sources and tedious spin doctors? The problem may be that an impartial rating could put many paid journalists the wrong side of the line.