Sunday, June 03, 2007

The return of self reliance

There is an especially silly piece in The Sunday Times News Review section by John-Paul Flintoff, who interviews net entrepreneur Andrew Keen about the internet. "The web was going to be the great educator, but the cult of the amateur is now devaluing knowledge," runs the strap, with Keen arguing that the web "is killing our culture, assaulting our economy and destroying time-honoured codes of conduct."

Keen's particular target is Wikipedia, against which he rails for its manifest and multiple errors, but he also takes a tilt against blogs and "news" sites, many of which he claims are "merely fronts for public relations machines." Others, he says, conceal their agendas. They're also unaccountable and rarely remove their mistakes, he asserts, adding: It was once said that: "A lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth has the chance to put its boots on." That has never been more true than in the freewheeling, unchecked blogosphere.

What the silly man does not realise (or wish to hear) is that, while indeed there is an incredible amount of rubbish on the net, the information sources now opened up are incomparable. Never has it been so easy and quick to find information and, for the first time in our recent history, we have not had to be reliant on official sources, or the tyranny of the established media for our information. We have a multiplicity of sources – and access to much of the original material on which the media relies. We can make up our own minds about issues, rather than be spoon-fed with pre-formed opinion.

As to "accountability", where lies the MSM on this, witness the pieces about which we have commented today? Who is there to correct the headlines which convey false information and which spread round the net like wildfire as agencies and regional newspapers report the stories? Who is there to correct the errors perpetrated by the MSM, when there seems little premium in fact checking and extreme reluctance to admit any fault ?

When it comes to the media, therefore, not for nothing did we write in August last:

Whether it is the Middle East, foreign affairs generally, domestic or EU affairs, the very last thing you can do is rely on the media for an honest or intelligent appraisal of current events. Through their lame and often trivial efforts, they let the governments of the day off the hook and, in so doing, become part of the problem. Standing between us and the government and still dominating the debate and filtering out alternative views, they hinder understanding and the accountability that comes with it.

They the media, therefore, are not so much the enemy within – they are the enemy between.
What the internet does is return control to the reader – to the seeker after truth. Thus, to suggest that the net is full of false information is to miss the point. So is the media and established organs. The difference now is that, with the multiplicity of sources available, those that want to can do their own fact-checking. What this wonder of modern science does is give us back the ability to be self-reliant.

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