I remember back in 2001 when we had relaunched Just Laugh, it was a big deal for us to finally get listed under the humor section in Yahoo’s directory.
Like, I got a big packet of information about Yahoo in the mail and everything – it was kind of cool!
Looking back at estimates, there were around 30 million websites on the Internet in 2001, whereas nowadays some 15 years later there are closer to one billion websites and the number of users has increased by a factor of six to nearly represent half of the planet now being online and connected.
In a lot of ways, the growth is absolutely amazing to see what the Internet has become and how people now have access to wealths of information that no one person could consume in their entire lifetime.
On the other hand, however, a lot of it is crap and it seems like at least with regards to news and the search for reliable, factual information, often times there’s more to mislead people than information that they can actually count on … if they can even find it in the first place…
Case in point is a quick search that I wanted to do this evening about last week’s shooting of Alton Sterling because a lot of rumors have surfaced that maybe he wasn’t allowed to be carrying a gun in the first place because he was a convicted felon. Here are the top results of my search:
As you can see, the top result – with its loaded headline and all – is from BearingArms.com, which is a pro-gun blog with ties to the NRA’s lobbying division. Not exactly the fair and unbiased resource that I was hoping for! The other sites aren’t much better, regurgitating reports from other publications with a bevy of linkbait stories on both sides. Of the two most reputable hits, USA Today and New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, neither story actually cites whether Sterling was legally within his rights to carry a firearm on the night he was killed by police.
Whenever we talk about web filtering software, we always think about protecting children from adult websites, but what about protecting any users from misleading and unreliable ones? Not so much as a form of censorship, but in the second wave of a digital age where websites are a dime a dozen and literally anyone can publish on the Internet now, maybe there’s some value to being able to say, “Only give me news content from vetted, accredited sources that I know I can trust.”
Granted, one could argue that social media already filters the modern web in a lot of ways – not all of them positive – but I don’t necessarily want to only view the articles that other people I follow have decided to share socially. In a way it’s kind of funny that the Internet would one day evolve to in fact having too much information, but it’s a good problem to have. I always laugh when people criticize Wikipedia as a source for information that the hardbound encyclopedias at the library still have their flaws, too, so maybe this is just the next challenge of the information age – figuring out how to connect people with the right information in a sea of clickbait and negligibly sourced garbage.
Don’t tell Marissa Mayer now after just shuttering the directory service that Yahoo was once famous for, but maybe they were on to something with curating the best links of the web after all!