How many people trust in the media as a reliable source of information? According to a poll by BBC, the majority of Americans still do: 59% (1). However, the amount of trust varies among different types of media. Americans had the least faith in blogs, which were trusted by only a fourth of those polled (1). This raises the obvious question of why there is so little trust in blogging and what remedies are present to make blogs more credible.
The nature of blogging itself may be conducive to reducing the credibility of blogs. For instance, Segan argues in his column (2) that the anonymity of the Internet results in less accountability, and therefore less incentive to be accurate. “It [Anonymity] dramatically lowers the reliability of Internet communication, as people can lie without real consequence” (2). Anonymous authors are free to post as much drivel as they want or even to post falsehoods, so there is no guarantee that any blog is reliable. This in turn reduces the public’s trust in blogs as a source of information.
As for the reliability of their sources, a case study demonstrates how easy it is to find questionable information on the Internet and present it as possible fact: Mickey Kaus repeats an allegation of infidelity on John Edwards’ part obtained from the tabloid The National Inquirer in his own Slate article (3). He is criticized by Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review for passing on rumors that are unsubstantiated by fact and for sensationalistic blogging: “…for someone in Kaus’s position to pass along basically unsubstantiated rumors is, at best, annoying: it promotes the precise brand of character-driven political coverage most of us are sick of at this point” (4). If Kaus had stuck to reliable sources and presented an accurate portrayal of John Edwards, then political debate concerning presidential candidates would have been furthered more substantially.
So far there is no state involvement in blogging at all and the Internet is a free domain. But in order to increase the credibility of blogs, there would have to be governmental involvement to regulate blogging by creating standards for reliability, such as mandating that every blog must cite its sources. This would constitute an overextension of governmental power and even prior restraint, since there would have to be some method of punishing blogs that did not cite their sources. Practically, this would pose an enormous logistical problem as the government would have to monitor the vast domain of the Internet. And who wants the government to be the one setting the benchmarks for determining how reliable a blog is? This power could certainly be misused and infringe upon the checking function of the media, which includes citizen journalists who blog. Thus the blogger’s right to freedom of speech trumps any public right to know the blogger’s sources.
Furthermore, there is the precedent of Reno v. ACLU, which demonstrates that the Supreme Court is hesitant to regulate a forum in which there is no captive audience or scarce spectrum (5). The Court was not willing to cede the interests of the speakers to the interests of children, so it is doubtful that the Court will consider the public’s interest over the speaker’s interest in this case either. Furthermore, there is even less cause to uphold the public’s right to know because any regulation of blogs would cover all content, not just obscenity as in Reno v. ACLU.
Paramount, however, is that the theory of the marketplace of ideas triumphs in the end. Even if there are more spurious blogs than serious ones, the Internet is such a vast forum that the truth will eventually win out over all of the falsehoods present. The burden is not upon the speaker, the blogger, to provide the public with the truth. Speech does not have to be true to be protected, for truth is difficult to prove and it is human to err, knowingly or unknowingly. The burden is upon the public to sift through the available material and pinpoint ideas with the most credibility, a task that sounds daunting if it weren’t for the proliferation of search engines such as Google.
There are credible blogs out there, too, and one does not have to search far to find them (6).
(1) (1) “BBC/Reuters/Media Center Poll: Trust in Media.” 3 May 2006. 18 Oct 2007. < http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbcreut.html>.
(2) (2) Segan, Sascha. “On the Web: Less Anonymity, More Privacy.” PC Magazine. 10 Oct 2007. 18 Oct 2007. < http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,2193392,00.asp>.
(3) (3) Kaus, Mickey. “Edwards Walks the Line.” Slate. 15 Oct 2007. 18 Oct 2007. <> .
(4) (4) Garber, Megan. “This is Huge!” Columbia Journalism Review. 11 Oct 2007. 18 Oct 2007. < http://www.cjr.org/campaign_desk/breaking_political_scandal_thi.php>.
(5) (5) Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997). < http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-511.ZS.html>.
(6) (6) Gimein, Mark. “Crack for Journalists: The Economics of Blogging.” Time. 13 Oct 2007. 18 Oct 2007. < http://time-blog.com/curious_capitalist/2007/10/crack_for_journalists_and_the.html>.