What Should We Do About Disinformation?
Postman’s Six Rules for Evaluating a Medium.
1. “What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?”
2. “Whose problem is it?”
3. “Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?”
4. “What new problems might it create because we have solved this problem?”
5. “What sort of people and institutions might acquire special economic and political power because of technological change?”
6. “What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies? And what is being gained and lost by such changes? ”
John Lockes’ Bias
I was teaching the “Introduction to the US Government” civics course using a McGraw-Hill textbook called “Magruders US Government.” A book, written in 1917 and updated by law every six years, that 80% of American high schoolers are estimated to have used. The textbook featured a section on Enlightenment ideas in the American Constitution. It focused on one individual, in particular, John Locke whose ideas were key. There were only two brief tracts that he wrote, and they seemed deliberately vague. I was frustrated because it seemed to explain very little. I decided to consult the entry on John Locke on Wikipedias’ site. There I discovered Lockes’ real motivation. Locke and a few other men controlled 74% of the global slave trade through a corporation called the Royal Africa Company. These facts were verifiable by reference links in the reference section at the bottom of the wiki page.
Magruders’ backgrounder can be found here:
I was caught up in this very controversy myself once. Much to my amazement, I discovered that Wikipedia only had a stub for an article on media philosopher Marshall McLuhan. I began to write an essay like Wikipedia entry in my spare time without paying mind to who might read it. Because I felt nobody even knew it was there. Dr. Liss Jeffries author of “The Heat and the Light -A reappraisal of Marshall McLuhan.” told the editors to take it off, and she would send in an army of her assistants to clean it up. The Wikipedia editors told me that my work was too speculative and thus unsuitable for their website. I thought fair enough. But I was feeling smug because I had beaten them to the stub. But I had merely staked my claim on the information frontier only to have my claim jumped. Ironically, McLuhan, while active, was considered so cryptic and deemed to an interloper in other peoples’ disciplines, that graduate schools banned citing his work in any North American graduate theses regardless of the topic. At least until Jeffries’s unpublished Ph.D. thesis appeared in 1998.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launches Wikitribune, a large-scale attempt to combat fake news. The crowd-funded news platform aims to combat fake news by combining professional journalism with volunteer fact checking: “news by the people and for the people.” NIEMAN LAB
Even though for the reasons mentioned in these two Neiman Labs reports Wikipedia, scuttled its efforts to curb disinformation via wiki tribune and to compete with mainstream media with wiki news, Twitter launched its version of collaborative fact-checking in January of 2021. It is called birdwatch and is still in beta. https://twitter.com/i/birdwatch.
But Lih’s assertion is a provocative one. Wikipedia has come a long way from its humble origins. As has journalism since Emile Zola and Charles Darwin made it scientific. Look at the entry on Covid-19 for example. It is a well-documented effort to inform using verifiable facts and science.
Twitter and Facebook have also banned Donald Trump from their sites because of his biases. But the First Amendment should have protected him because Americans believe that the bad drives out the good as did John Locke. We may lose our First Amendment rights and “learn to love our captivity” as Aldous Huxley proposed in his novel “Brave New World.” Neil Postman mentions him in his introduction to “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” However dismal the thought might be, Wikipedia might be the price we pay for our revolution in communication that has made so much unverifiable information available.