Dialog: “Are you coming to bed?” “I can’t. This is important.” “What?” “Someone is wrong on the Internet.” – xkcd
The world’s first website was launched on August 6, 1991. By rights, someone should have programmed a bunch of Twitter ‘bots to sing happy birthday to the World Wide Web. (And thanks to my friend Mike Benz for pointing out this historical marker to me.)
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Speaking of ‘bots, while up-to-date statistics are hard to find, and the sensational nature of the subject matter invites exaggeration, there clearly are a lot of social media ‘bots out there, and in particular there are a lot of ‘bots out there that spread misinformation, disinformation, fake news, baloney, and other forms of utterly nonsensical but dangerous propaganda.
Back when Mutual Assured Destruction was the backbone of U.S. nuclear military strategy, it was widely understood that disarmament was desirable but unilateral disarmament would have been destabilizing.
Which leads me to wonder why those who want to spread reliable, curated content don’t deploy counterpropaganda ‘bots.
Most of what we read about countering ‘bot-driven disinformation campaigns is defensive – how to recognize the dangerous little critters. I wonder what a ‘bot arms race might look like.
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Speaking of the Internet and disinformation, no, Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet. Al Gore also never claimed to have invented technology for countering disinformation, which is just as well given how utterly inept he was at it. As proof of his ineptitude, most Americans still seem to believe that he did claim to have invented the Internet.
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Continuing to speak of the Internet and disinformation, SpotFakeNews.info has published a handy guide to recognizing disinformation. Its step-by-step is as follows (follow the link for details): (1) develop a critical mindset; (2) check the source; (3) who else is reporting the story? (4) think about the evidence; (5) don’t accept images at face value; (6) listen to your gut.
The full text behind #6 tells you to pause and ask if what you’re reading is designed to play on your hopes and fears. It tells you, that is, to do the exact opposite of listening to your gut. Go figure.
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Meanwhile, as we are, after all, celebrating the birth of the World Wide Web, a quick timeline: In the beginning (of the Web, not the Internet itself) was SGML – the Standard Generalized Markup Language. It was a syntax for defining tags that could be used to identify parts of documents. Everyone who came into contact with it knew it was important. The main barrier to its adoption was that nobody could figure out anything useful for it to do.
Then CERN’s Tim Berners-Lee, wanting to make Ted Nelson’s idea of hypertext real, figured out that a simplified version of SGML could be just the ticket. He called the result the HyperText Markup Language – HTML.
To make HTML useful, Berners-Lee then created WorldWideWeb (later Nexus) – the first web browser.
Shortly thereafter, in 1993, NCSA’s Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina wrote Mosaic, the first web browser anyone ever heard of.
Somewhere in there, Al Gore sponsored legislation privatizing Internet governance and encouraging the transformation of the Internet’s underlying connectivity, from a fragile spiderweb of low-speed channels to a robust backbone-based architecture.
Imagine what the world would be like, right now at this moment as you read these words, had none of this history happened.
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Bob’s last word: In the absence of a TIP program we do need tools of some kind to help us differentiate honest information sources from those whose purpose is to deceive.
One tool every information source can deploy to help its consumers judge their reliability is to reveal the processes and practices they employ to gather, process, and publish. The Washington Post provides a laudable example. You’ll find it here: Policies and Standards.
I haven’t yet prepared one for KJR, but will get started on the project shortly.
Bob’s sales pitch: Speaking once again of Internet-driven disinformation, in 1997 I proposed creation of a TIP (Trusted Information Provider) certification program. Later in 1997, and on through the present, this proposal was almost universally ignored.
But on the other hand, in 2010 the Harvard Business Review published its “10 Must Reads.” Amusingly enough, not one of the articles HBR considered must-reads made any mention of information technology or the Internet.
Nice to know they’ve been keeping up with the times, even if they aren’t keeping up with yours truly.