Monday, February 04, 2008

Fast Flow Misinformation

The New York Times, which has earned itself a reputation for presenting it's stories in the most biased way possible, complains that the internet makes it's possible for misinformation to be spread at lightening speed.

According to Andrew Revkin, of the Dot Earth Blog, bloggers are too quick to jump on and pass misinformation:

Much of the power of the Web lies in speed and reach. But those same properties are the source of its greatest failing as well: the tendency to spread faulty assertions instantly and widely. Maybe it’s time for a “slow blog” movement, just as there’s now a slow food movement — and even a slow life movement, as described in The Times this week.

I’ve written about a couple of recent examples of this kind of fast-motion flow of misinformation (and often disinformation), including the release of a startling paper debunking global warming that was entirely fake and designed to fool right-wing bloggers and radio hosts.

Another incident of this sort flared yesterday, involving former President Bill Clinton. It started when the Drudge Report posted a link to an item on the Political Punch blog by the ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper quoting Mr. Clinton proposing that “we have to slow down our economy” to save the planet from global warming. (For a longer sit-down interview I had with Mr. Clinton on energy and climate, click on the video to the left).

The provocative line in the ABC blog post was this: “In a long, and interesting speech, he characterized what the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global warming this way: ‘We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.’ ”

This is a problem I have complained about myself at various times. My personal feeling is that if bloggers are going to hold themselves up as trying to correct the record then they have a responsibility to be accurate. A lot of people don't see it that way. For my part I always try to make sure I read a source that is being referenced and make sure something isn't being taken out of context. I'm pretty sure that I am not always successful but I try and be honest and admit when I am wrong.

Anyway enough extolling the virtuous perfection that is I.

What struck me funny about the items Revkin is complaining about is that one was specifically designed to fool people, and only lasted 70 minutes before being debunked, and the other originated in a main stream media blog. In the case of the Clinton quote the ABC News blog did include the entire transcript according to Revkin, but in that case I can see a lot of people assuming that ABC got it right. (My personal experience has been that when a news organization doesn't provide a transcript is when they are pulling quotes out of context.) Hardly examples of a system gone horribly wrong.

Contrast this with the continual repetition in the NY Times and other media outlets that the "16 Words" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address were based on forged documents and were an unfounded lie that the CIA attempted to keep the President from uttering. Completely debunked but the NY Times trots this canard out on almost a minute by minute basis. And that is not the only example. After all there is a reason dowdification became a verb.

Seems to me there is room for improvement all around.

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