Over time, studies have shown that repetition leads to familiarity, which is the key to fostering belief. Unfortunately, once familiar misinformation is embedded into our psyche, it can be incredibly difficult to dislodge. Prior research from Schwarz has found that attempting to debunk myths by presenting contradicting facts can easily backfire. The research indicated that any repetition of misinformation — even if the purpose is to debunk — can serve to perpetuate it.
This means that those fighting for the spread of truth — scientists and educators, for example — have to perform a delicate tap-dance when it comes to quelling misinformation, as any actual mention of the misinformation could hinder their honest pursuits.
Or they could just forget the tap dance and, instead, play the game: If you want the public to believe something, just yell it louder, say it simpler, and repeat it more often than anybody else.
As words and articles became digitized over the last 15 years, they began to float, there for the plucking and replication elsewhere. Words like “curation” and “aggregation” became the language of the realm, sometimes used as substitutes for describing the actual creation of content. What had once been a craft was rapidly becoming a task.
Traditional media organizations watched as others kidnapped their work, not only taking away content but, more and more, taking the audiences with them. Practitioners of the new order heard the complaints and suggested that mainstream media needed to quit whining and start competing in a changed world, where what’s yours may not be yours anymore if others find a better way to package it.
So where is the line between promoting the good work of others and simply lifting it? Naughty aggregation is analogous to pornography: You know it when you see it.
As a white, male, middle-aged conservative talk radio host from Virginia, John Fredericks is something close to the Platonic ideal of a Fox News fan.
And until last year, he was one. But then Fox’s treatment of the Republican primary race — the presentation of Karl Rove as a political analyst despite his having “thrown in for Romney” and Sean Hannity’s clear ties to the Republican establishment — began to grate on him. So he changed the channel.
“I’ve gone from all Fox to no Fox, and replaced it with CNN, which I think right now is giving me a much fairer analysis of what’s going on,” he said. “I feel they’ve lost that independent conservative mantra that had drove people like me to them. I used to feel that I got it straight, and I got an independent conservative view. Now, what I get is some wholly owned subsidiary of the RNC [Republican National Committee].”
Have we really — finally — reached the point at which quality is asserting itself in the form of monster pageviews? Especially given the fact that the New York Observer, the subject of my original post, is getting fewer pageviews now than it was in its much more assiduously edited days at the end of 2007.
If we have reached that point — and I hope that we have — it’s a function of the way that the world of the web is moving from search to social. Companies like Demand Media were created to game search — to take what people are genuinely interested in, and then exploit those interests to get undeserved traffic and ad revenues. Gaming social media, by contrast, is much harder: people tend not to share things they don’t genuinely like.
…while I’m extremely happy to see high-quality journalism reach a very large audience online, I’m far from convinced that we’re about to enter a golden age where publishers get rewarded for spending lots of effort and money on commissioning, editing, and publishing extraordinary content. The web is still a mass medium, and cats-make-you-crazy stories are hard to scale, while commodity content is much easier to replicate. If you want to get to half a million pageviews, you’re always much more likely to get there with a thousand blog posts than you are with a single swing for the fences.
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