TED Conversations

Emmanuel Mashandudze

Business Intelligence, Tools and Process Specialist, Witwatersrand University

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Internet being the information highway that it is, how could we make the content we find on it legitimate and genuine facts.

In the free world of information sharing, can the Internet be a reliable source of information ever? How will the Internet be a true version of the truth? Could there be a code of conduct on the Internet to sift junk and make the Internet a highway of reliable, trustworthy information?

Topics: Internet
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    Oct 15 2013: I feel you're already on the right track in acknowledging that not all sources on the internet can hold a legitimate "truth." It's important to stay skeptical when taking in any sort of mediated information, whether it be the internet, television or print sources.

    If you're looking for genuine facts, read opinion pieces by multiple authors. After a reading a few, you'll being to get a sense of who is able to back up their points with facts, versus others who argue with empty rhetoric.

    Personally, I like editorials. The authors behind them usually have a strong background in the subject their writing, often having PhDs on the topic they're writing about. Whether or not their view lines up with yours shouldn't be important, so long as they argue their side legitimately. From there, you can feel free to cross-reference their facts with other print/online sources to verify their legitimacy and form your personal opinion.

    I feel when looking for facts on the internet, it's extremely difficult to find pure truths, because we all have biases. But if a source is able to start a conversation and provoke some sort of debate and critical thinking, I think it's doing its job.

    That's just my two-cents! After 4 years of studying media theories, I feel that's the best way to consume mediated information until society thinks of a better way of informing the public and engaging them in debate.
  • Oct 15 2013: i don't think "the internet" can be a source of reliable information, because anyone can write anything, but certain parts of the internet that ascribe to testing and verification of information before it's published are very good sources, just as they always were. it's up to you the user to assess whether a blog etc is based on someone ill-considered "brain fart" conclusions, or a well-researched and thorough investigation, logically concluded with corresponding supporting evidence.
  • Oct 18 2013: I'm afraid your yearning for a source of reliable, trustworthy information is misguided, because you seem to assume that we can all agree on what is legitimate and genuine. I'm quite positive that no two people hold the same things as legitimate and genuine.

    Imagine if you will the Internet like a rainbow.
    Divided in zones, each with different basic colors, subtly changing from one into
    another.
    Let's say then that the rainbows "red" maps to the parts of the internet focusing on "entertainment/humor", the "blue" to the internets "information/objective facts" focused zone, the "yellow" to the internets "enlightenment/salvation" focused zone.
    Were I to choose say 10 sites of legitimate and genuine facts on the net, they would probably be some combination of sites from these zones and more, and yours would probably be like that too, but different sites.
    That's because facts is not like answers in a math textbook. They are obscured by clouds of distraction and enigma and each person has different abilities and ways of dealing with these clouds.
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    Oct 16 2013: It is the user's responsibility to filter information. It's rather easy. Some websites offer information that is either peer reviewed or validated some other way. Take information from any source with a grain of salt. Always find multiple sources to validate the information you are using.

    A code of conduct would be difficult to implement. How would we enforce it? The internet does offer great sources of factual information. However, you will always have to be mindful of invalid data. This isn't just a problem for internet users. Talk to enough people in person and you can receive the same amount of misinformation.
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    Oct 15 2013: I don't think you can have a format in which anyone can share whatever ideas or impressions he has freely and at the same time have all the information presented be accurate.

    There are sources on the internet that do fact checking and review and those that don't. You need to learn how to distinguish more trustworthy sites, and parts of sites, from those that have a different purpose.
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      Oct 15 2013: Hi Fritzie

      I agree there can never be accuracy if there is the free information exchange. I just wonder though, with the growth of the maturity of internet which doesn't seem to be anywhere near slowing down, how can we validate information. My concern is more on content for example some news agencies publish content that might not be accurate and could give a completely wrong picture of how people perceive things. For example an article on one of the popular news agencies published an article saying at least 80% of people in South Africa prefer consulting traditional healers. Where can then find accuracy then when well known news companies publish falsified information like this?
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        Oct 15 2013: Your profile suggests you are a student at University. What do your professors suggest as the standards for using online references in your sources for your papers?
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          Oct 15 2013: I am in Business Intelligence but was a student at some point. Lecturers being in academia are a bit skeptical about using just any site online. That is the reason why a valid citation is usually from either a paper, a journal or a publication on a well known international journal.
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        Oct 15 2013: I too would rely preferentially on such published sources. There are online sites that are reliable in their areas. An example might be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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    Oct 18 2013: Hi Greg - cool reply.
    I guess so to a greater or lesser degree...
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    Oct 18 2013: Sometime truth is harsh and even biased, which no one support and go along with, while false is immediate, cut short of hard work and enjoyable too for many so many agree to it and get along with it. I believe this things are too often in our daily life to, people like smart person it doesn't matter if he is true or wrong he has impressed everyone like hypnotized everyone for the moment and the fight for truth moment is lost. Thus internet is all about "DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH AND come to CONCLUSION" which is time consuming and some time incomplete and harsh but people like me Choose Good trust worthy Person and his opinion is taken into consideration, I am not saying to follow but it is helpful in your research.

    Thank you Emmanuel for bringing up this topic.
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    Oct 16 2013: Hello Emmanuel:>)
    It has already been said on this thread, so I am simply reinforcing. The internet is a GREAT tool, which provides us with all kinds of information.....some reliable, and some not so reliable. We can go into a library and see thousands of books which provide reliable and unreliable information. What a gift that the internet is so much faster than plowing through thousands of books!!! LOL!

    We have always had to use our filtering system to decide what is more, or less reliable, trustworthy information. As you insightfully say....it is a free world of information sharing, so it would be very difficult to sift through everything that is out there to prevent unreliable information. We can find something to support almost any argument on the internet, and people do it all the time. I've seen home videos used as "proof" of an idea right here on TED:>)

    It is our responsibility to consider the source, filter information, check and recheck our sources. I also find that information changes so quickly, that sometimes, we may have accurate information from a reliable source one day, and the next day it is updated with new information. So as Henry says....take it all with a grain of salt:>)
  • Oct 16 2013: It is "Caveat emptor" in the web. Check out sources. If someone mentions a person as a source, check out the credentials of the source. Find out the context of the statement (people's opinion change over time and need to know the situation also). check the report and numbers. look at the source (polls can be skewed by the wording of questions - both the right and the left do it) for example, some data could be thrown out due to the methodology which can skew the numbers.
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    Oct 15 2013: No.

    It's a concept that many people are not grasping - we do not live in the information age, we live in the propaganda age.

    It's the main point schools should be driving home to students - check your sources then check them again. And then check them again. Use multiple sources.

    Technology of convenience - the human-machine love affair of the 21st Century - provides very little that is of value beyond entertainment.
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    Oct 15 2013: I love the internet - the information super highway. I don't look for truth in on the internet, I look for information, empirical data which then enables me to find the truth. Getting to the truth of a subject and finding the truth in the babble of information which is out here we need to be open-minded to discovering things we might not like or agree with, and use our own ability to discern what is right, what is wrong, what is a truth and that which is a lie or in some other way a distortion of the truth..
    I guess a lot depends on what truth you are searching for. If you were seeking the truth on how the solar systems works I would suggest that there is a lot of scientific data both historic and current which is true and correct, published out here on the internet, same goes for many of the pure sciences. However when it comes to more challenging aspects of 21st century living such as politics, economics, climate change, the benefits or not of new engineering processes such as fracking or GMO, etc., again a tonne and a half of information, but not all of it is true and this is where critical thinking and the ability to analyse the data comes into play.
    Like many others who have responded to this question, I too read the opinion pieces by multiple authors and am know to do my own research, and write my own critical pieces from time to time.
    I also think that once you have digested the information, data and opinions, instincts come into play - in the same way that one knows when someone is lying to them in the real world, I would suggest that we can tell when someone is trying to lie to us in the written word - you just get that feeling that while there might be a kernel of truth in what is being said, there is not quite right with the proposition or the way it is being presented.
    I'm not 100% convinced that paying for information makes the information any better or more truthful than the information which is freely available. Getting to the truth is a quest.
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    Oct 15 2013: Internet is not fundamentally different from any other source of information: you get genuine facts and some not so genuine, and you are more likely to access trustworthy information if you select it and pay for it, because great info quality often involves an expert or a professional systematically checking contents and analysing them in depth.

    As long as everyone can write what they want on the internet you’ll always get different levels of quality. As other contributors said below, users just have to learn to recognize which are the reliable, ‘peer reviewed’ sources. On many websites the thumbs-up/thumbs-down systems allows the community to collectively ‘sift some kind of junk’ (does not solve the issue of manipulation though).
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    Oct 15 2013: seems important not to only rely on the internet, to ask questions, read newspapers, go to arts and culture events, talk to your friends about different issues and events

    true the internet allows you to publish a lot of different things, but there are checks on that, for instance on many news stories there is also a chance for people who read the story to comment and perhaps some will disagree with the story
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      Oct 15 2013: Mmmm ... reading newspapers is not always the best way to get to the truth of a matter, especially as transnational corporations (TNC's) control the media and many of these news sources are very biased, having their own political, economic and social agenda's. It increasingly seems to me that they (TNC media outlets) report on what they think we should know, and report it from their perspective. Fortunately in the UK we have a couple of news sources which are seemingly independent, which I do read, but in recent years like many others I have become somewhat cynical and generally cross-check everything I read in the mass media press. In fact these days I cross check everything.
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        Oct 17 2013: Well, anything I read I try to check against my own experience to see if it seems plausible and logical. Also check it against what I think of as "common sense." I suppose I prioritize, some things it is more important to be certain they are true than other things. So many things I only hear from one source, I'm inclined to believe they're true enough while keeping some doubt, but I might not check further, other things I might go to great effort to learn if they're true or not, checking against multiple sources, asking authorities, etc. Are you this way, Anna?
  • Oct 15 2013: "Legitimate facts and genuine facts" according to who? You, me, some corporate paid professor or clergyman, virtually every opinion expressed in America is tainted to some extent by corporations all the way to and including the supreme court.
    "There are no facts, only interpretations"- Friedrich Nietzsche
    The best we can do is listen to our heart.
    At first glance I really thought I would be able to rely on TED for some relevant information but after multiple talks which turned out to be just info commercials for some corporation, I have to take it with a grain of salt. I find more truth talking with some of the members of TED but you have to sort them out also, it's not easy to find good information anywhere. You would think that clergymen, professors, doctors, judges, lawyers even bankers would give you good information but as has been so blatantly pointed out lately, bullshit is an equal opportunity employer. You can find it everywhere.
    That being said I find the Wikipedia system produces pretty good value. The bottom line is unless you remove people from the process you are going to have problems with information and more people the information passes through the worst it gets.
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      Oct 15 2013: Keith, I Iike your point on listening to my heart. Only problem is where my heart takes me could be where the most misleading information is residing. I also echo your sentiments on the commercialization of platforms like these, before it was just about getting together and sharing information. Time and winds of change, not forgetting the one with fat wallet tends to dictate what goes even in the information age. I like Wikipedia as a concept too but because I can go and modify and put whatever I want and reference what I captured to my blog, then it becomes credible. Legitimacy that I am referring to, in some instances I am taking about the actual facts. Societies view things differently largely because of the information that the medium around you are giving you. Even search engines now search differently depending on location. If today you do a search on an African country from wherever you are, the highlights are of those things that made the news and news is there to support a business and profit, but is it true?
      • Oct 15 2013: News and the media used to have some credibility that as you know is long gone. CNN used to be a great news source because they got it first and they did not have time to change it to what ever is politically correct. Now with computers and algorithms even news can be shaded on the fly, realtime. By the way when you say anyone can change Wikipedia that is not entirely true, all changes are pasted through a committee of professionals in that area of expertise and only they can pass it on through if they approve. I cannot even change my own articles without there approval. That's one of the things I like about it. It takes more than on person to make a change, it is not like your blog or website where you can make any statement you please.
        Search engines have got both better and worse, better because they are filtering out a lot of the useless spam material and worse because they slant towards there own products and views. (Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are all being sued for this as we speak) The problems arose as big corporations buy up other companies and products with similar interests. For instance the grocery stores used to just sell other peoples products, now they make more of the products they sell in direct competition with there vendors. That used to be unethical but now it is common practice. We no longer have ethics, everything is for sell including our ethics.
        Emmanuel you know what is right and wrong, that is why your heart is the best barometer for decisions because it will never lie to you.

        "Your mind is your only true friend"- Keith W Henline
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    Oct 15 2013: Important issue it is really.....Legitimacy of same content may differ from country to country .....even with facts the bias of perspective and legitimacy can be there ....
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      Oct 15 2013: Yes very true. I have also discovered something that seems to be quick prevalent on platform where comments are allowed for example on you tube, reading through comments it does not take even 5 comments before it becomes a racial war.
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    Oct 27 2013: The question is who would make the decision what is junk and what is not ?
    For example, all these new age sites selling some hokus pokus are junk in my eyes. Nevertheless, there are people who flock to those sites.
    So, should these sites stay or being eliminated ?
    The internet is not supposed to be THE source of truth but a collection of information.
  • Oct 18 2013: Emmanuel, Thank you again for another great response.
    I just this minute complete a day of handicapping horse races with my friend of some 25 years.
    We do the races utilizing the Daily Racing Form and by telephone we compete with one another.
    Everyday from 3pm or so until 8:50pm or about. Our winning percentages would astound you.
    We seldom bet. It is no longer about money, but skill.

    If I were to believe that anyone would or could corrupt the data I use to make my decisions these
    last 20 years, I would be appalled. I am confident that the Internet brings with it, an integrity of purpose.

    Africa? It has become popular for citizens of African nations to question what other's opinions are
    concerning their continent. That is a good idea, to ask. Most Americans have only a little education about
    Africa. Most have no idea of historical Africans, or their trials and tribulations, their explorations, settlements,
    systems of government, justice, or morals. Most live in a "Marco Polo" world. I know, I do.
    I am not ashamed to say my education sorely lacks understanding your continent, nation, states, or yourself.
    Life is what it is. We are exposed to only so much education that we can use.

    I'm not going to edit this, you get it raw. I hope it makes sense.
  • Oct 17 2013: Police the Internet. Hell no!!!
    We have far too many laws that are enforced. That is the world's major problem.

    The internet is a grand experience for humanity. Leave the internet alone.
    It has been fine, and will continue to be. Even with the sneaky Operating
    Systems collecting all our data, selling it to the NSA, and a thousand others.
    They will have no major impact when all is said and done.

    Language barriers are being torn down. Geographical Governments
    are being recognized for their uselessness, and newer ideas constantly flow.

    The internet is the greatest opportunity for creativity that people have ever had.
    Leave it be.

    We all need the fun it provides.
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      Oct 17 2013: Frank I agree to some of your points, yes the internet cuts boundaries and is exactly something we need and we cant do without. My argument stems from the fact that you are saying stealing information and selling to NSA, how can we authenticate that from just a regular opinion of someone who is bored and decided to spread gossip. The internet in its entirety is an awesome platform but there is so much of the content we cannot validate and in as much as it could add value some people get away with misleading people.

      Not just for research, look at fake companies who advertise promote and accept money online for goods that do not exist. If you loose a significant amount of money to a non existent supplier online who you cannot validate and who no one also can validate but have a sound web presence, would you still stand by the statement, 'Police the Internet, Hell no'
      • Oct 17 2013: Emmanuel -- Your statement:
        "My argument stems from the fact that you are saying stealing
        information and selling to NSA, how can we authenticate that from just a regular
        opinion of someone who is bored and decided to spread gossip..."
        ===
        Emmanuel -- I invite you to do a bit of research yourself.

        I took the time to research the NSA.
        I decided the best way would be to locate the original Internet Program the NSA uses.
        So, I checked out who was designing software for the NSA at the beginning, the 1960's.
        IBM was my correct choice. 3 men worked on the software. 1 of them quit early on.
        I verified by finding awards and recognitions from their peers. Old newspapers, totally
        unrelated items, all enhanced my findings. I targeted the 1 guy who left early on.
        Nice guy, and slowly but surely I walked his history into the White House, and to current
        President's directives, memo's, and executive orders. Nothing classified. It is all there.
        I could go on and research IBM and those other guys who worked on the NSA project,
        but I didn't bother, Why? I have 45 years of NSA history involving this nonsense.
        I did research articles by going backwards, and searching each author-journalist for the
        very first leaks. Back then, both the US and UK newspapers carried all the information.
        The people of this modern world didn't do a damned thing about it. They left it up to their Government. Since the turn of the century, 13 years of silence.

        The research above only took me about a week, and that was about a month ago or so.
        I am 75 years old, and it was a real chore. But once I got going, it was great.

        The gist of this is, -- Do not bother with Policing the Internet. When they read what I have
        exposed here, they will take some appropriate actions. I want to make that clear.
        Policing will only stop the growth of the Internet. We need it open and free.
        Cuss words, Porn, Everything.

        'Police the Internet, Hell no'
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          Oct 18 2013: Frank, well congrats on your findings. I am not for a policy that prohibits freedom of expression. Everyone had to find a voice and the internet seems to be the simplest method to make anyone heard. All I am saying is, if its a blog fair enough we all know what to expect so we take everything with a pinch of salt. I am not sure if this logic holds any water in this day and age anymore, if a site ends with .gov, .ac, .com then we can relate to what these belong to and am sure it meant something at some point. If only we could have a way of verifying some of these things that tarnish the whole image of someone or the rest of the country or even a continent. If you have never been to Africa, how do you perceive this continent?
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    Oct 16 2013: Interesting comments, thanks to you all for your opinions. Of course to validate content one has to have a thorough search and compare from multiple sources. I was looking also at the possibility of including something like meta data on the website that allows users to be able to validate that this site has passed a certain standard. When we right click in the browser and select web page info, then it will be able to show that this is a verified site. Not to be the internet police, but in those places where a national firewall of some sort exists is the access to internet the same with such limitations?
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      Oct 16 2013: Who might verify information Emmanuel? Is there a totally unbiased entity out there somewhere?
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        Oct 16 2013: I agree now all the big internet companies are pulling their way. Bias seems to be ruling it all. A normal search for anything now bombs you with ads from all over the show. What can we do when we have no control of the means. If we all had a way of making the search engines search where we want and index the way we want we wouldn't spend half the day hitting the search button.

        My idea came from data quality and systems thinking, when I look at systems daily it seems there is no single version of truth. In as much as we come with multiple big names, fancy as they may sound, "BIG DATA" etc. Mostly its becoming just a big confusion. The growth of the internet and the volume information it houses, I believe its developing a new trend I would like to name "search paralysis".
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          Oct 16 2013: You have a good point there Emmanuel, and it would be FABULOUS if we could be certain that all information on the internet was true and accurate. While it's a good idea, I cannot imagine realistically how that could happen.

          I am very lucky to have a computer guru, IT daughter who helps me a LOT with the computer, which is a HUGE gift, because I am technically challenged! In spite of my challenge with technical skills, it seems pretty easy to focus on what I am looking for on relatively reliable sites.

          You are right...a search often bombs us with ads and other "stuff". Luckily, I know how to delete/cancel/close a site:>)
        • Oct 17 2013: Emmanuel Mashandudze

          The internet is a Library without titles and Search Engines are valuable, but
          many seem to have appropriated the internet's resources for their own use.

          Many Search Engines focus on Internet sales by utilizing Web Site identification
          for advertising revenues. This practice is similar to when the Media uses the
          2 Political Parties to generate it's advertising revenues.

          I never use Google. That Search Engine is the fastest, but you have to sift
          through the mess of Advertised Web Sites, or run another Advanced Search
          to narrow the field. I tried to use the Canadian's Alta Vista, but Yahoo put them
          out of business a few months back. I'm using IE now, with Google Chrome as
          the back-up. Not happy, but I downloaded Win8 and have to deal with that new
          monstrosity today. haha How I loved XP... Win8 dumped my excel2003 and
          now want to sell me a new one. haha.

          WoW, As I type I find myself agreeing with you. Go Figure.
  • Oct 15 2013: Afraid not. There are trustworthy sights. You just gotta dig and dig and dig and not get sidetracked and dig and when you find them andbook Mark em and test them for consistency . That's the best you can hope for In a sea of porn and BS. Stumble upon is pretty cool.
  • Da Way

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    Oct 15 2013: I think your concerns is the use of internet as a tool for spreading false information.

    I think we're agreed on that there's no changing the internet. So in order to tackle your problem we would have to change strategy and focus on the recipients rather than the source. People who do the majority of their research on the internet will eventually learn which sources are less credible than others. What you want is to accelerate that learning process and advertise the websites that are known to be good/bad.

    The difficulty comes when popular sources spread lies. People generally mistake popularity with credibility and I think that is very difficult to rectify.
  • Oct 15 2013: That's why there are real experts. You don't haveto use them, but don't count on the internet being practical.