Webology and communication

The Next Hurrah discusses how information (and misinformation) is spread over the web, determined by tracking how a story about PETA and gay sheep circulated. A couple of interesting points are that he emphasizes that the way to persuade is to get out and make comments on other blogs—having a popular blog is not enough, I presume since the readers will typically be of a similar mindset, and you need to break through to people who might not be of like minds—and that MySpace and LiveJournal are important.

LiveJournal, I can see: I find interesting discussion going on in LJ, and the only thing weird about it is that it uses a somewhat different set of conventions (I also see DeviantArt pop up on the radar now and then, which uses its own conventions, too—but the emphasis on graphics means it’s a lot harder to index). But MySpace? I’ve tried, I really have, to see what there is in MySpace, but I always end up feeling like the assassin in Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic who ends up feeling so stressed by radical culture shock that he throws himself off a rooftop. Content is always imbedded in such a tiny little box surrounded by aggressive advertising that I just can’t stomach it; even logging in hits you with an unobtrusive dialog box jostling next to a giant picture of women in suggestive poses or lingerie telling me they want me, just Click Here!!!. If that’s teen culture, it’s obsessed with sex, materialism, and flashy jangly noisy crap…oh, wait, maybe that is teen culture.

Anyway, here’s the conclusion:

I suggest this paradigm — first, writing a careful debunking that addresses the factual problems without debating a policy position; second, blogsearching references to the lie and linking back to your post; and third, paying special attention to the huge social networking sites where information spreads rapidly — is one that should be applied to any smears we see leading up to this election, or any time. Sites like TNH, dailykos, and others are great for debating among ourselves and trying out policy arguments and refining our thinking, but if you want to change minds you have to go seek out people who think differently — and argue the facts, not the worldview.

Which is all well and good, but sometimes the facts are the worldview. Try bringing up the evidence for geology with a Young Earth Creationist, for instance, and boom, the shutters come down, and you will get damned as someone pushing moral bankruptcy on children if you so much as mention isotopes. There’s a significant subset of social issues where I think TNH’s proposal is going to work well, though.


  1. bernarda says

    A little off topic, but I found this information about Jonathan Wells(thanks to redstaterabble. I hadn’t known that Wells was Moonie.

    “In 1976, Jonathan Wells a student in Moon’s seminary, answered his leader’s call. Wells writes, “Father’s [Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.” The University of California supplied Wells with his weapon, a PhD in biology and, with Icons of Evolution, Wells has fired the latest salvo in the eternal religious assault on Charles Darwin.”


  2. says

    The problem with this strategy is few people believe that there can be an analysis that “addresses the factual problems without debating a policy position”. So many people assume that there has to be a hidden agenda to everything — if you argue against the conspiracy theory that Bush planned 9/11 (for example), the supporters of the theory assume that you are either a Bush supporter or even a member of the conspiracy. If you argue against the supposed link between autism and vaccination, you get accused of being a shill for Big Pharma, etc.

  3. says

    Yeah, I took part in the debates over the crash of TWA Flight 800 on alt.disasters.aviation, and it was amusing and bemusing to see some posters accuse those on the “government” side of being disinformation agents. After all you had people like me, who would have loved to be on a big fat government contract ‘o EVIIIIIIL(still would be for that matter), and Paul J. Adam, a British employee of a UK defense firm who’d probably have ended up in jail under the UK Official Secrets Act if there was any hint he was anyone’s agent. I’ve had the same thing happen with antisemites who think anyone who disagrees with them must be Jewish, which in my case probably isn’t helped by my last name, non-Jewish as it may be.

  4. SEF says

    NB TNH / THN ? Make your mind up, PZ – and preferably in favour of the correct order! It’s a mutation but is it new information? ;-)

  5. David Harmon says

    I haven’t bothered with MySpace myself yet, but have you tried using an ad-blocker? It’s amazing how much more readable things get….

  6. JD says

    Myspace is great for getting information out(Dane Cook, awful comedian that he is, has half a million friends and presold 36,000 seats in a matter of hours). However, it is beyond horrendous for discussion. A bulletin can be seen by every one of your friends, but a response is private only.

    Oh, and, yanno, everything else that’s wrong with Myspace.

  7. says

    Thanks again to PZ, who seems too modest to also mention my point that sites like Pharyngula act as a powerful ‘bridge’ (does that sound better than ‘gatekeeper’?) between the sub-realms of the blogosphere, in the local case between the political blogosphere and the science blogosphere. PZ and folks like him move information from one realm to the other.

    The utility of MySpace is debatable, and I haven’t brought myself to register an account there yet (also my favorite browser screws it up). But it is LARGE and if one wants to control the top 100 hits of a Google search, one would be wise not to ignore it.

    I may need to write out more carefully what I mean by arguing facts vs. arguing worldview — the difference is not always clear, as you rightly point out. I’d say a fact is something like “I am holding a red ball, I am letting go of it” and a worldview is the expectiation that it will fall towards Earth at a certain rate (or be drawn up into Heaven, depending). That is, the facts are the history and the present; the worldview is what you naturally expect follows from those facts. By arguing facts and not worldview, I don’t just mean sticking to the facts but also explicitly allowing for other worldviews even those you find ridiculous — “We can have an honest debate about where this ball will go when I take my hand off of it, and I can understand how you might have other interpretations of what will happen next, but it is clear that this ball is red, that it is in contact with my hand, and that I can remove my hand from it and something will happen.”

    In the analogy above, this would be more like “I appreciate that there are different ways to explain how the fossils got there, including that they were placed there by God, but we do agree that there are bones of animals stuck in the Earth that don’t match the bones of any animal living today.” And one has to trust the audience, once they have the facts, to (slowly) come to a reasonable internally consistent worldview on their own.

    But like I said, I need to think about this part of the paradigm further.

  8. says

    And one has to trust the audience, once they have the facts, to (slowly) come to a reasonable internally consistent worldview on their own.

    Therein, sir, lies the rub.

  9. says

    Try bringing up the evidence for geology with a Young Earth Creationist, for instance, and boom, the shutters come down, and you will get damned as someone pushing moral bankruptcy on children if you so much as mention isotopes.

    You should never think of yourself as debating a YECer or even attempting to change their mind, it won’t happen.

    And one has to trust the audience, once they have the facts, to (slowly) come to a reasonable internally consistent worldview on their own.

    It is all about the audience, the people who have not made up their minds. The YECer is a foil used to persuade the audience. You are debating to convince 3rd parties.

  10. says

    enh, it’s like any teaching: you can never really teach someone something, you can only stand by while he teaches himself. Some people are better at it than others.

  11. ymr049c says

    Am I the only one who can’t help thinking Teresa Nielsen Hayden when I see TNH? I’ve never even been to the Hurrah site. (But I’ll check it out now.)

  12. says

    Myspace is probably the most fugly blog site I’ve seen. All the journals look the same (with a variety of migrane inducing colour schemes), and they’re full of hideously obtrusive adverts (unlike the easily overlooked side and bottom bars on scienceblogs.)

    I have both because friends have both and I can keep in touch more easily. Myspace is certainly better for bands- you can put an EP on your page without any trouble. Livejournal generates discussions. If I didn’t know so many musos I don’t think I’d have ever visited Myspace.

  13. says

    Facebook has recently begun allowing blogging (“notes”). It’s MUCH more accessable and much neater than Myspace, though I guess the biggest downfall is that the networks are isolated from one another. Great for privacy, of course. It is planning on going public (currently, you can only register with a college or company e-mail address or as a high school student with an invite).

    However, it has its advantages. I created a 2006 Campaign Issue group entitled “Atheists are, in fact, American” and after about two weeks it has over 1500 members.

  14. Graculus says

    The real problem, which Next Hurrah saw but didn’t note the significance of, was that by the time the debunking was spread a lot of people had already acted on the false information. So long a “debunking” is reactive, and not proactive (by education in critical thinking) we are doomed.