Internet – Jarvis good or Fisk bad?

British journalism academic Jeff Jarvis wrote an interesting article last week about the criticisms he hears about the Internet when he goes forth to discuss how empowering the new Internet age is for the media.  He rebuts:

  1. There’s junk on the internet.
  2. Most people watch junk.
  3. Anyone can say anything on the internet. 
  4. There are inaccuracies on the internet. 
  5. Wikipedia has mistakes. 
  6. We need a seal of approval for internet content.
  7. Bloggers aren’t journalists.
  8. People are rude on the internet.
  9. The internet has no ethics.

He doesn’t deal with who does or doesn’t have the ability to access the Internet – both across countries (in terms wealth, spread of development, spread of resources needed etc) and within countries (in terms of who has access to education, wealth etc).  And while he rebuts needing a “seal of approval”, he doesn’t really deal with how we compare knowledge sources online. 

How do we “know” one set of knowledge production is “better” than another?  I’m not saying there are not multiple ways of understanding lots of social phenomena – but when we read research claims that suggest women are as violent as men say, or climate change is denied by science as well as predicted and recorded by science, how do we know what to believe?

The fact is, some kinds of knowledge are more robust than others – they are better supported by the ranges of evidence we have so far available.  And at the moment, the Internet, to my mind, has not worked out a way to help users ‘sort through’ the vast amount of knowledge there.

At the other end of the spectrum as far as trusting the Internet as knowledge, is top British journalist Robert Fisk, who was quoted as saying while in New Zealand recently “To hell with the web, it’s got no responsibility.” 

He believes the internet has stopped journalists doing the real work of going out and interviewing people, and that bloggers have no quality checks on our work – so he avoids the internet completely.

He has a point of course – but so does Dave Lee when he begs Robert Fisk to start a blog and inform even more people than he does now of the hideous atrocities occuring in the Middle East. 

At the end of the day, the Internet is a tool which can be used – and regularly is – for good or evil.  I don’t think either Jeff Jarvis in his enthusiasm or Robert Fisk in his disdain has it exactly right – but then I would say that, I’m a Luddite Blogger 🙂

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