When such venerable and trusted institutions as the Better Business Bureau is revealed as a scam, selling an A rating for $395 (slightly more if you’re a terrorist group), you have to wonder just how empty are the claims that the internet serves the public interest by providing access to information at the click of a mouse.
As Ken at Popehat subtly put it:
The internet is the world’s biggest shitty argument by authority. Kids try to source Wikipedia for their term papers. Politicians cite things their aides saw on sites with seizure-inducing crazy-man graphics. Snarky, self-satisfied bloggers act as if a hyperlink settles a point.
There is a fundamental issue at stake: Can you believe anything anymore? I tend to read a lot online; some of it I write about here, and, frankly, I do so with the expectation that it’s reasonably reliable. When I refer to a newspaper article, I anticipate that it will contain errors, whether as a product of laziness, misunderstanding, deceptive source information or lack of space. But I also expect it to be essentially reliable. Still, I don’t know. I’m not there and I can’t speak from personal knowledge.
The same is true of court decisions, with sanitized statements of fact that are related in such a way as to support the ruling.
I put stock in go-gooder organizations, which claim to be above the fray and offer unbiased information, only to learn later that they are as easily tainted by money as anyone else. Sure, the BBB is a scam, and SuperLawyers keeps insisting that it’s 110% legit. But then SuperLawyers is a marketing enterprise, while the BBB exists only to pay its executives very healthy salaries. It all takes money.
Sadly, the blawgosphere isn’t much better. Self-promotion pushes credibility to the side, sometimes to the point of shockingly stupid or incredible posts. If I could frame a rule of thumb, there’s an inversely proportionate relationship between credibility and the glitziness of a website/blog, as well as the blogger’s efforts to appear sincere. These serve as a bellwether for me, informing me that those who buy into some of the more ridiculous blogs/posts, are not the sort of person worthy of much respect or credibility. Of course, I’m sure people think that of me as well.
There’s little I can do to help the situation, but I do what I can. I can’t stop anyone from writing something that I think is mind-numbingly wrong, but I can call them out on it. I can’t stop anyone from engaging in unethical, deceitful or improper conduct, but I can shine a little bit of light so other see it for what it is. But then, what makes me any righter than anyone else?
The only place where I can exert any meaningful control is right here. I can write things that I believe to be accurate and informative. Sure, my writings are as subject to criticism as anyone else’s, and I’ve no doubt that others will read my posts and shake their head, muttering “what an idiot.” That’s bound to happen.
Sometimes, others use what I write in peculiar ways, whether demonstrating that they failed to get my point or simply misrepresenting it. This tends to happen quite a bit with social media gurus and marketers, who don’t seem to care for what I write, and the Slackoisie, who find it easier to deal with their failings by attributing strawman arguments to me.
Sometimes I find out about others referring to me right away, and other times I have no idea for months. I’ve made an executive decision to ignore much of this, as I’m not inclined to roam the internet correcting what others say I said when I didn’t. While it certainly impact on my credibility, I can’t stop others from using my name (or obliquely referring to me) for their own purposes.
But I can prevent others from using my soapbox as their mechanism to spread misinformation, or in the most extreme cases, lies. Some folks write lengthy comments here expressing their views on a subject. Some contribute to a discussion. Some go off on a bizarre tangent. Some are just plain wrong or stupid. For the most part, I try to let these comments see the light of day, hoping that readers will understand the difference. Some differences, such as people who believe in capital punishment whereas I don’t, are inconsequential. People feel differently about things, and while it’s not particularly informative, it’s not harmful either.
Some comments are dangerous. Some offer legal views that are fundamentally wrong, and could serve to mislead either non-lawyers or inexperienced lawyers. Often, these pseudo-legal views come from anonymous commenters, and I’m disinclined to allow someone who I can’t verify to be a lawyer to offer their dubious legal opinions.
They get upset with me for denying them access to this soapbox, but that’s how it goes. The same is true when an anonymous commenter purports to be a cop, a judge or a United States Senator. You’re just another 12 year old with internet access to me.
There are any number of variations on this theme, whether the proffer of unsubstantiated statistics in support of a claim, or personal anecdotes to support spurious positions. There’s an awful lot of that, with people commenting that “I’ve never had that experience,” or that “My experience is that nobody ever wins.”
There is no reason whatsoever that a commenter’s personal anecdotal experience changes anything. We all have our own experiences, and yours doesn’t trump mine, even if you write “believe me, I would never lie about something like this.” Yet they keep writing as if it does.
There’s an enormous amount of content on the internet. Much of it isn’t worth spit, although I would have continued to hold the Better Business Bureau in high esteem had I not learned that it was just another pathetic, money-making scam. Whether errors arise from reliance on inaccurate news articles or the deliberate abuse of trust developed with readers, it has become increasingly necessary to take all of this with a strong dose of skepticism. Even Simple Justice. Even blawgs that say the things you want them to say because they comport with your politics, world view or self-image.
On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Or a mutt. Never forget this.