1/2/04

The Dilution of Truth on the Internet

  • "Not only is all human knowledge on USENET, it's typed in every two weeks." -- Win Treese, ex-DEC and ex-Open Market.
  • "The total amount of 'clue' on the Internet is constant." -- Jeff Schiller, MIT.
  • "On the Internet, you can find the answer to any question... and sometimes the answer is even correct!" -- Fred Avolio
Who do you trust? And for what do you trust them? When you look up a word in the New Oxford Dictionary, you trust the answer. If you read about a topic in The Encyclopedia Britanica, you believe what is written. Why? Usually, there are two reasons. First, other people trust it. Second, because there is some authority with believability (or trustworthiness) behind it. Of the two, the first is most common on the Internet, and worth the least.

It used to be people believed anything they read in print. It must be true. We got smarter than that, but then people believed computers. Anything they read on a computer screen must be true. (We still see this in the many urban or Internet myths that end up in our "inboxes.") Now, if it is on a web page, it must be ...

Consider an example of something I assume will not be controversial. (I don't mind controversy, but don't want it to get in the way right now.) The example: lyric sites -- web sites dedicated to providing lyrics to songs. You know the problem. We end up hearing lyrics wrong, and those become the lyrics for us. We end up thinking for years, for example, that "Louie/Louie" (yes, I am old) had dirty lyrics. Of course, it does not. Everyone has their own examples. So, web sites dedicated to the real lyrics would be great. Surely on the big old Internet, we would find the true truth, no?

No. Just because something is published and thousands of people worldwide may read it, it is still only as trustworthy as the person or organization who set up the site and maintains the site. Let's look at an example.

I wondered about the lyrics to a Country Music song by Pat Green called "Wave on Wave." The first verse (I believe) is this:
Mile upon mile got no direction,
We're all playing the same game.
We're all looking for redemption,
Just afraid to say the name.
But, reallyrics.com says the last line is, "Just to pray, to say the name." Which makes no sense, by the way.

Later on there is a bridge, which reallyrics.com has as,
"The clouds broke and the angels cried:
'You ain't gotta wipe the floor.'"
Oh, yeah... So glad I don't have to wipe the floor! Or is it, "You ain't gotta walk alone." You think?

My point is, I checked about 10 different web sites. They all had almost the same bogus (I think, obviously so) lyrics. And yet there they are, authoritatively declaring the truth. But, the site I chose to trust because the lyrics seemed more accurate (http://www.sing365.com/) also has this phrase at the bottom of the lyrics: "Rerpeat Corus Twice". Hmmmm. What else might be misspelled or just plain wrong? Who are you going to trust?

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