You may not want to hear this, but at some point, you’ve received — and then shared — bad information online. Information so erroneous that it defies logic. Ideas that just don’t make sense. And, like many netizens, you’ve shared this with your family and friends.
Don’t worry. Everyone has done it at some point or another. (Don’t you feel better?)
Here’s the thing. There’s good advice given by smart, informed, and qualified people (sometimes they are even professionals). The information they provide can educate and motivate you.
And then there’s that guy that wrote “that blog” on “that website.” He could have been right, especially if he took a moment to look for truth instead of just disguising his opinion as truth. But he was wrong. Didn’t know what he was talking about, and unfortunately, his advice got stuck in your head. (Sorry, Oreos don’t make you thin.)
You are, as many of us have been, a victim of bad advice given well. Guidance from a self-proclaimed expert who is more self-proclaimed than expert, but probably has a nice-looking website. Maybe someone who has a lot of Twitter followers.
How This Happened
Back in the early days, the media business was a one-way affair. Those of us who studied Journalism and then worked at media outlets learned that we were the “gatekeepers” of information. The publishers and editors were the gatekeepers, but we were part of the gate. I was a journalist and I worked the gate at newspapers, websites, and magazines.
We were sharers and reporters of truth. We opened the gate to gather and disseminate truth and facts. Slammed it shut on information we perceived as wrong or irrelevant.
The news media was beholden to a buying public and to advertisers. There were certain checks and balances built into this system. These didn’t always work, but sometime they did. Writers reported to editors, who reported to publishers, who weren’t really supposed to care about advertising (but often did).
Then blogging happened. Web 2.0 created a way for anyone to become publishers. Some of them cared about making a profit, but many bloggers (including me), just wanted a place to publish our ideas. Since it wasn’t a for-profit endeavor, I didn’t need an editor or anyone else messing with my words. I tried to be accurate, but I didn’t have any true checks and balances. I was my own gatekeeper, opening and closing the gate for what I thought was right.
Flash Forward to Today
Now, things are different. Certain blogs, like Huffington Post graduated from Web 2.0 hobby to full-blown media outlet. There are hundreds of blogs that distribute news, opinions, and features. Some are attempting to publish objective, accurate content. Good for them.
People may recognize big brands like the New York Times, which has an editorial policy based on journalistic principles of objectivity and fair balance. But those same people may have trouble differentiating between blogs and smaller news websites. Small doesn’t mean wrong, nor does professional-looking mean professional. The lines have blurred so much that even experienced users get confused.
Here’s an example. Want to be a better marketer? Google will give you hundreds of results based on a content algorithm. Some of these results will be by professional marketers who are sharing good advice. Others will be by true idiots who write well enough to distribute truly bad advice convincingly. They are entitled to their opinions for sure, but it may not be the content that you truly need for your advertising, branding, or marketing campaign.
How to Spot the Phony Experts
It’s not easy, but you can spot the charlatans, fakes, and frauds. Here’s how.
First, start with the content. Ask yourself if this makes sense. Seriously, if it seems to be too good to be true, it may not be true. Sometimes we can force ourselves into believing something that we know is just not quite right.
Second, move to the About or Bio of the content creator. Usually there’s an About page or a Bio of the individual author. Read it carefully. If you’re reading about health and medical advice, check to see if it was written by a trained, certified professional. Or is it just from someone who appears to be physically fit? There’s a big difference between those two people and the advice they give. The professional (theoretically) should have some level of education and proper training. The other may be giving you advice that can actually lead to pain, injury, or worse. Bad advice can do more than confuse you, particularly when it relates to your real life.
Third, check out the experience claims. Looking at a person’s bio, you might think, “oh, this person has published a lot of materials.” For example, in the comic book business, everyone is an expert. They are ready to give you advice about stuff that they don’t even really know about. It’s amazing how many people can tell you how to break into the comic book industry, except that they haven’t even done it themselves. I’m not kidding, this goes on all the time.
And while this may be some minor distraction or offense, the sad reality is that it can damage your career. Bad advice can send you in the wrong direction for many years. It can mean that otherwise successful careers never get off the ground.
Google is still one of the best places to start. You can do some targeted searches to see if the person actually has the body of work they claim to have. Going back to comic books, you’d be amazed at how many people claim to have worked for Marvel Comics or DC Comics. Sure, they might have one or two published credits, but maybe there’s a reason they were never hired a third time. This may be an indicator that their advice is not really rooted in long-term exposure to the industry. They are attempting to describe the entire house by looking through a keyhole in the front door.
Fourth, and certainly not last, check their personal online footprint. Often, you can jump directly to a Twitter account from a blog or website. Don’t stop there though, since Twitter is so easy to cheat and beat. You can actually buy followers, so you can’t go by raw numbers.
Third-party services like Klout and Kred are starting to validate users as thought leaders in particular vertical specialties. It’s not perfect, since Klout and Kred can also be cheated and gamed, but it’s a point of view that can help you formulate an opinion about a Twitter account. These are not “truth” per se, but it can help you cut through the hype.
Given the need for validation, you can expect to see moe competitors to Klout and Kred in the near future. This is inevitable. Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are increasingly important online and people want to know who they are.
Right now, you may be getting frustrated. Don’t. This is part of the complete adventure associated with Web 2.0. At one time, the media was tightly controlled by large corporate infrastructures that decided what you would read or see. That restricted your world view, contained your knowledge, and set intellectual agendas.
Web 2.0 — the simple ability for anyone to publish on the web — has changed that paradigm. Now the well-informed have just as much potential reach as the mis-informed. Everyone from the KOL to the conspiracy theorist to the whistleblower can distribute their opinions, their evidence, and their filtered facts.
It’s worth noting that the lone crackpot isn’t always wrong, nor is the KOL always right. The experts with degrees, certifications, and high Klout scores don’t always give good advice either. Editors and writers at mainstream publications can get the facts wrong, and this stuff slips through editing all the time.
In the end, it comes down to individual judgement, just as it always has. Except now, there are many more choices, which means you need to make these critical assessments far more frequently. When it was just your local paper, you could dismiss the article and read a magazine. Now it’s all just a Google search away.
Ironically, I am offering advice and you probably don’t really know me. If this makes sense or you think I am an idiot, that’s completely up to you.
In the meantime, beware of bad advice given well. And diet advice from anyone who claims Oreos will make you thin. It’s not true.