“The Truth Market’s Always Going to Be Smaller Than the Story Market”

question mark girl croppedGood TLDR podcast this week (as every week) from On The Media. Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt looked at two attempts to slow the spread of viral hoaxes on the web: Paulo Ordoveza’s PicPedant Twitter feed, and Adrienne LaFrance’s Antiviral column on Gawker.

My favorite bit was this exchange:

LaFrance: I think as humans we probably care more about stories and storytelling than truth, on some level.

Vogt: You’re always going to be a niche thing, a little bit, right? The truth market’s always going to be smaller than the story market.

LaFrance: Right. I think that at the same time if you can get people to stumble upon it and they start to think about the way they consume information differently — we’re having to train people to be a little more nuanced in this digital age, and I think that is going to make everybody smarter, actually.

TLDR also made reference to Charlie Warzel’s January BuzzFeed column, in which he argued that 2014 will be the “year of the viral debunk.” I have serious doubts about that glib headline. Yes, new models for debunking misinformation are developing. I think they will pick up steam in the next few years, and that will be an exciting development indeed. But I wouldn’t expect a tidal wave of skepticism before December.

I did appreciate Warzel’s rundown of recent debunkings, and especially this tidbit from The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, which mirrors LaFrance’s thoughts above:

Debunking jobs shouldn’t just do the basic stuff — checking out where the media came from, looking at the accounts on which it was posted, tracing the route it took to popularity — but teach people how to do it themselves. Once you’ve done it a couple times, the skepticism becomes reflexive. (And bonus: When something turns out to be real, you like it even more because you haven’t been duped by bullshit over and over).

One thing didn’t ring true in the podcast – why do Alex and PJ talk as if attempts to counter web-borne misinformation are only just beginning? Seems like the fact checking sites, and Snopes before that, represent the first iterations of this phenomenon.

photo credit: Alex Bellink via photopin cc


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