Just read this great post about the authenticity of Russian / Georgian content in blogs. Authenticity, reliability, and accuracy are keystone concepts in the archival world. How to triangulate stories in the blogosphere to verify their authenticity or to validate the facts contained within them is a topic that comes up all the time in academia and something I think about allot.
In science, we argue with the archivists that along with authenticity the accuracy of the scientific data are paramount. Archivists would argue that it is not the content of the record that they consider most important but its authenticity, its provenance. Therefore many inaccurate records are kept because they are authentic. Which might be fine for some types of research but this gets tricky when doing scientific analysis that may lead to a health, social policy or defence decision made with faulty data! (The Maher Arar case comes to mind!). In either case the inaccuracies may not be made obvious to the researcher which can lead to more inaccurate reporting, writing, findings or alternatively the discovery of a perpetuated lie, etc.
Zucherman, in a citizen media context, discusses that authenticity has been considered more important than accuracy. This leaves me perplexed, since you can have an authentic blogger who lies or who is reporting grave mistakes? Which is valid if one is assessing opinions or sentiment. Thus understanding the provenance of those sources to assess if an orchestrated campaign or citizen propaganda project becomes important. What I think Zucherman is discussing is a method to assess not the validity of the statement but the validity of the bloggers intentions. Ok. So sentiment matters, but not facts? And that makes sense in some worlds, as it is allowing people a voice, which gives us a social pulse on a particular issue. This reminds me of the accommodement raisonnable debates in Québec recently. I most certainly did not like what I heard, but was reassured to know that we got to hear what people really thought which gives us a clue on what needs to be done to adjust people’s misconceptions, ignorance, understand people’s fears, xenophobia, etc. In the rest of Canada (ROC) we have no clue what people are thinking on hard issues, we are afraid to face them, we certainly do not report hard issues in our regular media, let alone facilitate public dialogue, leaving the blogoshphere as the only space left to assess public sentiment.
Every morning for the last month I have been reading blog posts from a region of the world called Nagaland. I am thoroughly enjoying the range of opinions and sentiments. I am also concerned by many of the sentiments being voiced. It is not whether I agree or not with what is being voiced that matters, it is the implications of those printed words that causes me concern. It is how the stories are framed, the inaccuracies in their content, the assumptions that are being made with out any facts, the dogma, etc. Further, since India is not known for its rigour in archiving documents, making what is archived accessible and does not have a public library system to access government documents, people can just pretty much make up any kind of statement and it is quite difficult to refute the stories since valid documentation is hard to come by. This is distrubing as many of these blogs are foaming dissent, fabricating cleavages or salting wounds, dangerous for a war torn area with many sources of misinformation in circulation and where small flare-ups costs lives and create more suffering. Context matters. Sure the blogs are from authentic sources but they are perpetuating inaccurate historical information and false facts. Gossip really, in many cases of the worst kind, and very one sided particularly since access to the Internet is geographically unevenly distributed and access is class differentiated.
Zuckerman discusses strategies to appraise a blog post’s authenticity or the authenticity of the voices but cautions that citizen propaganda in news breaking stories such as the Ossetian conflict are getting harder to trust particularly when there have been cases where people are paid or are ideologically orchestrating propaganda which in turn is making citizen media harder to trust.
Some of the assessment methods discussed were (read the details in the post):
- Textual analysis to look for patterns of speech in clusters of blogs about the same topic or person to detect campaigns
- Being paid to blog
- Reputation matters and associated with that longevity, links and comment threads.
- Trusting the source
I think re-evaluating the question of authenticity as the main criteria in assessing/evaluating blogs is very important, and I would argue, that a method to asses the facts in the blogs - their accuracy is most important accompanied by how they are presented - their validity is also critical. Particularly in places of conflict and where there is ethnic tension. Radio was genocide’s aid in Rwanda, lets hope the blogosphere or the text messaging networks are not used in the same way. As to how to go about this, well, I don’t know, but I should would love to know.