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COMMUNITY VOICE

Don't believe everything you read -- especially on the Internet

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 12:01 am

One of the biggest challenges of information delivery by the amazing new technology is how to maintain a financially viable news media, where information is consolidated with some news collection and literacy training.

As this evolves, more online sites – including sports – will charge fees and likely the accumulated fees (just as has happened on television) that will net far higher than traditional media charged. The collapse of the postal service premise, anchored in rural free delivery, which charged the same for across-the-street delivery as to Alaska, compounds print media challenges.

For television and radio the challenges are different but rhyme. The battle is moving from “must carry” local news on cable channels to more chaotic satellite delivery systems. The programmers’ power, including bundling, is driving program costs. Radio and television are increasingly available online and have the same advertising challenges as newspapers. Thus, even more massive media consolidation is likely in spite of efforts of the federal government to stop market forces.

Consumers can gain or lose from information not being as controlled because accuracy standards for publishing do not exist. Traditional media has been far from perfect in accuracy, nor without a natural liberal bias that sorts news they determine we should read, but there is at least some minimal fact-checking of stories.

On the Internet, tornadoes touch down that didn’t, people die who are alive and rumors fly. Some rumors, of course, become true once more facts become evident, but most don’t. On the Internet, we remember those that become true whereas in traditional media we remember those stories that are wrong.

Among the advantages of this wide-open democracy are consumer reviews and information posts on every subject imaginable. On an RV site as well as posts on a University of Florida site, we found some valuable information on how to stop “no see ’um” bug bites (though actually local store clerks had even better advice).

Motel reviews on TripAdvisor have become essential in our lives as have Amazon book reviews. I read the best and worst, looked for detailed specifics and note the relative weight of positive/negative comments before making purchase decisions. As long as you seek some information balance, the new democracy of information sources works well.

I cannot resist one final political point. If you wonder why politicians mostly run negative ads, just go through some motel reviews. Most bad reviews count for at least 20 good ones. One negative post countered several hundred positive ones in our case: It showed a personal photo of a bedbug at the motel.

One has no idea, really, whether another motel posted it, whether the bug was actually at that motel or any other “fact.” But it was enough to have us chose a different place.

That is why negative advertising works. It will spread as a competitive tactic on the internet as well. Consider yourself warned: Just like in traditional media, even more so, don’t believe everything you read.

Mark Souder is a former 3rd District congressional representative.