Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Fog of War

No, I'm not talking about the Iraqi situation, although this piece got kicked off by a posting on News From Baghdad. I'm talking about the other war that is being waged today: the one for the US Presidency.

What happened was that Jay received an email. It purported to be from someone who witnessed a local speech by one of the presidential candidates and how the residents were basically trampled by the PR machine surrounding said candidate. I won't say which one it was supposed to be, because it is irrelevant: the email is unsubstantiated, and is probably a form of 'spam' designed to smear reputations.

The recent Australian poll was a non-event to most people. So this incident, plus a few other hints I've been receiving about how the US elections are being conducted (eg here) are quite alarming. Apart from the emotions generated by casualties in Iraq, I suspect that the one man executive approach is exacerbating the situation, as well. Clearly, the adversarial 'winner take all' approach to democracy has the capacity to breed a lot of grudges and general bad feeling. David Brin published a very thoughtful article a while back on one way of limiting the damage. I wonder if Kerry or Bush have read it?
(...Just went to get the Brin link for the above article and found this. Bloody hell, if he's come out swinging ...!)
The internet is a wonderful tool: it allows true freedom of expression by anyone who has access to it. Either by emails, by posted websites, or by blogs like this one.

And yet, it is just a tool; one that can be used for darker purposes: viruses, spam. Misinformation.

How to use it well is not to use it in isolation. Don't accept one source of information. Corroborate. Seek opinion. It is the ability for 'many eyes' to repudiate innaccurate or just plain propaganda.

Take Wikipedia: an online encyclopedia wherein any one may contribute about anything. It has been derided by its rival: Encyclopedia Britannica as being worth what you pay for it. Why? Because there is no requirement for scholarship: no need for references. On the face of it, this would seem an essential requirement for a general reference. And yet, the fact that anyone can contribute and correct means that mistakes can be removed. It has been suggested that someone try and put a deliberately false and misleading piece in Wikipedia... and see how long it lasts.

It seems that the war of realfacts vs goodfacts is hotting up. Truth may be the first casualty, but will it be the final victim?


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