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Strategy to Distinguish the Truth on the Internet PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 25 October 2008 10:38
A problem that many people face is how to distinguish truth from falsehood on the Internet. This is apparently a significant problem because I am often asked this in personal conversations about my method of researching truths on the Internet. I therefore want to introduce the method I use and which has formed my conception of the world through the vast amount to information available on the Internet.
Dynamic conception of the world

9/11 truth demonstratorThe first realization is that I don't have any final conception of the world. My knowledge is continually subject to change. I am ready to change my view on something which I have already accepted or rejected I should find sufficient evidence of the opposite. I find it is necessary to be able to live with this uncertainty once you depart from the "mainstream" view of the world. I think it is even a sign of maturity, if you do not follow the beliefs given out by the mass media anymore.

Thus the picture of the truth that I build up is liable to fluctuate. Nevertheless it is in a kind of "dynamic balance". It serves me well as I can understand the events in the world much better now and through this I have gotten calmer.

Three categories: true, false, unknown

I put any statement that I find on the Internet roughly into three categories: true, false or unknown. The third category is an important one. Many people are reluctant to live with uncertainty. They want to decide right away when confronted with new information on whether it is true or false. However, this can lead to problems because it can cause an entire construction of beliefs to be based on falsehood. It is better not make an immediate decision on some new statement when you are unsure. Instead, you can keep the information in the back of your head until later. Later on you will perhaps be in a position to confirm or to disprove this statement from other sources.

Two independent sources

An important criterion for the establishment of the truth is whether the same assertion is made by at least two sources that are independent of each other. In such a case I will assume that this assertion probably is true. Of course it is often a problem on the Internet to find out from which sources the information has come from. Frequently the sources are indicated, however, or one can recognize whether the text was simply copy/pasted.

Cui bono?

Sherlock HolmesAnother important criterion is the question, which you should ask on every piece of news: "Whom does the distribution of this information serve?". One can often recognize an intention in reports to trigger a certain reaction from the reader. Once you have recognized this, you can further try to find out for whom this reaction would be useful. If the use doesn't serve the general public but instead certain interests or individuals, then I will assume that it is likely a falsehood or at least a half-truth. I am also aware that the best lies are those which are mixed with the truth.

Another piece of the puzzle

A slightly weaker criterion is whether an assertion fits smoothly into my existing conception of the world, like a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Ideally this new knowledge would be able to explain unsolved phenomena or give a more satisfying explanation.

Frequently this is the only criterion, which I can use, since much information cannot be verified independently on the Internet and doesn't have any clear "disinformation intention" either.

Reputation is unimportant

What isn't a criterion for the establishment of the truth to me is the so-called "prestige" or "reputation" of a source. It is far too easy to lead people who rely on such a criterion astray. To do this one can simply imagine that somebody with a nefarious intent would establish a respected news source that always reports the truth. Whenever the creators of this news source would deem it necessary this source would start to put out false information instead. Should this news source then lose its reputation, a new one would be created.

It therefore important to check every statement individually and not rely upon the fact that the source of this information has always told the truth until now.

Not using Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor is the principle in science of using the least amount of assumptions to explain a phenomenon. However, what is valid for science, primarily in the natural sciences, doesn't have to be valid in the area of the human interactions! It is correct to use this principle for the examination of Nature, because Nature is almost always structured optimally in some way. People however often behave less than optimally and even completely irrationally. They often do things ineffectively or make affairs unnecessarily complex.

For example, if police inspectors were to use this principle in solving their criminal cases, the criminals who were aware of this could outwit them easily. They could escape suspicion by committing a crime in an unnecessarily complex or circuitous way. The police inspector then would conclude with the help of Occam's Razor that they would not be considered one of the suspects because they as criminal must have behaved in a nonsensical fashion.

Your intuition

Over time I have developed an intuitive "feeling" on what may be true and what not. This permits me to process new information much faster now. I would therefore encourage you to find patience at the beginning of your search for truth until you have built up your personal intuition.



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Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 10:02

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