Google Perception vs. Reality – It’s Kind of Like The Matrix

May 30, 2008 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment

Glenn Rubenstein is about to let his “nerdyness get in the way of his dorkiness” (to quote Patton Oswalt)…

If one were to make an analogy about the relationship between the modern internet and reality as we know it, it’s kind of like the movie “The Matrix.”

Sure, the internet seems like real life… and the more we’re tapped into it, the less of a divide we see between the internet’s version of reality and reality as it exists in our world beyond the internet.

Google, for better or worse, is the infrastructure that allows one to navigate the reality that its search engine deems relevant, as dictated by what it finds on the internet.

For people who are too tapped in to even notice the difference, Google search results dictate their perception of reality – internet or otherwise.

When that happens, you see situations like the Money.co.uk incident, which Mashup recaps here: Search Engines and Fake News.

Now this blurring of the lines is nothing new, and people have been guilty of taking things on the internet at face value for the better part of the last decade and a half. Whether it’s believing that Congress is going to pass a bill to tax email, or that a teenage girl posting video blogs might be caught up in some kind of dangerous cult, or that a presidential candidate is somehow anti-American because he doesn’t wear a flag pin on his lapel – all it takes is for the story to have the right aesthetic or feel, and it can strike a nerve in someone to where they almost instantly accept it as true.

And here’s why it’s gotten worse:

In recent years, the mainstream media has undergone so many mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, and cost-cutting measures by their parent companies that we now have fewer trusted news sources to turn to (and conspiracy theorists, I’m sure, will argue whether or not the mainstream media was ever to be trusted at all). But what has further complicated things is that there are now also fewer people working at these media companies – and the quality of their work has taken a toll. Want proof? Look to the credibility problems the New York Times has had, both with Jayson Blair’s fabrication of journalistic sources and also its Iraq War intelligence debacle.

At the same time, every news outlet has been looking to tap into the online world and increase their internet presence. With the rise of blogging, it’s led to a greater influence from the internet’s perception of reality. This is not to say that bloggers, by and large, are the problem – in fact, many bloggers are better journalists than a lot of their counterparts in the offline world these days, because for many it’s a passion and not a paycheck.

The problem is that overworked employees at understaffed news sources will oftentimes simply use Google to source stories, and even worse, as the extent of their fact-checking and research.

The Mashable story above talks a little about how Google wants to combat their spiders being manipulated to spread fake news.

But even Google can’t solve society’s much larger problem, which is that if enough people believe something it’s more easily accepted as truth.

Glenn Rubenstein

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