There has been something bothering me very recently that I would like to share with you. I’ve been getting all my news from the Internet for over 6 years now, and I can’t say I’m more pleased. Google, Firefox, RSS, del.icio.us and others have all combined to make my browsing experience better and better over the years. Thanks to these technologies I can acquire new information in a very small amount of time without having to manually filter out a lot information I don’t care for.
The problem is that occasionally a bad story slips in. By bad story I don’t just mean a story I don’t care about. I’m talking about a story that is absolutely false. And not just a harmless lie, I’m talking about lies that can cause serious harm, even death, to those who believe them. Would you believe it there are people who claim that a vitamin cures cancer? The reality is that the vitamin turns into cyanide in your body and kills you. People who do not know better beleive this drek.
In the case of the mass media or an editor-controlled source of news like a newspaper or Slashdot this problem isn’t so bad. I’m not saying that the stories don’t show up in those places, that couldn’t be further from the truth. But at least there is a single person who can be forced to take responsibility for publishing dangerous and misleading information and presenting it as truth. In the case of more democratic websites like digg and del.icio.us popular this is a more difficult problem.
If a deceiving website appears on Digg or del.icio.us it is because it has already deceived enough people to make it to the top of the ranks. The trouble begins when these things make it near the top of the charts, they get increased exposure and cause more harm. I’m sure the people who run these websites do not want to promote this false information. But at the same time they do not want to ruin the pure democracy of their sites. I understand their feelings and I actually agree with them.
Since these are websites where the content is completely democratically controlled by the users we need to take a stand and vote against any bad items we see. The trouble is that the software running these sites does not allow negative votes. You can’t “undigg” something and you can’t subtract a link on something for del.icio.us popular. So what are we to do? I have a possible solution for del.icio.us that can work if it gains enough support. I’m still thinking about digg.
The next time you see something on del.icio.us popular that is complete bullshit make a link to it and add the tag “flimflam”. Yes, I know, this will cause the link to become even more popular. But if you don’t add any other tags besides flimflam it will only rise up the popular and flimflam pages. If awareness of the tag spreads then people will take notice of things on the popular list with the flimflam tag. Also, people might just monitor the flimflam tag on its own to find out things which are fake. There is a chance for abuse if people mark things as flimflam which are not. However, the democracy of the system should make sure that only real flim flam is heavily tagged as such.
For Digg, I don’t know what to do. The only thing I can come up with is to post a story contradicting the original and then digging it up as high as possible. That is no easy task. If anyone comes up with anything better, I’d love to hear it.
So next time you see something promoting alternative medicine, scientology, pseudoscience, etc. on del.icio.us tag it as flimflam. Then be sure to keep a close eye on the flimflam tag to be sure that you aren’t deceived by anything fake. Let’s use the democratic power of these sites to keep them free of the crap that infests the rest of the net.