How Much Do You Care About the Truth?

“You can’t handle the truth!” So are the immortal words of Mr. Jack Nicholson in ‘A Few Good Men’…

We’re living in a world of information overload, in fact, the word “overload” is even an understatement. Left, right, front, back (side to side) – everywhere you look there’s a news story, a blog post, a tweet – everyone’s talking all the time.

Sometimes, OK, often times it feels like we’re running in circles, don’t you think? It’s noisy out there. And while it can be exciting, compelling, entertaining, and thought provoking, it’s virtually impossible to keep up with.

David Spinks, someone I very much respect – a guy that is light-years ahead of where I was at his age, wrote a great post recently on the value and trust we place on all of the content we’re consuming. In his post, David makes an extremely valid point that I 100% agree with.

The Ol’ Belief that “Sex Sells”

What we’re seeing, more and more, is not so much a pursuit of truthful, fact based, resource-supported content – but instead a heavy emphasis on the “now” – the latest news, the hottest, most popular buzz-worthy content we can get our hands on. David says:

Today, credibility in content is determined by who and how many share it. As credibility becomes increasingly determined by sharability the value of the truth is driven downward.

This is the way our society in general is programmed to think – this is the type of content that “sells” and gets people talking. But what we’re seeing is a total blur of what’s truthful and what isn’t – content manufactured simply to create a buzz. And what’s scary is we’re starting to almost not care about honesty – it’s increasingly becoming more about who said it and where they said it. The online world has become one big “who you gonna’ believe?” popularity contest. I want out.

Ted Koppel (Nightline Ted Koppel) stepped on to the stage last week of the IRI CPG Summit immediately following a panel I was involved with, and he talked about this exact “blur” of information.

Paraphrasing, Ted praised the Internet for what it has done and continues to do with the sharing of information, but also criticised it in an almost fearful way, stating that in today’s online world, there’s no way to truly know who these ‘information sharers’ are or what there intent is. We can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that what anyone is saying online is true (of course the same can be said for “traditional” media) but it’s much more prevalent in the online world.

That being said, here I am, sitting back and thinking, “Do we even care about the truth these days? Or are we so focused on immediacy and the popularity of the information source that we’re easily blinded from what’s really REAL”?

The New Dawn of Blogging and Information Sharing

Referring back to David’s post and the comments thereafter, I think we’re going to, in time, see a further evolution of blogging and information sharing that is founded in credibility and research. Why? Because over time, the public will demand the truth, they’ll demand proof. The popularity contest will never go away, but that popularity will be founded more-so in honesty and credibility and less in sensational writing. We (collectively) will evolve into more educated and well versed readers who will question and challenge writers and what they’re writing. It’s not going to happen tomorrow and it may get worse before it gets better, but the future of online content will require the cold hard facts.

In short, you better be ready to back shit up.

What do you think? What do you see happening today when it comes to popularity versus honesty? Is there a defining line? Where do you see “online media” heading in the future? Can we handle the truth? Do we even want it?


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30 Responses
  • Brad Reply

    Word.

    To take it a step further, what are the consequences for those who do break false news? Is there consequences? I think blogs are still viewed as something of an alternative to mainstream media, which is probably why there are less repurcussions.

    Not sure if you follow much college football, but in Michigan, when U of M's football program was under investigation for breaking practice rules, the Detroit Free Press reporters who broke the news were absolutely railed for doing their job by some pro-Michigan blogs who decided to rip the reporters to shreds through blog posts.

    Bottom line: the story was true, but that didn't stop others from arguing that the reporters held some sort of grudge against the university and, thus, influence their readers others in the process. (And, thus, ruining the reputation of the newspaper in some circles. Okay, I'll stop there.)

    Anyway, I think this post is 100% spot-on, and it's definitely something that needs to be addressed as bloggers become more and more (and more!) influential. At some point, they have to grow up and realize the consequences of what they write, especially when they enjoy a large following.

    Thanks for writing this post.

  • jasonmollica Reply

    Darn right I want the truth (just like I wanted to know if Colonel Jessup ordered the Code Red– one of my fave flicks)! As a matter of fact, I EXPECT it…and so should everyone else. We need to see more legitimacy and less flash. I think online media has come a long way, but there is still a ton of sh*t out there. As an former boss of mine in television once said to me, “If you are first, you better be right. I'd rather you be last and be right, than be wrong and be first.”

    Trust goes a long way. Just like when I visit your blog, since I've chatted with you on occasion and read your blog, you don't just throw stuff up. You've thought about it, backed it up. Therefore, you've gained someone who trusts your advice and information. If you were not telling the truth, well, then your reputation is on the line.

    I'll continue to expect the truth from my online media sources… it should keep them on their toes and to hopefully reach for the top.

  • emily jane Reply

    What an interesting post, and I hope your theory of people becoming more intelligent will become a reality :)

    I think it's a great question – credibility vs. immediacy. I think we already live in a society which is consumed by gossip, and things like Twitter have served as rumour mills for the masses. You have to wonder if the general population values having information (regardless of truth) first, or being fully informed. I think it could definitely go either way.

  • Ryan Knapp Reply

    The problem with this view is that most readers of blogs don't care deep down about the credibility of the sources because with the type of writing that is on the blogs, credibility isn't the same as the truth.

    If you are writing a blog post about Catalan Language Planning and Policy, yes you will need to do some research, know what you are talking about, have sources because you can't make things up.

    If you are talking about 10 ways to be productive, then that is another story. There isn't a journal article that will tell you this (but I'm sure there are scientific studies about productivity). This is an opinion piece as to what you think works best.

    Bloggers tend to lack the support that goes with their opinion. In a normal academic paper, you have to support a statement with some sort of research. Like:

    After looking at the language policy of Catalonia thus far, a the population is encountering a common problem throughout. Strubell discusses this point, mainly the idea that Catalans need to learn Catalan because they were persecuted by Franco is only going to last so long before newer speakers need another ‘reason’ to learn Catalan (Strubell 2001: 273).

    The analysis of a topic can be backed up by fact, in this case a citation to a journal article. But in blogs now, you generally see something like.

    1) Getting up early — Getting up early is a great way to be productive because you can get more done with more time. (simplified for sake of brevity)

    Now, I have nothing wrong with that statement, but it is an opinion, and not backed up by anything. But, do we really expect those who write blogs to look up supporting research?

    I don't know the answer, but do we?

    /end long and drawn out rant.

  • Srinivas Rao Reply

    Matt,

    It's definitely an interesting thing to explore. As a self help blogger, I often get called out for things I might write in my posts on big blogs like Dumb Little Man. It's not that I'm lying, but I think transparency in everything you say makes a huge difference. I've noticed that the more transparent somebody becomes about what they are thinking, the more they end up really resonating with their audience. At the end of the day we're human and we want to connect with people, not just words on a page. As far as how content will evolve because of this, I think it's safe to say we're going to see an increased quality in the content of the blogosphere. That's a good thing IMO :)

  • Caleb Gardner Reply

    You've hit upon the quintessential problem with new media, and what's going to be the main problem with revenue generation v. old media going forward. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Cheers, Matt.

  • darylhb Reply

    Thanks for the great thoughts, Matt. I think the fact that you and David are writing posts like this is proof that the “hunt for truth” is already stirring amongst a certain group of people.

    A friend of mine actually wrote her own blog post today about her hunger for truth, although in a slightly different context. Forgive me for not providing a link to her post, but she's a bit private about some of her blog posts.

    The point is, this evolution toward truth and credibility has already started and it is bound to grow.

  • benjamintwilcox Reply

    I agree that we must strive for honestly in ourselves and in other outlets such as news, blogs, and twitter. But you can't tell me that there has been an increase in dishonesty because more people have a voice using the Internet. If your news gathering system involves any combination of Glenn beck, John Stewart or other television personalities, then it is flawed. Being able to detect biased reporting, hidden agendas and plain old BS is part of growing up. I am not saying that you are advocating blind trust with this post, but it should be understood that almost no reporting is unbiased, based on human error and the frame of reference that everyone has. I would argue that the Internet has not increased the amount of distruth being spread, only given us a way to more easily expose those who are spreading lies by getting a larger number of perspecitves on a given subject.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    That's the thing – with freedom of speech, there's really no limit to what people CAN say (and that's a good thing – freedom is awesome). But, it also means that people can say things without much consequence in the online space – there are constantly attacks of individuals, companies, organizations, you name it on blogs, it could be completely false, but if that writer has notoriety and popularity, there are going to be a hell of a lot of folks who believe it and jump on that bandwagon.

    The consequences may not be there immediately – but over time, if you're putting out false information for the sake of discussion and controversy, eventually readers will sniff it out. Deception isn't sustainable. It all comes to an end sooner or later (hopefully sooner).

  • Akash Sharma Reply

    Hi Matt, The perspective shared here is great,I think we{Creators and Readers} have to start differentiating stuff when it comes to what's news and what's researched valuable content.
    In the long run it would be better for everyone because it is the only way to come out of the “now” world, as most of these buzzy things in this world are about how a strategy, a brand, a person appeals and succeeds externally.The primary change insights are scarce, I mean something which has an effect within our inner-selves.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?!?! Just re-watched that scene on Youtube…epic.

    It's something that each and every one of us should work on – focusing on providing an honest angle and not something that's going to get us a big buzz. But we see time and time again that media outlets (now blogs included) just want to be the first to break the news – regardless of the facts. Don't focus on being first, focus on being the best and most credible source – that, my friend, is much more sustainable and scalable over the long run.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    I do think it will become a reality – not tomorrow – but after getting burned time and time again – coming to find out a particular source or sources are dishonest, we'll become wiser and in turn will demand more credibility supported by fact. This concept isn't centered around bloggers – it can be seen in traditional (TV and print) media as well. The big difference is that online, the barriers of entry are MUCH lower – everyone is talking – and it's becoming increasingly more difficult to fight through the “noise”.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Exactly – Ted Koppell really drove this point home in his presentation last week at the CPG Summit. Not only is it troublesome, it can be downright dangerous – we preach openness and transparency on the web, but that can very much be taken advantage of if you're not the wiser. It will be interesting to see if we continue down the current path, or if the masses start to demand higher quality content.

  • andi norris Reply

    Fabulous topic of discussion! I actually find the comments so far to be as interesting as the original post, Matt! I kept wanting to hit reply, but made myself wait to read through all of them.

    On to the point: Have you read The Cluetrain Manifesto? It's not about blogging specifically, it's about business and marketing in the age of the internet, but it's exactly what you're talking about here. The internet (and specifically bloggers and readers/commenters on blogs) has opened up the fast lane for calling out BS. This doesn't necessarily reduce the amount of BS out there, but it levels the playing field in terms of percentages. More truth is brought to the front faster. Maybe not as fast as the BS, but the more bloggers are called out and questioned, the more they have to step up with honesty, credibility and support for their claims to maintain their status.

    I don't think that this will lower the need for sensational writing. No matter how honest or credible you are, if you write like crap, I won't read it. And if everyone writing out there is honest and open and credible (a lofty goal!) then I'm still going to gravitate to the sensational writers, and I think I'm not the only one, but I can't back that up for sure.

    But what this does create is a community of dedicated participants who feel an obligation to improve the status quo. This is already happening in several blogging circles as smaller bloggers who are dedicated followers of larger bloggers are putting their foot down and voicing a need for change that was previously only a side murmur. We are already holding each other accountable. It's sometimes even a little humorous how much and to what degree bloggers are being held accountable, as I agree with Ryan Knapp that the need for accountability depends largely on the content of your claims/arguments/posts/ramblings/top ten lists.

    Point being: well-stated post acknowledging the positive growth inspiring effects of what is ultimately crowd-sourcing and community building in the blogosphere. I look forward to many more challenging discussions because of it.

  • Jen Reply

    Great post. I don't think people care about the truth at all, or at least they don't expect to find it from a blog. The truth is sort of subjective anyway, if you think about it. I mean I could find facts that back up what I say anywhere. I work for a research company and I bet I can find statistics to back up something and find statistics to refute the exact same thing. So what is truth then?

    I don't think people are looking for it on a blog. I think (and likely this is only because the blogs I have found to read are like this) people are looking for entertainment or perhaps information, in the form of opinion or expertise. That doesn't necessarily make something truth though. At least I hope people aren't looking for cold hard facts on a blog, because I highly doubt they will find them. I don't think that is what blogs were ever intended for. They were bitch logs. They still are for the most part. I don't use blog references in my research.

    But I honestly do hope that the future does bring some more truth to the internet for the mere fact that so many people naively accept everything they read without thinking twice about it.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Rants are good man – rants are when the best writing comes out. You obviously make a very valid point here – all content doesn't require “fact” – but the “10 ways to be productive” type content I think will start to see a decline, because it has less substance (I'm not calling out anyone, my own writing can fall into that often, it's why I'm thinking out loud here with the post and conversation).

    I see things headed toward posts like this from Ashley Ambirge (http://www.themiddlefingerproject.org/your-lang…) – It's very well thought out, it's interesting, compelling, supported by her education, etc. It's not fluff, like a lot of the stuff out there…

    So with a demand of honesty, I think we'll also start to see a demand of educated, well-crafted blog posts that require more effort than a top 10 list…

    Anyway, that's the end of MY rant – interested to hear some of your thoughts on what transition we might see in the future of blog content…

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Agreed that people connect most with the “real” – transparency is key. But, with that, it can also backfire, I think there a lot of folks who embellish the real (and I say this because some folks lives just can't possibly be that interesting ALL the time) – haha. So that takes us back to the honesty thing, and if we're writing, even if it's about ourselves, for the sake of creating a buzz. I'm not a fan, and think everyone would be a lot better off if they wrote what they wanted to write, not what they think other people want to hear. We're getting off on another tangent but…thoughts?

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Agreed – the conversation is coming up because we're seeing a pattern – hopefully that pattern will lead to a positive shift in the way we think, read, and write. Thanks for the comment!

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Interesting stuff Ben. First and foremost, I completely agree that all media is biased – and mention it in the above post that the “dishonest” approach can be found both on – and off – line.

    But, the Internet has only enhanced the sharing of false information. The barriers of entry are ZERO. Anyone and their mom can jump online, start a blog, set up a Twitter account, and start posting BS. We don't all have access to public TV and newspapers – so because of that, there's more noise now than there ever was. More good (and bad) content is being shared because it's easier than ever to do so.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Yo Andi. Thanks much for the comment here, great stuff. I'd go ahead and say the comments are much more interesting than the post itself – you guys are a hell of a lot more compelling than I am, but I'm happy to spark the conversation.

    I've not read The Cluetrain Manifesto but it's now on my “buy next time I'm at the bookstore” list. Sounds great.

    You present a very interesting point here that even though the BS may be flowing faster and easier, so is the “truth committee” who is dedicated to bringing honesty to light and won't hesitate to call a spade a spade. I think, because of this – because there are so many that ARE holding one another accountable, that we'll start to see less BS and more writing that's based in fact because there are those who will come in droves to demand it. It's all cyclical.

    Second, you bring up something that I didn't think of when writing this – and that's the idea that we're holding each other TOO accountable. I think that can be a downfall as well – seeking proof of things that well, can't really be proved (such as Ryan's productivity example above). Sometimes we need to lighten up and let things go a bit.

    Good stuff Andi – no doubt there will be a lot of good conversation surrounding this moving forward.

  • davinabrewer Reply

    Matt, Lots of good deep stuff here. I agree with lots of the points made (even if they sort of differ) and that's a point in and of itself. There are a lot of different truths, facts and opinions. Whether it's old or new media, I still think of the “Absence of Malice” line about “no it's not true, but it's accurate.” Now with the real-time nature of information overload, the BS may seem accurate because of the hype and buzz giving it the Colbertesque truthiness.

    The point from you and Koppel about who is doing the sharing, the influencing is very significant. As you say, anyone can throw up a blog or ezine, start tweeting crap. But it's the readers who buy into the content and start passing it around that give it “credibility.” Maybe we'll go from caveat lector to caveat scriptor. As readers demand more truth, they'll expect more from bloggers and new media and expect them to put up or shut up. FWIW.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Haha, I love the term “bitch logs” – I think I'm going to use that from now on (and of course quote you) – brilliant.

    You're right, in short, this is more geared to information sharing on the internet in general and not just blogs – which are – as you say – founded primarily in opinion. It's up to us as readers to weed through the noisy opinions and get to the ones that resonate most with us. And, to your point, depending on the topic, truth can be entirely subjective. Thanks for the comment!

  • Tim Jahn Reply

    I accidentally did a case study on this a few weeks ago while at SXSW. I had seen a tweet about some company raising $22 million in venture capital and I thought that was stupid. I'm with 37signals – concentrate on making money, not raising it.

    So, in the moment, I sarcastically tweeted “I just raised $1.6 million for my company that concentrates on not making money. How awesome am I??”

    Within minutes, I received replies congratulating me on my funding for Beyond The Pedway. None of it was true. And I never expected people to congratulate me. After all, I was being sarcastic. But I was genuinely surprised at how many people didn't pick up on my sarcasm and truly believed me.

    Of course, sarcasm is often hard to detect in text based mediums and especially in 140 characters. But what's more interesting here is the trust factor. People trust me. Yes, I'm sarcastic from time to time when using Twitter, but I'm usually a very trustworthy person.

    So were people really wrong to believe me? Were they safe in their trust in me that my tweet was true? Should they have independently verified the facts (or lack thereof) first?

    I think we are entering dangerous times with the rise of misinformation and the insane speed it can spread. Some might say we each have a responsibility to make sure such misinformation doesn't spread. Either way, we're in quite a pickle…

  • Jonny Reply

    What ever you read, however notable the cource and fact based the content, needs to be put through your own filtering system of experience. To look for truth these days is difficult as apart from absolute truth many things today are infact opinions that could be right or wrong depending on the context.

  • Matt Cheuvront Reply

    Right – it's easy to get caught up in context and semantics of what's opinion and what's fact (or we could get all philosophical and debate that nothing is, in fact, a fact :) I think it all comes down to each of us refining our “truth filter” as you say – becoming wiser to what information is trustworthy and what sources are full of shit.

  • David Spinks Reply

    Thanks for the kind words Matt and glad that you found the post to be so relevant.

    Going off what Tim and a few other commenters said, we see this issue every day. It's not just missing sarcasm or undertones. It's an issue with 140 characters in general. Here's an example:

    I tweeted out an article the other day that my friend sent me. It was about how this tribe runs without shoes, and has much less issues with their feet and legs compared to people in our culture who run with padded shoes on. When I tweeted it out, I said something along the lines of “Study shows that it's better to run without shoes on: link”. My friend then told me the next day “That's not what the article said at all”.

    He's right, it's not what it said. It's what I got out of it, but when we tweet and share things, we skew them to our own biases and perceptions. Some skew them simple to get more RTs.

    It's a big problem and you're right, it's definitely going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

    David, Scribnia.com

  • sameve Reply

    I think that in the social media world, we have to take everything with a grain of salt. Some people are more concerned with buzz and sharability than honest information. As far as honesty in general, I really believe it's the way to go. A lie or falsity just gets worse with time, you dig yourself deeper and deeper into a hole, until the point where you don't know how to get out. It's so much better to just be honest up front. Even if it's uncomfortable or difficult at the time, it'll work out better in the long run. Great post, Matt!

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