Information Collapse

Naturally, I check the stats on this blog and am always curious to see referring sites and related comments. But this week, I’m reminded what an information clusterfuck the Internet can be with the discovery that a post I wrote about malicious editing on Wikipedia is now a cited footnote on a page at its backwoods, idiot cousin known as Conservapedia.  The page itself was about liberal bias on Wikipedia, and I couldn’t imagine anything I’d written that would support this kind of criticism; but there it was — footnote number 18 right below the heading blaming Wikipedia for, of all things, Anti-Christianity.  And the fact that they’re citing the words of a confirmed atheist is the lesser irony in this case.

Apparently, the rogue Wiki editor, Robert Clark Young, outed by Andrew Leonard at and referenced in my post, included among his furtive revisions the “cleaning up” of articles which contained any positive reflections of paganism.  As such, Conservapedia’s beef is not that Young was a mischievous butcher of articles in general, but that Wikipedia ultimately banned him at least in part for doing his christian duty by scouring pro-pagan language. Neither my article nor Leonard’s makes mention of this particular angle related to Young’s antics; and if the pagan story is true, it’s the first I’ve heard of it.  Granted, the Conservapedia article doesn’t reference anything pertaining to the thesis of my post, only that it substantiates Young’s having been banned; although this is a paradoxical citation in support of an otherwise mundane fact.

Entitled Montag’s Grin, my piece (should any wayward christian zealot wander over here) contemplates the potential we have to digitally “burn” the books through round-the-clock, unchecked, amateur revisionism rather than with fire. So, the real irony in this case is that Conservapedia is probably one of the best examples of exactly what I meant when I wrote the post — that the tools and collectivist ideals behind the founding of Wikipedia do not necessarily have to produce better information and a smarter world. It was inevitable that an ultra-conservative, funhouse mirror version of Wikipedia would come to be, just as FOX News was inevitable the moment Ted Turner set out to prove that 24hr news could be a business.  And the Internet has only exploded and accelerated the folly 24hr news set in motion such that news is now even further segmented according to bias, has to provoke or entertain just to attract fleeting attention, and demands a rate of production that can only degrade the practice of investigative journalism.

On a related subject, I was interested to see that Popular Science recently removed comment threads from its website after concluding a study that indicated comments are actually bad for the advancement of science. This makes sense. Because we have elevated and monetized even the most base forms of discourse, we have consequently fostered an environment in which, under the guise of fairness, we continue debating on a national scale even settled sciences like Darwinian evolution. Quote that Conservapedia!

But with regard to any form of criticism of Web 2.0, those of us doing the criticizing are often accused of being anti-technology or anti-future, of trying to stuff the innovation genie back in his proverbial bottle. This isn’t a rhetorical tactic employed solely by common trolls, but also by the corporate leaders of the technological empire.  In any given debate about the application of digital technologies, the vested interests tend to sow a kind of fear by setting up the false choice of tech vs. no tech. If we’re paying attention, this is functionally the same as, If we don’t play by their rules, they’ll take their ball and go home. And we keep falling for it.  To quote Andy Borowitz in response to yesterday’s government shutdown, “If the Internet had been shut down, there would be rioting in the streets.”

Instead of this artificially binary, repetitive, and generalized defense of technology, we might all agree that the tools of innovation are also tools of exploitation; that connecting can include stalking and bullying; that the companion of crowd-sourced is mob-ruled; then maybe we can have an adult dialogue about how, when, and why we use these tools — and quite possibly assert the right to have some say as to how they evolve. Because, if the web is living up to its 20-year-old promise to make us a better informed hive, I have to wonder what this liberal’s words are doing linked to anything on Conservapedia.

Tech utopians herald the technological singularity as a messianic event — a time when man and machine will coexist in a world just beyond our imagination, where super-intelligence is the norm and immortality will be achieved.  It is possible, however, that these very same tools could actually cause the volume of  bullshit out there to keep expanding, acquire tremendous mass, and then collapse into a singularity as it is often defined in space-time — a point of infinite density from which not even light can escape.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • The thing is being anti-technology-but-not-really or whatever I’m suppose to call it these days is not really a “partisan” divide. It’s very possible that the folks at Conservapedia really like your anti-Wikipedia article. You identifying as a liberal/progressive isn’t going to stop them from quoting you. They might not like your stance on Christianity though.

    After being a resident on the Internet for many years. I’ve learned to evolve my opinion of politics beyond the idea of “liberal” and “conservative” personally. This kind of separation is a fabrication perpetuated by mass media and our increasingly obvious broken political system.

    • Conservapedia isn’t about conservatism; it’s about psychosis. And I doubt that whoever used the citation actually read (or certainly understood) the article.

      • Yeah, I’d agree with that. I’m as far from a conservative as you can get politically, but it’s not fair to see Conservapedia as representative of conservative thought. They’re loons, to use a politically incorrect term. A particular highlight is their attempt to rewrite the Bible to remove liberal bias.

        But I’m not sure it’s the best example of the problems of crowdsourcing out there. The place is run like a feudal fiefdom. There’s maybe three main admins who write the bulk of the content- Andrew Schlafly, Ed Poor and ‘Conservative”. And, of the remaining editors, I reckon at least half are parodists.

        It actually shows that small groups of “experts” are only worthwhile if their expertise is genuine and worthwhile The Citizendium example shows that even more. And, on face value, Citizendium was based on a lot of the principles you’d support. It’s worth checking out what happened. It does show the dangers of the expert guidance model in the same way Wiki shows the dangers of crowdsourcing.

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