Is there too much democracy on the Web?

According to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle, in the immediate aftermath of the latest airline terrorist threat, bloggers on both the left and ride side of the fence went more than a bit overboard. Comments were as extreme as claiming the entire incident was a right wing hoax designed to keep Republicans in power.

You know, looking at all these blogs, I can’t help but wonder: maybe there is too much democracy on the Web. I know, you may be asking: “How can there be such a thing as too much democracy?”

And isn’t it a bit ironic that I am criticizing blog writing in a blog I am writing? Yes it is.

And far be it from me to cast a big net over blogs. I have made a living in recent years by creating what is essentially a blog (not this one!) and writing for others. And I have always touted that one of the greatest strengths of the Web is the level playing field it presents to all comers. It’s how a single user’s startup blog with no capital can wind up having as much influence and readership as, say, the New York Times. The currency on the Web is eyeballs, not how much money you have. And the opportunity to get eyeballs is still pretty open. If you have something interesting and valuable to say, you will get heard.

It has injected a new energy into our political landscape, among other landscapes, leading to “netroots” campaigns that rival the older grassroots ones.

But there is a problem. And it’s a big one. There is no editorial oversight for blogs. A blogger can write whatever is currently in their brain with no filter between their neurons and their Web output. When this gets amplified by thousands of bloggers doing it at the same time, the result can be a cacophony so loud and confusing that it becomes impossible to separate fact (or even supported opinion) from wild speculation or outright fraud.

Yes, fraud happens even at respected institutions such as the New York Times (remember Jayson Blair?). But that’s part of my point. A person like Blair makes big news precisely because it is such an unusual case and because it shows weaknesses in the Times editorial policy, weaknesses that the Times seeks to correct.

At least the Times has an editorial policy – unlike blogs. Where are the fact checkers and technical editors for blogs? Non-existent.

People often claim that blogs help people learn what is really going on – because they publish news that the traditional media refuse to cover. True enough. But with the increasing number of people depending on the Web for their news, I also wonder if the proliferation of blogs is making it ever more difficult to know what is really going on – because separating honest news and opinion from a background noise of “craziness,” for lack of a better word, is getting harder and harder to do.

This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.