Spin Via Blog Comments

An aide to Representative Charles Bass (R-NH) was forced to resign after posting comments critical of Bass’s Democratic opponent to two liberal political blogs. Evidently the bloggers traced the IP address used to post the comments to a House of Representatives computer.  (Why do politicos seem so far behind the times in terms of technical awareness? Shocked, shocked I am that blog comments can be traced back to me!)

This phenomenonspinning via blogis pervasive. I don’t think it threatens the health of the blog world as a medium of information exchange, but it raises a question we’ve faced in many other fora: how do we weed out the wolves in sheeps’ clothing? As Congressional aides get smarter (the term “anonymizer” may be heard in Hill coffee shops and bars), how do bloggers and readers detect hidden agendas?  Or is this too much worry for a relatively limited problem?

My colleague and friend Urs Gasser has written insightfully and widely on information quality; I’m counting on him to solve the problem…

4 Responses to “Spin Via Blog Comments”

  1. Thank you for the tip to Gasser’s book, Information Quality Regulation. It isn’t held widely in the US, but I’m hoping to obtain one soon via interlibrary loan.

    Librarians, of course, have engaged the issue you describe for ages. There are a handful of basic questions one should ask about the nature of an information resource before relying on it for its truth content, and one often does so tacitly. (Or not. The Pew Internet and American Life Project frequently reports on gaps in the general public’s understanding and expectations regarding information on the ‘net. Politicos aren’t the exclusive laggards in this respect.)

    In an article addressing the evolution and regulation of search enginges, Prof. Gasser has recently written about the tension between a core democratic value of diversity and the need for some assurance of information quality: “Unleashed diversity in the digitally networked environment … might have negative feedback effects on user autonomy because it increases an individual’s risk to be exposed to undesired information. A regulatory approach aimed at ensuring high-quality information, by contrast, might be in tension with informational autonomy, because it may impose a quality requirement leading to a level of quality that does not meet an individual’s informational needs.” Regulating Search Engines: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead, 8 Yale J.L. & Tech. 201, 230-31. These, too, are familiar issues for libraries. One way to “solve the problem,” then, might be to investigate how libraries have succeeded at doing so, in both the print and electronic realms.

  2. Dean, thanks both for the comment and the support of Urs’s work. I have always considered him a model for how a serious scholar should work.

    I think you correctly pinpoint the challenge with information quality on the Web: the sheer volume taxes human cognitive processing (hence the success of Google and recommendation devices), and the lack of context (or, what is the same in effect, the ability to fake the signals from a more credible context) reduces our ability to employ standard coping and sorting skills. One strong answer, as you put forth, is to increase users’ skepticism on-line. This is difficult – each generation has a new wave of Internet virgins, for whom tales of sick children seeking postcards or the free trip to Disneyworld from Microsoft are gripping – but it may improve with time.

    Urs has it right: reducing barriers to communication increases the challenge of sorting wheat from chaff. There is something to the set of gatekeepers in the old systems, and I certainly rely on them: I prefer op-ed columns to letters to the editor. The drawback, of course, is that minority or unpopular or non-traditional viewpoints are frequently excluded. My own sense is that we’ll have reintermediation on the Web – a new set of intermediaries will arise. We’re struggling already with how to regulate the early generation of these gatekeepers.

    One exciting aspect of the Internet is the re-emergence of librarians (now under the moniker of information science) as key resources, and library science as a critical area of scholarly inquiry. In this regard, you might have a look at David Weinberger’s work on “Everything is Miscellaneous.”

  3. Yeah, some good points made, however there are two valid sides to this arguement so I’m not sure I completely agree.

  4. It is a touchy subject. You can never be too careful