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Trust me not! – Post 01 Travelogue 2

Trust me not

A quest for truth on the wings of lies

Half Truth
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” Mark Twain said nearly a hundred years before the world wide web was developed.  From Mary Antoinette’s lesbian orgies in Versailles to Snapple’s secret ties with the KKK, throughout history, people blinded by half truths have helped spread rumors, defamation and disinformation  in good faith.
But now, with our feet dug into the digital age where information wants to be free, where facts cannot be monopolized, and where Google is a verb, it is theoretically much easier for people to verify facts. As we talk about newspapers being replaced by blogs, data being chained into perspectives, and truth becoming organic and multidimentional, a fundamental question is, do people actually verify the facts they read online?
In my virtual journey, I have decided to travel around the social-media world on the wings of lies.
Like Odysseus, I will wonder without a destination in mind.  I will use Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and any other social media I come across to spread rumours, disinformation and defamation. Each lie I post will have information that can clearly and easily be verified as incorrect.
Like Dorothy, I will have make friends in the virtual world along the way. I will talk to bloggers, youtube publishers, digg users and so on, and ask them to help me with my goal.
Like Gulliver, I will document how people behave. Based on the comments, as many as I can track on each of those lies, I will not only figure how many people did or did not verify the facts but also how they behave in either case.
I don’t know where this experiment will lead me, but I am curious. “The quest for truth,” said former US president George W Bush, “begins with lies.”
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

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  1. mushon 20:17, Feb 1st, 10

    Fascinating and poetic…

    I like where this is going, my instinct though is that it’s more interesting to focus on a specific lie rather than spread tons of them and lose it in the ether(net).

    You might want to look into the work of community watchdog sites (like factcheck.org, MediaWatch.org, LittleSis.org and others). Lie busting is a serious interesting job.

    I would also recommend you look into this OTM segment. (they talk a lot about the power of lies, so dig deeper there too):

  2. nadine 00:25, Feb 2nd, 10

    Harris, if you need a break from research, watch The Yes Men!! They are so funny, I think you will enjoy it! The leisure suit and the burger initiative are just crazy- people believe everything! Or at least they don’t react…
    By the way, you can get it on Netflix.

  3. Ryanverost@yahoo.com 00:48, Feb 2nd, 10

    This immediately reminded me of this story I heard about a student who posted a false quote on wikipedia right after this woman had died and a bunch of journalists used the quote for their editorials and then he revealed that it was a hoax.


    I agree with Mushon, however its hard to tell a blatant lie. I think that truth mixed with lies or i.e. deceptively twisting the truth might go over a little better than trying to fabricate something. However, it would be very bold to undertake the risk of producing a complete lie.

    Moreover, I am curious to what sites you would do this to? How big of a lie(s) are you willing to spread? And how important/reputable is the website for you to post something like this or in other words, how good are the people that would verify your story?

    Good luck Harris.

  4. Jimena 14:14, Feb 2nd, 10

    Great idea, Harris! I also think it needs some narrowing down, though– especially regarding the content of the rumor.
    You could use a comparative scenario where one network started from your contacts in the US and another track started from your links into Pakistan. The lie should then be interesting to both communities– should it be political, social, celebrity-related? Maybe you could use yourself as a target and start a rumor about you; either within your own profile or from invented personnas.
    Last September, the department of Sociology in NYU hosted the “Media Sociology Forum”, focused on the Actor-Network theory and its impact on media. One of the speakers was Lucas Graves, a Columbia Scholar whose lecture, “The Idea of Network in the Society of News” explained his work both as an editor and an e-vandalist in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrator_intervention_against_vandalism
    It might be interesting to see how user-content sites like Wikipedia manage lies and rumors themselves.

  5. Harris 15:20, Feb 2nd, 10

    Mushon, I’m still open as to how I will go about it, but I thought making and spreading one specific lie would tie the experiment to how people think specifically about the issue that lie is about. That a lie travels fast has been proven already, what I want to look at is that in our everyday new media situations if we come across a ridiculous and unbelievable piece of information that can be verified to be false with a click or two and reading three or four lines, do we actually do that?
    I do want to stick to five or seven or 10 though, about various issues, in everyday new media situations, only making sure that they are just ridiculous and call for verification. My interest is not in seeing how far they travel, but whether people who read them or comment on them will verify them.

    Jimena and Ryan, I hope that answers your questions. I’m open to suggestions to the content of the lies and will really appreciate help.

    Nadine, thank you for the link :) Will look at it tonight.