It’s a common thing to, from time to time, rip on some of the major sites which has gained immense popularity over little time, often due to effective marketing-schemes rather than any real merit. Social networking sites are the most common, with sites like myspace and facebook one should think there’d be plenty of stuff to complain about, but it, of course, doesn’t end there. Youtube is also often given the moniker of ‘stupifying timewaster’, something I can half-way agree with. It’s a timewaster, and yes, often stupid in the sense that some of the content surely doesn’t seem to reflect the brightest minds of our species. One thing, though, has had me impressed about youtube : it’s simple rating-system, yes, the silly mechanism by which you can assign 0-5 stars to any given content on the site. It’s nothing new really, but since youtube today is one of the major hubs of expression, that’s a lot of oppinion. Generally the community around youtube has been surprisingly good at distinguishing shit from silver, most likely because the site facilitates a possibility for snarky retorts in the form of user-created videos as well as the generic comment-function. It’s simply hard to argue against logic, and when creative people take it upon themselves to spell out things that are a bit above the level of the average Joe, explaining evolution with cardboard-dolls, or showing the possibilities of the wii-mote in a way everyone can understand, it is often rewarded with a star. It works, the stars give a good impression of the quality of the content (to a certain extent, of course), and generally if one argues a case without making any logical fallacies, that is what people tend to reward.
There are certain hiccups along the way of course. Religion is a hot topic for instance; for some reason logic is less effective here, and if one is to go on a tirade against christianity or islam, then one can forget about the coveted 5-star rating, as religionists instinctively will mod content which is critical of their belief down, regardless of the logic. Little is lost though, as different religions gladly will mod arguments against other religions diffrent from their own up. So although you probably will not see a 5-star-rating on a religion-debate, you can look for 4-starred videos and know they’re probably interesting in some aspect.
But then China opened up their internet-floodgates…
I shall not start up an argument about the whole ‘free Tibet’ issue, that’s for someone else to do. What I’ll like to do though is remark an extremely worrying trend. China has had a strictly enforced censorship for decades. Generally uttering anything critical of their own government is a big no-no in China. Along with the censorship a certain kind of curriculum has also been taught in the schools which, generally, seeks to instill national pride into the individual while ‘correcting’ some of the minor glitches in history which doesn’t reflect on China as well as one could wish for.
So now we have 1.6 billion people roaming the internet, editing stuff the way they were taught, correcting ‘misinformation’ and modding content up and down in concordance with their questionable canon of history.
An example, you ask? Find a well-visited youtube-video pertaining to the Tibet-issue which is pro-tibet or a video which is somehow critical of China, watch it. Now notice this : if the video makes sense, makes a good case and is logically reasoned without being fallacious, then notice how this doesn’t reflect in its rating, or the comments for that matter. At the contrary, these kinds of videos are being modded down systematically with comments like “do you know anything about chinese history?” or “this is a big western conspiracy against China”. It’s not that I worry about comments like these, hell, you can find such slogans repeated in a lot of places. What worries me is, for the first time, videos which make a valid case without being fallacious are systematically lower than videos on the same subject (with the opposite view) which are a horror to behold from classically logic point of view. Videos containing throngs of ad hominem-, non-sequiteur-, tu-quoque- and ad-populum argumentation seem to be more ‘approved’ of than the more logically consistent ones.
Take for instance the 2 following videos, one is pro-china with a catchy tune, the other one is an imitation but pro-tibet. Both claim to have “The Facts” about why Tibet is/is not a part of China. First the pro-chinese video :
Next the pro-tibetan one :
Notice the inconsistency between quality and rating? While the pro-chinese video manage throw a myriad of red herrings into the arena which doesn’t really pertain to the issue, it still has a better rating. It’s also more aggressive using words like “go fuck yourself”, which is not really the vocabulary of informed discourse. The pro-tibetan video on the other hand is pretty nice, although it does mess up at one place (what does lights in a satelite-photo got to do with anything?), and ends with some allegations without backing them up (30 million dead chinese? Where does this number come from?). Regardless, it manages to give a nice and to the point historical overview of how it went down (according to everyone but China of course), yet it has a lower rating (2 stars compared to 4 for the pro-china-one as of writing).
So, is the internet getting overrun by a fallacious horde of chinese drones as we speak? It sure seems so in some cases (check the history-tab on the wikipedia-article on Tibet and China). The question is : will the opening of the information-floodgates in China serve to empower its people with information, or will it serve to dilude our reality with contra-factual nonsense? These are not religious extremists or creationist wackos, it’s scarier than that. These are ¼ of the worlds population who subscribe to the same idea, and only the future will tell whether logic will prevail over strength in numbers.