16 September 2008

The internet rumour mill.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, has told BBC News that measures should be taken to ensure that users of the internet are able to separate 'rumour' from 'real science' online. He is also concerned about the use of the internet to spread 'disinformation' (we all remember the rumours circulated online about the dangers of the MMR vaccine). He has made these comments whilst launching the World Wide Web Foundation whose aim is to ensure that the web is truly worldwide and also help users to know if websites are trustworthy/reliable sources of information.

It will be interesting to see what innovations will be made by the Foundation over the years and to what extent it will fulfilled its aims. CyberPanda is all for ensuring that sensationalist rumours do not float around in the online world, it is also equally anxious that the freedom of net users to express themselves in an online context is not curtailed.

Hence the Foundation should keep this tension in mind when considering which innovations would be helpful to prevent the net to become just a rumour mill. CyberPanda can see the merit of such innovations for websites which disseminate information mostly (e.g. websites dealing with medical conditions, news etc) but it struggles to see how such innovations can operate in other contexts where the content consists mostly of the views/opinions of the users (e.g. blogs, forums etc).
Another significant point also is who decides which information is actually misinformation. This point also needs to be kept in mind when dealing with websites which disseminate factual information (e.g. Wikipedia). CyberPanda is concerned that drastic innovations may in the long run put the brakes on online applications similar to Wikipedia.
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