The “intent” of the internet

Of the assignments for this week, I found the video of Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” panel to be the most intriguing. He brings up a good question about the responsibility of the internet – especially the more widely utilized social media like Facebook and search engines like Google. It is an interesting idea to think about – how much do we consider Google and Facebook and the like to be our “friend” and how much do we consider them “tools”, and should this arrangement change?

This dilemma reminded me of Rheingold’s chapter on “crap detection” in Net Smart.

Rheingold essentially argues that the internet is a tool (in Zittrain’s words) and it is the responsibility of the user to determine what is accurate and most serves his or her needs. I tend to agree with this stance. While Zittrain makes some excellent points about the potential benefits of such sites as Google and Facebook to become even more in-tune with each users’ preferences, and to cater to those along with the “absolute” truth. However, it is impossible for there to be one “absolute” truth. He mentions the fact that when searching “Jew” Google’s top results are anti-semitic sites and Google even acknowledges this fact but will not change their algorithm to prevent such results. While this is an extreme case and I certainly wish those were not the results at the top of Google’s list, I don’t really think that it is fair to stifle the freedom of speech and differences in opinion of internet users. If we start doing that in extreme cases of prejudice (where it is understandable and encouraged) where do we draw the line? And if each person receives different results in everything based on their prior behavior and opinions, how can anyone ever expand their knowledge or develop new and different opinions?

I think that a decent dose of “crap detection” is the right way to go. Let Google and other sites spit out what their “algorithm” thinks is right for all users and let each of us determine what we want to read or believe. It is an imperfect system, definitely, but it is one that allows for more freedom and free-will.

Posted on November 4, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. That’s a good correlation between Zittrain and Rheingold. I found much of Rheingold’s philosophy about crap detection intriguing and true. Much too often, educated and less educated friends, are turning to the internet for answers and accept whatever is on the first page as the answer even though much of first page results on Google are contradictory.

    While there is no “absolute truth”, what do you think of the Google’s rhetoric of displaying certain results? Do you think there’s a hidden agenda that Google is encouraging us to think one way or another or distract us from finding what we’re looking for?

    • I think its possible for Google to be doing those things, but I think there is more of a chance of that type of behavior if the algorithm is changed as Zittrain suggests. You can never fully trust anything on the internet, so I suppose I’m just used to taking all Google results with a grain of salt.

  2. I completely agree with your point Gina. I also found Zittrain’s talk to be the most intriguing portion of the assigned materials and do agree with the point about Google and other search engines remaining “tools” instead of becoming “friends.” As always, it is up to us as individuals to filter and funnel what we take in, constantly on the look out for truth and evenly balanced opinions.

    It is hard to deny the fact that Google and other mediums, as money making operations, are probably manipulating what we see and how close it appears to the beginning of the search results. But would we be any better off without them? I think not. Like everything else technological, it takes an adjustment period before we can be completely attuned the way things work.

    • I agree – I absolutely think we are better off with the technologies and information (overload) available to us. There will always be people who will believe “anything” and that existed before the internet (the “anything” is just more prevalent and easier to access now).

  3. I really enjoyed the Zittrain video, and it was definitely thought-provoking. I agree with you that nobody should have their opinions stifled–the myriad voices of all of us monkeys are what makes the Web the Web in a lot of ways. And for the most part I agree that crap detection is the responsibility of the reader (caveat emptor and all that). However, do you think that the big search engines have any responsibility when public safety is at risk? Zittrain uses anti-vaccination as an example, but another example could be presenting only essential information during disasters. For instance, if there is a major earthquake, should Google prioritize search results related to rescue efforts? To be honest, I don’t know the answer. Part of me wants to say yes, of course–but part of me worries about going down that slippery slope.

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