Internet: Our Reverend Informer

In this article, Kuwar Singh talks about the credibility of information on the internet and its role as a reverend informer.

If he were alive, Alan Turing would be the proudest gay dad in the world, for Internet, the magic he gifted to the twenty-first century, has redefined intelligent perceptions across the spectrum of human knowledge like nothing else before. Among other things, its major trans-formative role has been that of the global lighthouse of information. Churning more than two million1 blog-posts every day, the World Wide Web has become a true powerhouse of ideas.

But hear the detractors, and they have their reasons. That everything- and by virtue of skepticism, anything on the Internet need not be true, has become one of the basic tenets of modern life. Any discussion anywhere in the world is often punctuated by a raised eye-brow of the purist inquiring if the fellow student of intellect would gulp down whatever is offered on those god-forsaken leftist websites. But how much does this bad-mouthing really ebb away the worthiness of Turing’s daughter?

Not a great deal, thankfully. For if you come to look at it, there is not a single major news channel that hasn’t got its own history of wrongdoing, misrepresentation and dishonesty. I reckon history is for the books, but paid news and political influence in journalistic affairs are even more common today than they were half a century ago, a fact that stands foreboding and obvious despite all efforts of the Press Council of India to bury its own research on the issue2.

Independent reporting has surprisingly little audience in a developing country like ours.  And to add to the pyre, the established, respectable media houses are getting progressively tarnished every hour, a courtesy largely of the information avalanche generated and digested by India online. A recent example is the resignation of respected journalists- including P Sainath and Praveen Swami- from The Hindu, widely regarded as The New York Times of India, over a row of nepotistic decisions of the Company Board, raising painfully pertinent questions about the state of the fourth pillar in our democracy.

The Internet, on the other hand has been getting more reliable and verifiable every day, with major news portals focusing on their online audience, because let’s face it, that’s where the future is. And needless to say, both sides also find it much more economical and profitable. Britannica Encyclopedia stands as the shining example of the coming age, having gone solely-digital in 2012. And from American Medical Association to WebMD, CNN to Conspiracy Watch, there is no dearth of authentic information- and anarchist paranoia- online.

Everyone is heard here, whether it is in reputed news articles, the scathing comments underneath, the multitude of blog-entries, the social media, or the underground discussion forums flurried with accusations of how the US government staged the events of 9/11. Internet today is the only real marketplace of ideas, where every opinion is entertained and the best of ideas emerges on its own merit, not on the basis of a national newspaper-house’s choice to make it their policy of the month.

It is unfortunate that most of us never shuffle past the top links on the Google Search Results, but from Upworthy to Alternet, there is also a bustling network of independent outlets that has a loyal consumer-base and rakes millions of pageviews every day. So, no one can complain about the big sharks eating the mermaids here. In fact, this likeness of the Internet to a child- the ability to entertain the most outrageous along with the most modest- is what makes it the ideal news outlet. There is no viable censor (at least for now), no pedantry, and no prejudice. No one runs the Internet, no one can control the Internet: it is a beast with a blow horn.

Now granted that at the end of the day, most of us are just too tired to winnow the chaff, and the massive online outbursts over the most trivial (Remember the blue-dress-white-dress hysteria?) have become a worthy nuisance to whine about, but it is our duty, as citizens and as walking chunks of meat with brains inside skulls, to sift through all that material and find the bytes relevant to us. Rather than shunning the information on websites that don’t have a pedigree, “it’s important to emphasize critical thinking, and being able to evaluate different sources” (Rob James). Unlike the Mainstream Media, which is owned and operated through interlocking of corporate and political clout3, the Internet is free: there is no editor shoving his cud down our throats, no aggressive show host barring people from sharing their opinions; rather, we are shopping on our own in the marketplace of ideas, with little cash exchanging hands. Every opinion is corroborated and contradicted online.  Even the simplest matter is a debate, and that, is a mighty good thing.

For if we do believe truth to be better than falsehood, then surely would it not claw its way out of the pit of divergent facts and views? It’s Adam Smith, simply.





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