Saturday, 21 February, 2009

The Changing face of Public Opinion and its neutrality

In the current era, there is a big hype surrounding user generated content. Everything that the web 2.0 is praised about involves enabling the average user to generate content and influence global opinions.

Think about it. Ten or fifteen years ago, the only people who controlled influence, impressions and perceptions, were the big media companies. The News Corporations. TV Channels. Radio Stations. Newspaper Publications. Magazines. To some extent, books and popular authors. To a lesser extent, public rallies. And to a greater extent, huge political movements involving all forms of mass media and public communications.
If you don't get the gravity of that, consider this: these Forms of Expression became so popular in controlling public opinion, that in all forms of societies some form of control was brought in to keep a check on their functioning. In countries like China and USSR / Russia, censorship was commonplace. In the US and other Free Capitalist nations, a more subtler regime was enabled (No corporations or organizations, for example, receiving funds from the Bush Administration would dare speak against them. No reporting agencies would contradict the views of their sponsors, and even if they did it would be confined to constructive criticism. Tiger Woods dare not speak anything against Accenture lest they discontinue their esteemed sponsorship.) The influence of these mediums of expressions was so deeply yet unobtrusively intertwined in the system that it makes me wonder why people couldn't see through what they were being made to believe.

(Image courtesy MessageInAMatrix)

Getting back to now. There are blogs written by users accross the world that everyone is free to read. News websites that are not so tightly regulated and need much less funds to survive (than are necessary for bigger agencies to use as leverage for censorship). There is user generated wikipedia which beats every other encyclopedia I've come across in terms of size, depth, information and content. And it survives on user donations. Not on the charity trusts of influential corps who would dig their tentacles everywhere to control public perception. There's YouTube replacing the big and dominant role of the TV. Remember the big tsunami? or Hurricane katrina? When no reporter dared to venture into dangerous territory, the native people blogged and uploaded videos of the event and thats how the word spread. Even news sites like CNN relied on youtube for most of their coverage. People now collaborate for Open Source Projects to develop everthing from the next Kernel for your PC to a financial accounting Services. And these open source softwares do not suffer from the drawbacks of big corporate software developments - "Manipulation for personal Benefit" as is explained by Sam . That's the prime source of distrust in adopting anything new and Proprietary (apart from the lack of freedom).

Today I can freely upload my own videos. Write my opinions on a blog (no matter who I may contradict in the process). Report an event (or experience) I've witnessed. Collaborate to develop Software I want and need. In essence I am free in principle and in action. And I know there are a lot of you like me. That's why I can navigate to youtube and experience the Olympics in beijing (and discover that the TV News video of the fireworks had been artificially generated for greater sensationalization as against what really happened) or a view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Or read about stock valuations and their behaviour; know about the future direction of technology and protocols for emerging systems. And I know what I'm reading is genuine; not filtered through a moral sieve, because you know what? The moral sieve is often an excuse for censorship so that bigger organizations can get away with their nefarious activities. It may be an over-hyped concern, I agree, but I feel secure in a free world, not a restrictive one (no matter what excuse you provide). And I'm sure you do too. And I'm glad this happened . User generated content is the best source of Information I have. And I fully support it.

But while we accept that, we must do it with a grain of salt; because here is something to ponder about: We regard Wikipedia as largely neutral compared to any other encyclopedia. Obviously, since Wikipedia is written by millions of users like us; and so in effect we are informing ourselves without a mode of bias. Quite unlike corporations like Brittanica, Webster, encarta and the like who can never guarantee you complete neutrality. (Of course, they do guarantee, but we all know how information can be twisted to favour certain viewpoints as against others and yet remain within the legal definition of 'neutral'). XKCD points out an interesting incident that outlines that the very assumption of public neutrality can be compromised:


RaSh said...

Heh. Leaving apart the XKCD Comic, I do feel Internet has been playing a major role in bringing out information that generally is hard to find. From rare pics/videos to instant bits of news (Remember the Twittor feeds during the Mumbai Attack?), Internet has been letting everyone speak.

I guess this means it's working in favor of making the public opinion more neutral (and closer to truth) than that published in newspapers etc.

That is, unless you have Munroe playing around with wikipedia like that :D

Abhishek Kumar said...

Agreed. It is the most neutral system I know of. XKCD Just shows that nothing can be perfect.
Btw Nice portrait sketch of urself.

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