The Web is Dead

At least that’s what “the singer Prince” recently suggested in an interview with The Mirror, according to a short piece in Bloomberg Businessweek. His actual quote, according to the Bloomberg piece was: “The Internet’s completely over…[It’s] like MTV. At one time MTV was hip, and suddenly it became outdated.”

Well, who knows? And, without seeing the entire interview to gain some context, it’s difficult to determine whether he was serious or whether there’s some larger point that I, at least, am missing.

It reminds me somewhat of the recent Shirley Sherrod incident in which the Agriculture Department official was forced to resign after making seemingly racist comments  which became viral in abbreviated format before Ms. Sherrod had an opportunity to provide context. And, of course, before many highly educated people who should have known better took actions and made statement I’m sure they now regret.

What can we believe? It has always been possible for people to spread mis-truths and half-truths to others. Even before any form of mass media, there was the poster and there were hitching posts where posters could be nailed. But how many people were likely to see these mini-media messages? Today, a single provocative post on Twitter can literally be spread to millions of people before its veracity is ever challenged or verified. Frightening.

I wrote a piece recently on social media and defamation which I thought was very interesting to research, but somewhat frightening in its implications. What is particularly frightening to me is that even after an issue is resolved and “corrected,” all of the incorrect information is still out there somewhere, still waiting to be referenced months – or years – from now by some unsuspecting student, reporter, researcher, or just a curious consumer. How do we really know what’s real?

When I do research for a client or for an article I generally gather information from as many sources as I can and begin to look for commonalities. Those commonalities suggest to me that there’s some validity to the information. And, of course, the source of the information makes a difference too. But, I’m beginning to think that commonality isn’t such a good criteria to use for judging whether or not something is accurate. The Internet makes it easy for information to become common and to be spread quickly to a lot of people who can repeat that information as though it is fact. So common is probably not a good barometer anymore.

It almost makes me wonder if there might not be some validity to Prince’s prediction after all. Once we stop following and believing the masses will we return to a time where we relied on the wisdom of just a few experts? Experts whose credentials were earned from prestigious schools and  carefully conducted scientific research as opposed to the instant authority we now tend to grant to just about anyone who can spin a good yarn and stir up controversy?

Who knows? And, even if they say they know, should we believe them?

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