The first casualty of power politics, advocacy journalism, dark propaganda, rumor mills, and media-politico echo chambers is truth. Here’s a defensive tactic for your consideration.
Scholars have been concerned with the pollution of our infospheres (‘infopollution’) for many decades. As I prepare this column I am reminded of a column that I wrote on information overload in 1997 (Cyberspace 2000: Dealing with Information Overload, Communications of the ACM, 40:2; February 1997). Some of my predictions were spot on – e.g., the Web did indeed evolve toward multi-mediocrity and self-indulgent tripe. To deal with this, some of us experimented with “cyberbrowsers” that could be optimized with respect to search relevance and maximal information uptake (Customizing information: Getting what we need, when we need it, IEEE Computer, parts I and II, September and October, 1994). But I was deluded into thinking that the solution to the needle-in-haystack problem was primarily a navigational issue. I failed to anticipate that the Web would become a convenient weapon of mass deception. As the toxicity of the Web increased, it became obvious that sophisticated navigation alone won’t solve the problem of information overburden, and that defensive browsers were needed. By the mid-1990′s the information content of large parts of cyberspace rivaled that of air dancers and lava lamps.
This toxicity may have been anticipated by alert and well-read software developers. By 1990 propaganda models of mass media had been carefully articulated by scholars such as Alex Carey (Taking the Risk out of Democracy, University of Illinois Press, 1997), and Herman and Chomsky (Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon, 1988). Further, the Orwell-Huxley models of dystopia had been extended to mass media by Neil Postman since the 1960’s (see, e.g. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Penguin Books, rev. ed., 2005). So the handwriting should have been visible on the erudite’s wall. However, I was` blindsided by the most insidious side of infopollution: mass deception. This is my chance to redeem myself for the oversight.