Use Your Brain

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You probably learned this lesson early on in your education: check your sources.

Here’s a shocker: Wikipedia is going to have mistakes in it (some might argue that having mistakes is part of its charm). People will make YouTube videos that are both offensive and false. Blogs will be written and published that have no sense in the world of reality. People will say things that are not true on Twitter (which c-list celebrity died today?). Like everything else in this world, you have to be careful (and skeptical) of everything you read, consume and even comment on and contribute to.

A lot of people don’t even know that they are wrong in the first place.

The filters are gone when it comes to Social Media. Because anybody can have a thought and publish it to the world in text, images, audio and video it doesn’t mean that it’s true or accurate. It just means that it is available for consumption. It used to be that we had filters (this could be an Editor, Publisher, Broadcaster, etc…), and yes they made serious mistakes too (just check out Craig Silverman‘s amazing book and Blog, Regret The Error), but we had some bearing on how to respond, correct and even have that content centralized.

The new Social Media-driven Web is not as much about black and white news as it is about opinion.

Understanding who the person is behind the opinion is an integral part of understanding how valuable and reliable the content is. Someone with a million followers or thousands of readers may be completely lacking in both experience and education. Just today, I was reading a Blog post from a very respected Marketing Blogger when I noticed that many of the seventy-plus comments on the Blog post were attacking the content because the Blogger’s main point/issue was based on the use of a word that they clearly had the wrong definition for (thus making the crux of their point completely off-base). Instead of coming clean and admitting that they didn’t truly "get" what the word meant, they continued to defend their position. The interesting part of the Blog post came from subsequent commenters who defended the Blogger simply because they like their content or feel an attachment to the community (herd mentality at play).

This just clutters the universe.

If you’re trying to make a point and you don’t even know the true definition of the words you’re publishing, you’re credibility is at stake. The other – and more important issue – is that the reader will also be confused because there is no clarity from the comments – just some back and forth from those providing the true definitions to those defending the Blogger simply because they like the person.

It’s up to every individual.

The only way to really trust the content is to be like the cops and do a thorough background check on everyone you respect and follow. Just because someone shows up at the top of a Google search or seems to have a lot of friends on Facebook, it does not qualify them to be regarded as a trusted source. Don’t get me wrong, publish away. Publish everything. The only way we’re all going to learn and grow is by how we develop our thoughts in public forums (and there’s few forums that beat Social Media when it comes to freedom and expression), but have the levity to know (or even tell your audience) that you’re simply grappling through an idea (and that some of that reasoning could be flawed).

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong… right?


  1. Mitch, I feel your second last point is the best point of all…”It’s up to every individual.”
    For the longest time, we as humans have looks to media sources and say “YES, this must be true”
    When TV first came to homes across the world, people would watch and believe everything a news man (as at the time it was just men) would say. With no question, or thought.
    But we now know that’s very wrong – in fact, Television now is scrutinized for being subjective, and one sided.
    And Social Media is the same. People will come out, both arms swinging, and tell a story from their side. They may be right, they may be wrong, but often they fall in the middle. It is up to us as the readers/watchers/listeners to look for other sources that either back them up, or shoot them down.
    Now, that does sound like work, and it is…But the nice thing is that unlike TV, Radio, Newspapers…Writings on the Wall, with a simple Google search, followed by a quick chat on Twitter or Facebook you can see if what you’re reading is true or false.
    Thanks for the post

  2. @ Mitch thats quite true some of the content which is put up on the social media space is not always true, we need to take it up with a pinch of salt.
    But probably the best part about this all is that the content out there is always a work in progress, being reviewed and re-reviewed by millions of users, and ultimately the mistakes (rationally thinking) should be corrected, unless they are adopted in the global conscience, and then they are not wrong anymore.
    Another aspect is that there is also a self filtering mechanism within the space, if one keeps on pushing the wrong information out , its his credibility which is at stake, he would loose audience and then the mistakes wouldn’t be significant enough, or would not impact many.
    Its kind of interesting i had never considered the defenders of false content based purely on emotion before, but wouldn’t there be a visible weakness in their argument

  3. “I know that I know not”
    Every work is a work in progress. To not admit a mistake is the gravest of all errors. Politicians do this out of political expediency, interests or positions. They only admit of their mistakes when denying it further is an impossibility.
    That said, I always enjoy “undebating”. Not for proving my point, but for enriching the idea and building upon it.
    That said, there would always be those who would never back down from their positions, and this is because they don’t know how to say the first phrase that I mentioned.
    As always, thank you for letting me comment on this blog 🙂
    On a side note, when my father was alive, this was one of his core expertise. Due diligence – particularly in corporate acquisitions and real estate properties. Check on the background, verify the sources, physically see the property or building.
    Too bad I dropped out of law school…….

  4. I think those who are truly passionate about their subject matter deserve to be heard…no matter whether they’re right or wrong, and really, who’s to be the judge of that? Look at corporations and politicians, for example. If the size of their audiences were based solely on truthfulness rather than marketing, they would all be talking to themselves.

  5. This is one those, “it’s a good thing/it’s a bad thing.” It’s a good thing that it’s up to us as individuals to educate ourselves. It’s a bad thing because the majority of people don’t. They take what they see/read as gospel with an “if it’s in print… it must be real/accurate” attitude.

  6. Take a listen to the new Media Hacks audio podcast that will be posted here tomorrow (Sunday – July 18th, 2010) night. Hugh McGuire, Julien Smith and I discuss this exact topic. In specific, we look at how Blogging may be better for a deep and rich content experience than a book because of some of the points (and others) that you brought to life in your comment.

  7. We have to make sure that we keep alive the civil discourse that makes a Blog so interesting. We have to hope that those multiple voices come to some sort of “answer” for the mass public. In part, if we love a Blog, we should be comfortable ensuring that the content of it is accurate – even if the Blogger is “off”.

  8. I’m not sure it’s “judging” as much as “preserving the integrity”. All voices should (and do) have a place. Along with that, all people have a right to agree or disagree with it. The amazing thing is that the conversation is “everywhere” so if it doesn’t happen on the Blog it can still happen on another Blog or Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc…

  9. Interesting topic Mitch, one that I’m not sure I’ve seen written about. I really like your point about checking sources, and not just believing everything we hear just because someone has a following. But then again, sometimes we’re just looking to believe someone who fits our paradigm anyway….keep up the good work.

  10. Interesting! Social media is about expressing our opinions. But, we should back up our arguments with “credible sources”. Remember when we had to write persusavie essays in school?

  11. Hi Mitch:
    First of all I am a big fan of your book and blog.
    I can’t agree more with what you have written here. I am always most concerned about children on the Web. In school they are unintentionally programmed to accept what is published in their textbooks and also in newspapers as unquestionably true and accurate. They often generalize this belief to the Web. Since they are rather trusting and impressionable, I worry that what they are reading on the Web is not being carefully filtered and vetted by them. They just don’t have the developed tools to do this well enough.
    Adults can be much more discerning than children and usually have alot more life experience behind them to be able to judge the quality of written content in a more sophisticated manner. But, often enough, they too can be SOLD on inaccurate and deliberately manipulated information.
    Perhaps, coming soon on the Internet, will be “credibility certifiers” at which bloggers and those of us who wish to see ourselves as niche experts can furnish our qualifications to get certified in specialty areas of knowledge. It may not be an absolute way of qualifying content, but it would certainly go a long way in that positive direction. We could be given a link to our certifications and to our bios that would be included in all our posts.
    Of course, in addition, we still must be able to judge the quality of content and know whether we are being educated or simply SOLD. That’s reading between the lines and equally important to be able to do, effectively.

  12. Education, education, education. It’s from when we’re young to when we’re old. When we’re young, we need people to guide us, as we get older… it is incumbent on us to keep it going… with a sharp eye.

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