Saturday, July 6, 2013

Is It Time?

To my son Tommy,

I wonder if it is time to hold people accountable for what they write on the Internet.  I see link after link to half truths and full on lies.  People don't take the time to find out the truth because they want to believe the lie.  The lie fits in with their argument and neither veracity nor accuracy or lack of either will stop them from blindly accepting the "facts" of the story.  I really don't care if they lie to themselves but when they spread it around, that is what gets my ire up.  People refuse to hold themselves accountable and to a higher standard, so again I wonder if it is time to hold people accountable and how.

Bloggers world wide have asked and claimed press privilege.  To do so though means we need to begin holding all bloggers accountable for any misinformation, deception, falsehoods, or inaccuracies.  Then we would have to go a step further and hold all users of social media accountable no matter if they call themselves a blogger or not.  What distinguishes one person on the Internet from another when it comes to their soapbox?  Doesn't matter if they blog consistently or use status updates or tweets.  What is the difference if you create the lie in a thousand words or you do it in brief?  If you share a link to someone else's lie without researching it out, are you any less culpable?

The problem is I cannot fathom a way to accomplish holding people accountable for falsehoods posted or shared on the Internet.  I guess technically the current justice system allows for prosecution of the most heinous of these, but this has limitations.  First, the laws were written before people could conceptualize today's Internet.  This basically makes the web the equivalent of the wild Wild West, complete with gun fighters except their guns shoot pixels and acronyms instead of bullets.   Secondly, the sheer volume of people who post inaccuracies that should be reprimanded in some way or another make trying these cases impossible.  And finally it would be cost prohibitive to try and convict "Mr. Conservative" for posting a "news story" as breaking news when the source of his story seems to be a blog with dubious and made up sources from 2010.  So we are left to other alternatives.

Some try to educate by posting the truth or researching the veracity many of these urban legends and myths and stories people claim as fact.  Whole websites and organizations have sprung up with the honorable goal of dispelling lies and finding truth.  But like I said in the beginning, people want to believe the lie and thus will not accept the truth.  If they accept the truth they may have to admit they were wrong, admit they were duped, and, worst yet, change or at least challenge their own specially guarded and dear point of view.  So the people who try to educate, often fail.  The old saying "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink" comes to mind.

So some others have gone on to vigilante justice.  Groups like Anonymous and other white hat and grey hat and even black hat hackers have taken it upon themselves to teach people lessons.  The problem with vigilante justice is that the power of judge and jury and executioner is often too much for any one person.  Even within a group, if not regulated by law, the people become more of a pitchfork wielding mob than a proper jury.  So where does that leave us?

It leaves us back to hoping that some day people will just do the right thing.  The answer lies in teaching our children to always tell the truth.  We have to teach them to see through the haze of confusion we have created.  Hopefully we will get to that generation that will value truth enough to stop the present course of our world.  If not it may become impossible to distinguish truth from fantasy or fiction or lie.  And hopefully by the time you read these, your generation will have found a way to deal with such inaccuracies without having to create a fascist social media police squad who is armed with the censorship abilities of the Chinese government.  And hopefully you will read through my letters to you and find that I was somewhat successful in upholding my own standards that I ask for with a dedication to the truth.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

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