Thursday, December 21, 2006

People Power and choosing friends

The internet speeds up the dissemination of not only information but also misinformation. So what are we to do about this? Regulate? Legislate? Complain? Ignore? Or respond?

The internet can be better at corrections than old media. A fix can be attached to an error where it occurs, and many online denizens pride themselves on confessing missteps faster than their print and broadcast counterparts. But the internet can also be worse - online, errors can spread wider faster and take on a longer half-life. I wish we had a technical solution - that everyone who linked to an incorrect article could receive an alert and correction.

Should blogs subscribe to a code of conduct? I don’t think so (and neither does Toulmin). Again, blogs are mostly just people in conversation and I don’t wave a code when I talk to my neighbours and friends; I know that my integrity rests on my credibility. On the other hand, when I argue that bloggers who commit acts of journalism should enjoy the rights and privileges of professional journalists, how can I say that they should not suffer the same regulation? Well, for me, that’s easy, because as an American first amendment absolutist, I bristle at any attempt to regulate speech.

And I do fear that in their efforts to protect truth, legislatures, courts and self-appointed industry watchdogs could chill speech in new ways. If the people fear retribution without the legal resources that the owners of presses have, they will either shut up or hide behind the anonymity the internet allows. That would be a tragedy.

We need to recognise that the internet alters how media operate. Blogs - whether written by professionals or amateurs - tend to publish first and edit later, which can work because the audience will edit you. In this medium, stories are never done; rather than turning into fish-wrap, they can grow and become more factual and gather new perspectives, thanks to the power of the link
and, yes, the correction.

An interesting post by Jeff Jarvis, read more, for the full story.

I am not comfortable with blogs subscribing to a code of conduct. I write what is on my mind.

Why should that be restricted?

What do you think?

Time magazine's "Person of the Year" awards were started in 1927, since when there have been some pretty dodgy winners, Hitler among them. They clearly should not be taken too seriously, other than as a subject of mild end-of-the-year controversy. The 2006 winner, though, has troubled me for reasons that go well beyond mere dissatisfaction with the verdict. The winner was "You" - that is, us - and to make sure we got the message, when we look at Time we see ourselves in a mirror embedded in the cover. Actually, the You is not quite all of us, merely those of us who have contributed to the growth of the internet and all it contains - for instance blogging and participating in YouTube, MySpace or other "user-generated" sites.

Time's editor, Richard Stengel, commented: "You, not us, are transforming the information age." That was a profoundly depressing statement, as was the fuller citation explaining the reasoning: "For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game ..."

The misguided and misleading use of the term democracy in this context, and the manifestly incorrect claim that You have conquered the professionals, are bad enough. But my main objection is wider. The Time award and the reasons for it promote what I believe to be one of the most pernicious and disturbing philosophies of our age, extolling the cult of what is often patronisingly referred to as the "ordinary" person. I emphasise immediately that if I use the word "ordinary", it is in quotation marks - it is not to suggest inferiority or any comparison with an elite of extraordinary people. The philosophy I object to, which the internet's information explosion has fostered, is that the "ordinary" person is as - no, even more - important to the dissemination of knowledge, information and opinion as the expert or the professional.

It manifests itself in various ways, here and elsewhere. South Korea has a news website, OhMyNews, that uses "citizen journalists" to provide most of its material. It has some 40,000 non-professional contributors; they are, of course, untested and unvetted, their submissions unchecked, their motives unknown. The reader of the website can have no idea about the accuracy of the information on it; yet it is one of the main sources of news for South Koreans. Nor can entrants into the social network sites for the young, such as MySpace, have any real idea of the genuineness, truthfulness or hidden motives of their fellow joiners; and it is impossible for the web's operators to monitor who registers. Not surprisingly, meetings engineered over the internet have caused anguish and tragedy as well as happy associations.

Then there is the proliferation of - though they don't yet call them that yet - "citizen reviewers". Hardly a newspaper here (this one included) is free from readers' opinions on the holidays they have taken, restaurants they have dined at, films they have seen and so on; it seems that no cultural or leisure activity escapes being assessed by "ordinary" people.

A few months ago the usually reliable Routier Guide to good, honest, affordable English eateries folded. People were no longer buying such guides, we were told. Instead, they searched for places to eat on various websites carrying accounts by people who had chosen to make public their dining experiences. A favourable opinion on a website by, say, a DS of Bristol (who may well be, a recent survey revealed, the chef using a pseudonym) takes precedence over a balanced review of a meal by a trained, independent inspector.

How long can it be before professional critics and reviewers - people who know what they are talking about, who perhaps have had years of experience in their field - are jettisoned in favour of "ordinary" people's views? After all, the expert costs money; the amateurs come free. Why do we need our own film/restaurant/book reviewers when hundreds of cinemagoers/diners/readers are only too anxious to tell us what they think? But Time's assertion that those working for nothing are "beating the pros at their own game" is nonsense. They are providing a different service, an opinion based not on expertise and experience, but on their less tutored feelings. I am not saying that the amateur's view is less legitimate than the professional's; but it should not be given some sort of mystical prominence.

Looking at the information revolution as a whole, the greater participation by You has been a benefit. But the movement is losing its sense of proportion. It has become too successful, too cocky. The role played by those who possess special talents, skills, knowledge, training and creativity should not be undermined by the desire to include the remainder.

We all deserve an award this year says Time Magazine. But what's so great about "ordinary people". An article by Marcel Berlins of the Guardian newspaper.

I can see what Marcel Berlins is saying. However, these days when I go to restaurants, on holidays, or to hotels. I tend to read reviews by professionals, and ordinary people. I have sites like trip advisor really useful. I can see that Marcel is saying it has become too cocky.

I wonder whether the professionals are feeling threatened by the ordinary people?

In this industry there are no professional experts. I guess there are people on review boards who write multiple reviews, who are respected by some, as they are prolific reviewers. However, they are ordinary people in my view. I would not consider them experts.

The internet has changed the way in which I work. I have used paper advertising, on one occasion, and it did not work. The internet seems to enable easier access, in my view.

I have witnessed clients on messageboards start threads on escorts, which are pretty negative, and the escort has either retired, or come back reinvented. The speed in which information can be shared, and disseminated is amazing. I agree with Jeff Jarvis, if the information is incorrect, who will edit. On review boards, or messageboards, it can be really political, and some people do not stand a chance, and in effect, their business is affected. It may be that some members have clout, and are able to say what they want, when they want.That is the part that I have difficulty with, sifting out the truth.

In all the kerfuffle that surrounded the arrest of Tom Stephens this week, there was a certain inevitability to the media locating his profile on the social networking website MySpace. Before the page was closed down, it was possible to see that, alongside Stephens's professed admiration for Hong Kong Phooey, he boasted eight online "friends" including the MySpace administrator, Tom. Yesterday, those eight "friends" were already attracting attention, and acquiring all manner of unpleasant comments on their sites. It was, perhaps, a cautionary tale of friend-making in MySpace.

For the uninitiated, MySpace friendships work a little like this: you have your own MySpace profile, which details your hobbies, interests, photographs and videos and has links to your "friends'" profiles. People become your "friend" by submitting a friendship request to you, or vice versa. Some of these requests will come from people you already know in the real world. Others will be sent by strangers. They may want to be your friend because they are, in a broad, sweeping manner, asking everybody to be their friend. Or they might have read your profile and identified you as a likeminded soul who shares their love of Five Star. Either way, you can approve, deny, or simply ignore any friendship requests you get.

How do you know who your "friends" really are? An article by Laura Barton of the Guardian.

I read this article, and it made me think. I get so many requests from other independent escorts to be included on my links page, on my professional site. My policy, is that I will only link to people that I have met, or consider friends.

I read on messageboards that some members will not write reviews, because they have major fears of being traced, if something were to go wrong, and it would get back to their wives. Clearly, if you use a handle, and email address that is not connected to your real life, I imagine it would be hard to be traced.

An example is with the recent Ipswich arrests, phone records were traced, and the individuals were contacted.

What is your view?

Labels: , , , , ,

do you wish to do a link trade with me, lol.
I am a real girl in london, and we 'know' the same linkers
My god, Nia, this is a fascinating post, and being the longwinded person that I am, I could comment a book on this.

So briefly:

1. Interesting point about the Good Restaurant Guide. I think most such businesses have gone on line in some way. For example The All Music Guide, which was and is a book is online, and presumably makes its money by linking to music vendors.

This model would not work for restaurants, because there are multiple music vendors with the same item competing on price and service.

So maybe that type of book is now obsolete. As Ecclesiastes said: "there is a time there for every purpose and for every work."

I posted on my own blog (shameless plug) only a few days ago about how these days I would not dream of buying something like a camera, a CD, or a DVD without getting as much information as possible from peer reviews. I am also a prominent reviewer myself.

2. The Internet certainly does magnify the effects of being linked with an awful crime like the Ipswich murders. When I heard that the police had arrested a man, I thought, well that is that. But now with two men arrested, and yet no proven link between them that we know of, I hope to God this is not another Menendez-type thing (the innocent Brazilian gunned down by trigger-happy cops for the offence of possessing a dark skin while on public transportation.)

There is a huge, huge difference between having known all these women, or having fucked all these women, and having killed all these women. I would hope that the police actually have hard evidence before they arrest people.

Although I have no personal connection to Tom Stephens closer to the fact that my mother worked in Ipswich during World War II, and saw many German bombers pass overhead, I am quite hesitant to post anonymously on blogs admitting to being a man who has paid for sex, such is the McCarthyite atmosphere in blogland these days, with all Whoremongers, pimps, drug dealers, johns, and, in fact, all men targets for a potential high tech lynching.

You are on the list now.


I used to just read professional reviews, of restaurants, and hotels. I feel that I want a balance now.

I take your point about your anonymity. It is important.

I do not perceive you as a shameless plugger, but if that is how you feel; it is okay by me, for you to shameless plug on here,lol.
To be honest, Nia, I do not care all that much about plugging my blog. I can get lots of hits by plugging it, but they don't mean much, and then when I get a response like one I had the other day who basically said that my blog had changed his life, I am more gratified than if I had a thousand hits.

However, I assume that people who are interested in my subject matter will find my blog by searching via Google and other search engines, and it seems that the more links you have to a blog, and the more people are looking at it, then the higher your blog is likely to appear in a Google search. Hence you need plenty of "wanker" traffic so as to get the small number of readers who are really interested.

That's why I have just posted a video of Girl With A One Track Mind--she is much more popular than me!
"Clearly, if you use a handle, and email address that is not connected to your real life, I imagine it would be hard to be traced."

Wrong. Every email message (and generally every posting to an internet message board) contains the "IP address" information. With an IP address, it is quite easy to link the message back to your internet service provider.

With that same number, your ISP can determine who was using that number at what time of the day. (Note: they won't release that without a lawful court order or subpeona). It can be traced back to the very cable in your wall. Beyond that (perhaps if you use a wireless network) it becomes more difficult. But at the very least, it can be traced back to your home.

There really is no such thing as true internet anonymity. 99.9% of people do not have the power to do anything other than find out your ISP, but the power exists.

The safest bet is internet cafes then.
I remember twice you mentioning reading an email from me in an internet cafe.

Is that why?
The safest bet is to never assume 100% anonymity. You already have a great degree of it without having to take any additional precautions. As it stands now, the only way that I could trace this conversation back to YOUR apartment would be by having a valid legal reason for the tracking info (and even then, it would take a lot of time). I'd need to find a judge to secure that permission, and it is almost impossible for a civillian to get. You'd have to break laws, and it would need to be the police who tracked it down.

I would not freak out...Just be careful what kinds of details you write about your personal life. That will be the bigger enemy, not the trackability of internet messages.
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