Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Everything on the Internet Is A Lie

...Including the title of this post.

Most everyone has seen a lot of lies over the past day or so. That quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.? A lie. (Although apparently a benevolent one.) Pictures of Osama Bin Laden dead? Fakes, and bad ones at that--but not so benevolent, since clicking on it will most likely give you some sort of virus. And expect your inbox to be filled with wonderful tales of nameless Muslims doing horrible things, or the vague political actions of leaders are ascribed nefarious motives, or so help the family restaurant chain that doesn't put off a 21-gun salute every time an unmarked veteran orders a cup of coffee.

Falsehoods on the internet are nothing new. They have a long and storied history, from the Nigerian Prince that nearly brought down a major agricultural corporation to the otherwise previously respected press secretary's thoughts on pre-9/11 airline terrorism. And yet people continue to fall for such hoaxes. Sure, some of it is unintentional and deliberately malicious, but this is more due to criminal activity than perpetuating stupidity. People want to believe the exciting, but the exciting is almost always someone's bad PR, and PR is just microwaved lies served for popular consumption.

The reasons such lies exist, also, aren't new. But it's spreading, and does not appear to be ending anytime soon. It's not only the internet--there are 24-hour cable news shows looking for things to talk about. Small misrepresentations are reported at the 4 AM news loop, which then are picked up and become big misrepresentations, and that needs to be reported during prime time, and soon enough everyone has heard the self-fulfilling prophesy of nonsense.

It's easier on the internet, though. No one has vetted the information for accuracy. Most stuff like this starts off with a grain of truth, people make assumptions, other people use their imagination to exaggerated these assumptions, someone trying to summarize it strips away the assumptions and makes them fact, and soon that grain of truth is a full-on blow-out lie. When all you have to do is click "forward," though, your work is done. Surely someone else had put a little effort into it, right? Journalists are sloppy, but at least put in an effort. And all of this is for naught if the email or Facebook status is formed into an "opinion," where it's unverifiable and having it called into question insults the writer's right to free speech.

Of course, any time there is a huge event--9/11, the Iraq war, the 2008 election--there is a spate of new and often erroneous information all over the internet. So we should expect a lot more over the coming weeks, and the best advise I can give is to ignore everything and pretend everything is a blatant lie. At the very least, that will let us get to sleep at night.

The Pledge: If you're looking to the 140-character limit of Twitter to validate your cultural and political beliefs, perhaps you should just play FarmVille instead of writing scribes about how the arms manufacturers are keeping bin Laden alive or the royal family is using their newfound party-supply connections to distribute narcotics.

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