I spend a lot of time, and I have to admit take a little pleasure in, pointing out hoaxes to others. So it is incredibly ironic and quite humbling to fall for a hoax myself.
In my previous post, I got upset about what appeared to be a personal attack on Dan Lyons by Apple. Today I found out that Dan was trying to draw more attention to the Think Secret shutdown which, I agree, we should have all been more concerned about than we were. But Apple never actually went after Dan. I clearly was drinking way too much eggnog to see the joke for what it was. It was kind of ironic that it was a Slashdot post that got me going in the first place.
Before the Internet, shutting down a publication covering a company as a result of talking about real facts would have been nearly impossible -- but Apple did it in passing, which should have troubled more of us than it did. Granted, it seems that the owner of Think Secret is OK with this, but settlements are like this and often what folks say has more to do with the settlement terms than with what they really think.
So, as we end this year and start another, let's talk about the power shift that is occurring around companies like Apple and Google and wonder about what that may mean for the future.
With the coming of the .com age, we saw change. The change shifted advertising dollars significantly and allowed new properties to rise, most notably Google, and others to fall. (The world's newspapers largely seem to be on life support now.)
We moved, and many older reporters lament about this, from covering the facts to being sensational without a lot of regard for the facts. I think this has created a world that could be more easily manipulated. This is offset significantly by the number of small sites that cover topics, but were a company to aggressively go out and buy a lot of these small sites, shifting them to their purpose, it could control a substantial amount of opinion and, done right, might not have to disclose its ownership.
This is why the Think Secret thing is kind of scary. We don't know how often things like this happen because there would be every reason to not want to disclose the change. What if, instead of shutting the site down, Apple had taken it over? Given sites that cover Apple appear largely funded by Apple advertising (which may simply be because that is where you'd put those ads, but might imply a cause and effect), you might wonder how independent they really are.
It wasn't so long ago that I watched the editor-in-chief of PC World resign, and then get reinstated, when Apple appeared to apply excessive pressure on that publication. Fortunately they did the right thing, but Apple is used by a lot of us as a good example of how to manage message and image, and what they do others will likely try. In this instance they got caught, but it begs the question of how many times this is not caught.
The Big Question
In the end, while I'm clearly embarrassed by the fact that I fell for Dan's joke, he got me thinking about the big picture of power and influence in the post-Internet era. The question comes down to trust and the reality that we probably can't trust things, and maybe never could, at face value anymore. As I write this, a new virus embedded in what seems to be an electronic Christmas card is spreading anything but joy. While I ponder on the kind of people who would use Christmas in this way, I realize there are bad folks out there and sometimes they get into power.
Right now the controls over power abuse, particularly in the media, appear to be unusually low. As we wind our way into an election year, we might want to think about that. Also, when it comes to technology products, which is what this is supposed to be about after all, it may be increasingly wise to look under the covers and check references. Just because something looks good doesn't mean it is, and certainly doesn't mean it will be good for your unique circumstances.
So, as we enter 2008, whether it is a seeming Christmas card from a friend or a glowing piece on a product you are interested in, you may want to take a little extra care to make sure you can trust it before doing something that could turn out to be foolish.