In 2003, the prescient William Gibson published Pattern Recognition, a novel about a group obsessing over and trying to discover the source of some mysterious video clips trickling out onto the Internet. This year, the Lonely Girl video series appeared on YouTube, causing a similar frenzy and turning out to be the work of a screenwriter, filmmaker, and hired actress. We also had the fake Wal-Mart blog and the fake Beer Ape commercial. And the Jason Fortuny and Craigslist episode – publishing the responses to a fake personals ad – raised further questions about credibility, deception, privacy and abuse on the net.
So how long before algorithm-controlled deceptions actually destroy a company or bring down a candidate – or get one elected? In a world where you can’t believe what you read or watch, how do we make informed decisions?
Even in pre-Internet/pre-digital photo days, documents and photos could be faked, personal information could be stolen, and private letters could be photocopied and passed around to create a scandal. And a well-placed lie could always be spread to harm candidates and companies. We used to trust (not always with good reason) our local newspaper editors and favorite newscasters to sort out the truth, and brick-and-mortar stores that had longevity not to cheat us.
But today, the problem is on a much larger scale, much faster, and more complicated. So now we seek trusted sources on the net. Many of us rely on the online versions of our trusted off-line resources for both news and shopping. But how do we develop trust in valuable online resources, from auction and travel sites to bloggers, that have no offline equivalents?
Does it depend on personal time spent and testing the waters? Does it come from the type of community formed? Word-of-mouth? How have you developed trust? We’re curious. Let us know.