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March 07, 2007


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This blog entry brings to the fore the issue of reliability on the internet. For me personally, I do not trust any online source unless it has been validated by some form of offline authenticity. This means that I do not cite a news article unless it is featured on a website that has a hard-copy equivalent, and I do not quote any online statement that attempts to assert a fact unless it can be independently verified. Perhaps I am erring on the side of caution, because my standard necessarily requires me to discredit many potentially newsworthy sites, such as Slate.com. It also forces me to ignore potentially useful news outlets just because they may lack the infrastructure or funding necessary to develop a hard-copy equivalent. However, I also believe that trust has to be earned, and it would be unreasonable to grant authority to any source that has not developed a tradition of reliability and authenticity. The internet, because it is so relatively new, is simply unable to offer me the history that I require in allowing a prima facie feeling of reliability.

Mark Sabec

I agree with both of you that it was wrong for Jordan to assume a false identity. But it bothers me how much technology has driven us to value reputation. We only cite websites that have a print version. We are weary of information printed in online periodicals. More importantly, we devalue people who lack credentials, such as a PhD, and consider their viewpoints as less important than other "qualified" commentators. While I don't endorse Jordan's behavior, I certainly understand it. It seems that technology is not merely driving a wedge between those who have access to it and those who don't, but also between those considered "qualified"...and the rest of us. If we want our voice to be heard online, it's as simple as posting a blog comment. But if we want to be trusted, we have to have a well-crafted, well-deserved reputation to back up our viewpoints. So is it wrong to pretend to be someone else in order to see your "name" on Wikipedia? Yes. But it's not surprising, and I'm quite shocked we don't hear about this sort of thing more often. We all know it's a very fortunate position to be trusted in what we say and what we believe in--for most people, the fact that we go to Stanford is enough credibility. But what about those who lack the resources to enter a community like Stanford, or get a PhD, or just somehow wound up lacking the credibility society grants us? It seems to me the advancements in technology that further online communities are a double-edged sword: they finally allow us all to participate, but only give credit to those with a good reputation. The desire to be heard and trusted is powerful and affects us all. After all, as the talented Mr. Ripley said himself, "It's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody."


Ok, I'm going to bring in the crazy futurist comm talk here. So this guy used resources offline to contribute to his reputation online. The fact that his information was in a book and not memorized or garnered from experience begs the question, what makes a person a legitimate resource online? Granted this guy lied, but lets put that aside for now. Assume he's just Joe Schmoe who happens to look up every bit of knowledge he has. The internet allows information to be gathered and assimilated in whatever fashion necessary to achieve a set goal. This guy needed to look up facts to seem legit, but what makes his ability to vet and edit information any less credible? The reason why I ask is because before long we will be able to augment our person with extra capacities and abilities based on our willingness to pay for them. What will this do to our ideas of intellect and legitimacy? In our world, the incentives are strong to do and be more than we are, and it seems this exactly what Dr. Jordan was doing. Other than the label and fake history, is his contribution any less than a professor who can spout off the same facts from memory. My intuition says there is a difference, but as computing becomes more mobile and integrated with sensory systems, what incentives remain to know rather than look up?

Desiree  Stahley

It is instances like this that makes me worry about news turning into a collaborative online process. People took what he said as fact because of his fake credentials...it just seems all too easy for anyone to fake a degree or authority and dupe a community. The one solace I have in this situation is that it was rectified...that does make me almost believe that with enough eyes the fake bloggers will get caught in their deception. I am sure that bloggers could write articles covering the news of the world just as well as some journalists now, but without the certainty and trust that goes along with a mainstream name, I just have a hard time trusting online community news sources. I'm glad the errors were caught...it does give this system a little more credibility to see that they can self regulate.

Andrea Manka

The only exclusively online forms of news I credit are celebrity blogs. The difference between that and Wikipedia is that I'm not actually relying on the information in celebrity blogs to inform my research or write a paper.

I think Shani's rule is actually a wise rule in light of the anonymity available on the internet. I think we've come full circle with this discussion to the first week when we read part of Lessig's Code, including the discussion of identity on the internet.

The longer I am in this class, the more I am convinced that the internet is a wild, unregulated jungle that one would be most prudent to avoid insomuch as possible. One runs into "fake professors" and sexual predators and people will defame you without any moral qualms.

In a way, the internet is less an ideal First Amendment space than the real world. In the real world, someone libels me, I sue them and it's over. On the internet, someon anonymous libels me and I try to get the website administrator to remove it, but they refuse, so I subpoena his name, but the website doesn't have it, so I have to pay nine dollars a month to have a company clean up my image on the internet.

As long as collaborative journalism is anonymous, it won't be credible. Like it or not, we value information based on who it comes from. Until that changes, people will consider information from the internet with a grain of salt.

Fred Smith

There's been a lot of debate lately about Wikipedia-- when it's okay to cite them and when it isn't. Middlebury College's History Department has banned the practice of citing Wikipedia in papers, according to the New York Times. This, I think, is right result not because Wikipedia is an online resource, but because of the collaborative vulnerabilty of the website, highlighted above.

In fact, there are definitely online sources that people seem to trust that don't have a print version. But those cited tend not to have a collaborative component. An example is dictionary.com... which doesn't seem like an inherently bad source to cite.

Wikipedia is so ubiquitous in almost any google search that they are challenging conventioal wisdom about collaboration. But stories like serve as a reality check on the cite's limitations.

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