You might think that the blogosphere is the last bastion of free speech. I’m sure you’ve heard those TV talking heads singing the praises of this wild and free medium and comparing it favorably with the more structured reporting by newspapers. Having spent most of my working life in newspapers, I can honestly say that they may not be completely trustworthy but they are generally more careful about facts than readers believe.
I am sure some bloggers are just as meticulous as the mainstream media, but many are careless and some are totally dishonest. Some are obviously mentally ill; others are uninformed at best, deliberate liars at worst. But the most dangerous in my view are those who are paid by propaganda mills to manipulate public opinion.
Perhaps the most glaring example is politics. Obviously, the entire gamut of political thought is represented on the Internet and I would not be surprised if the PR people have their fingers in every aspect of it. Back in 2004, for example, blogging played a big role in Republican John Thune’s defeat of top Senate Democrat Tom Daschle. It turns out that the two leading South Dakota websites were operated by Jon Lauck and Jason Van Beek – both paid advisers to Thune’s campaign. Neither revealed during the election that they were on the Republican candidate’s payroll. On the liberal side, Markos Moulitsas, author of the Daily Kos blog, worked as a consultant to Howard Dean’s campaign in the Democratic presidential primary.
I am sure there are many more similar examples. But operating a web site isn’t the only tactic that paid bloggers use. They’re sneakier than that. In America’s recent general elections, conservatives recruited an army of bloggers to write comments rebutting blogs by Democrats. I’m sure you’ve noticed how quickly a rash of vitriolic comments appears when any remotely liberal blog is published. The comments are anonymous, of course, which gives the writers even greater freedom to abandon taste and logic, and to make up “facts.” You might wonder how so many people could have conservative views when those views were rejected by a significant majority of America’s voters. The answer is that the writers of those comments are paid hacks!
There has been talk of the government regulating political blogging, but I think that would be wrong. The American tradition of free speech (enshrined in the Constitution) is one of the things that makes this country special. It assumes the public is smart enough to sift through the information spewing from every side and separate the nuggets from the silt.
So remember when you surf the Web, take what you read with a grain of salt. It’s up to you to figure out which opinions and “facts” are genuine and which are the ravings of a twisted mind – or worse paid blogs produced by propaganda machines.