Monday, January 13, 2014

'I say this because I love the Internet, not because I hate it.'

It’s almost a perfect callback to William Randolph Hearst’s infamous declaration on the eve of the Spanish-American War, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Even more fitting, historians don’t think he ever said anything like that. Then as now, it’s the myth that plays, not the reality. Today it just plays on an exponentially larger stage.

The media has long had its struggles with the truth—that’s nothing new. What is new is that we’re barely even apologizing for increasingly considering the truth optional. In fact, the mistakes, and the falsehoods, and the hoaxes are a big part of a business plan driven by the belief that big traffic absolves all sins, that success is a primary virtue. Haste and confusion aren’t bugs in the coding anymore, they’re features. Consider what Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post, told The New York Times in its recent piece on a raft of hoaxes, including Gale’s kerfuffle, a child’s letter to Santa that included a handwritten Amazon URL, and a woman who wrote about her fictitious poverty so effectively that she pulled in some $60,000 in online donations. “The faster metabolism puts people who fact-check at a disadvantage,” Grim said. “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”

In other words, press “Publish” or perish.

- Luke O'Neil