June 22, 2009

Distilling truth from a mass of incoming information

All of the information coming from Iran--via internet news sites, blogs, and sources like twitter makes it difficult, at times, to tell what is actually verified information and what is just more noise or chatter in the vast information network. How can truth be pulled from these kinds of sources? How do we know when the video footage that we are seeing actually applies to the purported events that are being shown? Max Forte has written a couple of interesting posts about this, one focusing on the purported "twitter revolution" and one that gives activists advice on how to produce media that is at least somewhat verifiable.

These different forms of media literally mediate our experiences with the outside world. Being in southern Baja right now, the only way that I can find anything out about what is happening in Iran, for example, is through the internet. There are a great many assumptions and trust issues involved in the process. What do people generally think of as accurate or verifiable, and why? Why do organizations like CNN and BBC and FOX appeal to certain users as purveyors of reliable information? How do we take all that we see and read and determine what is and what is not happening out there in the world?

I think it always makes sense to be skeptical of the information we receive, and this is a point that Max is making as well I believe. There is good reason for doing so, since basically anything can be written and disseminated on the internet. This does not mean that all of it is a waste of time, or that nothing valuable can be done with it. I am asserting nothing of the sort, since I think that online media can be a very powerful tool. What I am saying is that we need to pay more attention to how media is produced, where it comes from, and what underlying intentions might be attached to it. This will require an interaction with media that is a great deal less passive--and a lot more active--in the coming years. Especially as more and more "news" is spread throughout the various networks of communication.

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