Hi, please

Do we verify the facts we read online?

John F Kennedy said he was a jelly doughnut, you can cook an egg using your cellphone, and penis-shrinking sorcerers roam the streets of West Africa, if we believe in everything we read online. Thirty years ago, it would have been more convenient to believe in this instead of having to go through newspaper archives and travel to Germany, or make an hour long call on two cellphones with an egg between them, or ending up with a shrunk penis. But today, it only takes a couple of searches and three or four clicks to verify most information.

In a digital world where newspapers are being replaced by blogs, data being chained into perspectives, and truth becoming organic and multidimentional, my fundamental question is, do people actually verify the facts they read online?

I will use any available social media to tell some ridiculous lies to friends as well as strangers. Lies that i will make sure are bizarre and easily verifiable to be so. Based on how people comment on them, I will see how many of them actually verify them before using them to form an opinion.

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6 Comments

  1. mushon 08:27, Feb 5th, 10

    Harris,
    sounds like a good plan. One thing though, I don’t think you can make the comparison to old media and talk of the proliferation of fact checking without also acknowledging how the whole ecosystem changed. We are exposed to much much much more info from much much much more sources and the information’s sources today are much much much less explicit. While it’s easy to fact check, it’s impossible to do it on a regular basis. Beyond that, while we try to be critical of the information we’re given, we should also invest some trust, otherwise we just exchange tons of lies and end up with a broken public sphere. There is still something to be said about objectivity as a value in reporting, not a given, but something to strive for.

  2. Ryan 16:47, Feb 6th, 10

    Objectivity seems like an almost impossible word to conjecture with journalism. Like Nietzche said, “In life their are not facts, just interpretations”.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081119165418AAkwL6x

    That’s why it has also been said, “Take it with a grain of salt”. We can’t believe everything that’s why we are able to verify to see if what people say checks out. Opinions are essential to discussion about those reported findings or facts. It has also been said, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions”. To me, that’s truth.

    Are you going to do a survey to see how many people verify/call you out on the lies that you spread? How are you going to quantify your findings or what is your methodology specifically with recording the reactions to your lies whether people believe you or disbelieve you?

    I’m curious to know like George.

  3. Harris 04:45, Feb 9th, 10

    Dear Mushon,
    I agree with you, and that is why I want to focus not on facts that can be verified, but those that should be verified.

    In the context of our discussion on Game Theory, I do agree that trust – although it leaves us vulnerable – makes possible the development of this new networked ecology.
    But I also want to test my own views about the world wide web as the fulfillment of a communitarian dream where trust is always the best option.
    Would that be a kind of a reverse game theory? Because it too will reduce human behavior to only one aspect of itself?
    If that is the direction we are heading in, is my question.

  4. Harris 04:51, Feb 9th, 10

    Ryan,
    I can only quantify the response based on any comments that people make. If I can gather significant data that way, I will consider making a conclusion in a quantitative sense. Nevertheless, I will analyze the comments case by case.

  5. DanJee 10:21, Feb 9th, 10

    I think this is a very interesting topic to investigate into. Certainly, it is a social concern and phenomenon that has changed our ways of life. However, I do want to recommend that this experiment be set up in a scientific manner rather than a simple ethnography. I have always found ethnographic research to be interesting but in an anecdotal manner than an actual proof. Having some numbers behind the experiment, such as X% of people actually clicked through or X% went on to search more about this topic would be more solid irrefutable argument.

  6. Harris 11:03, Feb 9th, 10

    Dan, thank you for the comment.
    Do you think human behavior can be explained by statistically determined laws, especially in a small scale research such as this one? How do you suggest I set up a controlled social media environment where each click through can be recorded? And even if that is possible, will that evidence be irrefutable?

    My purpose here is not to conduct an experiment to formulate a behavioral law, but to interpret people’s responses to find some meaning in their behavior.