The “intent” of the internet
Posted by Gina
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.
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