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Do We Trust the Internet Too Much?

by Andrew White  |  April 16, 2012  |  Comments Off on Do We Trust the Internet Too Much?

In the Opinion column of today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal, I spied an article by L. Gordon Crovitz, entitled “Before ‘Watergate’ Could be Googled”.   The article reviewed an interesting question: “How would the [Watergate] Story Unfold in the Digital Era?”  Apparently, Woodward and Bernstein (remember them, or do you better remember Redford and Hoffman?) reviewed how Yale students responded to a similar question at the annual American Society of New Editors conference this month.

The rub of the assessment was that many young people assume that information on the Internet can be trusted, and additionally that much more information is available or accessible than really can be expected once context is applied.  For example, searching for “$50,000 secret fund” in Google would be enough to unearth a fraud.

Watching my own kids grow up with access to technology that we never had, I am amazed at how quickly they can find stuff, and also in the near blind faith that it must be true.  We used to spend hours thumbing through an old encyclopedia, thesaurus or dictionaries, and in those cases we also assumed that what we found was accurate.  The problem is that too few people, connected to each, have been burned enough with “bad data” for the people to discover, en masse,  that much of the information on the Internet is not trust worthy, or that in fact every piece of information must suffer from some scale of trustworthiness.  Every individual has to personally experience the discovery of this learning, before they apply any judgment on the accuracy of what they find.

In our own businesses this same problem exists.  Though we do tend to trust the information more, it remains “at risk”.  The article highlights how state and local government is getting bigger every day and, proving itself unequal to the task of effective management, pumps more untrustworthy data into our waiting hands.  It’s quite scary really, especially with the focus on “open data” movements.  Animal spirits will surely flourish – as smart individuals figure out how to glean truth from all the “open dirt” that is filling up our web pages, search engines, and in boxes.

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Category: information-theory  internet  trust  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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