Monday, February 19, 2007

Not what it seems

An LA Times story by Richard Rushfield, carried by the Seattle Times, describes fakery on the web: "[The] Web's honor code — the idea that what you are seeing is direct and real, that for every open ballot a one-user, one-vote principle will prevail — is every day being subverted." The article contains examples of the ways in which digital media are different from the dirt world, notably scale, opacity and mutability.

Rushfield tells the story of the "Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out" viral video which, it turned out, was a promo by hair products company Sunsilk; and the story of Digg's admission that its ranking is being undermined by people trying to game the system. Deception and manipulation weren't introduced by the web, but they have been accelerated by it. The video looked hand-made, but was an ad; the scale of the Internet vaulted it onto the TV talk shows in a matter of weeks. The mutability of digital media made it impossible to tell whether it was produced professionally or by amateurs. The Digg story hinges on the site's algorithm; founder Kevin Rose has reassured us that everything is under control, and that we can trust his company's proprietary and hidden ranking algorithm.

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