Monday, February 11, 2008

The Internet Ablaze

As CGM (Consumer Generated Media) becomes more and more widespread, “middle media” known as “CGM aggregators” are becoming popular. CGM aggregators filter through the flood of blogs and SNSs (Social Networking Service) to pick up notable articles or events going on in CGM. The proliferation of CGM has caused an overflow of information on the internet that is impossible to sift through; thus middle media is a way for consumers to access information that has already been screened, condensed. Middle media also acts as a bridge between CGM and mass media, that is, stories that are picked up by middle media are in turn, covered by mass media.

However, this seemingly convenient tool has also given rise to one of the newly rapidly escalating issues of the internet: “ablaze” sites and internet mob lynching. “Ablaze” sites and blogs was a term coined in Japan in 2005 when site after site was forced into closing after being picked up in middle media as “inappropriate” or “problematic” and millions of viewers rushed to the site, leaving angry comments, working together to expose individual information on the owner of the blog or site. Disagreements on the internet have a tendency to get emotional, heated, personal, and very self-righteous. In the heat of the moment, people work together to expose a person’s personal information very quickly, and contact related authorities or institutions to demand reparations and punishment. In fact, there are whole sites dedicated to the exposing and progression of their jihad against a particular individual. One such site is committed to reporting the actions of one college student working part time at a bookstore who secretly took a photo of a customer with a skin disease, posted it on his page in an SNS with derogatory comments. Another internet user with skin disease stumbled upon the page and reported it in a middle media, causing a mob of internet users to immediately flood the page with angry comments and the student was eventually forced to leave the SNS, not to mention that he was reported by one of them to his school and suspended.

Until only a few years ago, this kind of “mob lynching” was a tool only mass media enjoyed. They wielded a self-righteous power in what and how they reported, seeing themselves as the “voice of the people”, meting out social sanctions even before the law would come to a conclusion. However, as mass media and internet media work in unison, this phenomenon is only escalating. A common argument in defense of media is James Surowiecki’s “Wisdom of Crowds", in which he states that

Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them

However, he also notes that the conditions required for this is
(1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions. The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge.

On the internet, while 2, 3, and 4 are satisfied, 1 is certainly not, and this mob mentality and urge to bandwagon out of fear of being ostracized is perhaps the biggest cause of internet mob lynching.

1 comment:

Carter said...

Yeah this is becoming a serious problem; something similar has happened to the official Scientology website as well.