The internet was initially developed as a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaboration and interaction without regard for an individual’s geographic location. A brief history is available here https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/1629607.1629613.
Cleary, the internet provides a service of unprecedented capability. Information can be disseminated and shared quickly around the world, and individuals can interact and collaborate without having to be in the same geographic area. As well, the internet provides us with a way to purchase products from widely dispersed geographic locations. This is a good thing.
Many people are connected to the Internet on a regular basis each and every day. But, can the information obtained from the Internet be trusted to be accurate and true? The short answer is NO. Not without an independent (and sometimes significant) verification effort. Why is this?
There now is a great deal of crap, fake news, deception, half-truths, lies, and just plain rubbish that litters the Internet. Anyone with access to a computer can express an opinion, write a blog, or make a comment on just about anything on the Internet without any regard for the facts or the truth. Worse, this type of garbage is often now given prominence in search results without any disclosure as to the factual accuracy or truthfulness of the information being presented to you.
Companies like Google use algorithms (such as Rank Brain) to give search prominence today to some things that used to linger in a tiny corner of the Internet in obscurity. Now, when you search for something, your previous search patterns are used by algorithms to present you with things based on your previous search patterns. As well, search algorithms now use things such as popularity to give prominence to what is displayed in search results. Following is an article written by a former Google employee expressing real concern with this approach. https://www.businessinsider.com/google-algorithm-change-fake-news-rankbrain-2016-12
When Facebook came onto the scene as a social networking platform, friends, relatives and acquaintances were given a mechanism with which they could communicate and share social information with each other. However, algorithms currently being used by Facebook now limit the information that is shared and to whom it is shared based on factors that include what the intended recipients appear to be interested in. So, even if you intend to send something out to all of your contacts, Facebook will not allow that to happen.
Facebook is NOT a news organization and its so-called “news feed” is not news. Facebook is a social networking platform. Facebook’s algorithm scans and collects information on everything posted in the past week by your friends, everyone you follow, each group you belong to, and every page you have liked. Then it ranks the posts and displays the ones that the algorithm believes that you will find worthwhile.
Worse, is the censoring of information now being undertaken on Facebook by so-called “fact-checkers” under contract with Facebook. This type of selective presentation, brainwashing, and censorship is similar to how a communist party operates. If you are searching for news, stay away from Facebook.
Wikipedia is supposed to be an online encyclopedia that was launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001. The problem with Wikipedia is that almost anyone can create an account and edit the information in an article. If the edit is not challenged or changed by the relatively small number of editors who have a major influence on the site, what is added becomes “fact”. The problem with this approach is the real names of the Editors and their backgrounds and credentials are not known or displayed. Also not known are their knowledge, expertise or motivations. For example, I created an account to make a small correction to an article that had been written on myself. Within a few hours of me making the correction, the incorrect information once again appeared on the site in place of what I had corrected. Does anyone know me better than me? An anonymous editor on Wikipedia thinks so. The approach followed by Wikipedia is reminiscent of what happened with the now defunct Google Business directory. Abuse and self-serving editors contributed to it being shut it down. Secrecy should never be part of anything related to an encyclopedia. Secrecy breeds mistrust and Wikipedia is an online asset that simply cannot be trusted.
Main Stream News
Getting to the facts and finding the truth in the main stream news media has become increasingly difficult. I can still remember what I was told about four decades ago by a very prominent Canadian news broadcaster. He said, remember that first and foremost that we are a business aimed at making money.
A Forbes article reported that 15 billionaires own America’s News Media companies. Part of this article pointed out how a couple of the billionaire owners directly influenced news reporting on items of interest to them and their political and/or social agenda.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/katevinton/2016/06/01/these-15-billionaires-own-americas-news-media-companies/#283bba07660a The following article much more direct comments on the growing tendency of “influence-seeking oligarchs” to directly influence journalism. https://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/07/the-news-media-are-losing-their-search-for-truth/
The prominent, very well known, and respected Canadian news broadcaster mentioned earlier also states that the person who writes a news story needs to ensure that there is enough truth in an article so that the news organization does not get sued. He added that the headline was intended to grab attention to the article and that the person who wrote the headline was often different than the person who wrote the actual article.
Fake news is not new. A 1995 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Why the news is not the truth” makes the point that much of what appears in the press as business news is corporate propaganda. This does not mean that there is no truth in the main stream media because there are journalists who diligently work towards that aim. It does mean that you cannot take what is provided in the media as factual or truthful at face value without additional work on your part to investigate the veracity and completeness of what is reported. https://hbr.org/1995/05/why-the-news-is-not-the-truth
So How do we find out the facts and the truth?
Carefully and by being prepared to do a lot of reading and research on your own. First, do not “Google” something on the internet and take anything at face value as either factual or truthful (including Wikipedia). Second, do not use Facebook as a news source.
There are far too many political, social, environmental, and other special interest agendas at play in the world. Learn as much as you can about a topic and research both sides of the issue before making a judgement on the veracity of the information. It is also important to check on and confirm the source of the information. Stay open-minded and continue to learn as much as you can. Be prepared to evolve and, if necessary, change your viewpoint based on increased knowledge and experience.
Following are a few other things to consider in your search for facts and the truth.
- If the source of the information is not provided, or provided anonymously (as is frequently the case on websites with no “About Us” section and websites that do not provide the names of the authors along with verifiable credentials, move on to a different source.
- If someone tells you that the issue or the science has been settled, move on to a different source. Life is constantly evolving and we should be continuously learning.
- If someone will not release the facts, figures, or assumptions that provide the foundation or underpinning of the information or argument, move on to a different source.
- If someone tries to prevent or stifle debate on the issue or information, move on to a different source.
- If information is filtered or censored, move on to a different source
- If you are told to accept the information without question, move on to a different source.
There is, of course, much more to this story. In the end, much of what you see, hear, and watch is dependent on the trustworthiness and character of the person who produces the information. Truth Decoded discuss this in much more detail. https://www.amazon.ca/TRUTH-DECODED-Uncovering-Truth-World/dp/1973136309