Lying liars and filter failure

There’s no such thing as information overload; only filter failure. That’s the wonderful Clay Shirky maxim. Now we can add to that the maxim: There’s no such thing as a Misinformation problem; only filter failure and attribute it to ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Ok, he didn’t quite say that. But it was close. This is from an awesome Atlantic piece by Alexis Madrigal on Schmidt’s incurable techno-optimism:

“All of us grew up with an assumption that what we were seeing on television, especially in legitimate news, was edited and properly vetted. That’s no longer the case. Furthermore, you can anticipate very powerful forces will attempt to do misinformation campaigns to you for one business objective or another,” he said. “It will be worth it to them to spend millions of dollars to spend millions of dollars to create fake websites and so forth to convince you that something that is really bad for you is really good for you. Because they have a business interest to do so and the Internet allows that.”

Gosh, that sounds bleak! What possible way could we solve this problem? “We have to rank against it,” Schmidt said, that is to say, Google should notice disinformation and rank it lower than good information.

That might seem hopeless if you’re just thinking of it in the context of a search engine. Even if Google ranks something low it can still spread like wildfire on social media. But rankings can extend beyond search.

That’s what’s so cool about experiments like Dan Schultz’s Truth Goggles project. Once you have some ranking or some statement of authority, you can build it into the experience at any level of the tech stack that you want. If the New York Times knows the article your friend is sharing w/ you is crap, that does you no good if their statement saying as much is on your site and you never go there. But if NYT is your trusted source, they could be your browser (or at least a plugin) and have a bright bar up top of everything you read with a credibility ranking.

Of course, these are ridiculously hard problems at every step of the way. But I kinda love Schmidt’s optimism.

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