The Dangerous Internet

Eugene Volokh did a great job fisking Bill O’Reilly’s recent whiny Talking Points Memo that complains about how dangerous the Internet is becoming because what’s available there is insufficiently policed and inaccuracies go unrestrained.

Volokh makes many strong points demolishing the logical structure of O’Reilly’s “argument”. But one thing he doesn’t mention is that O’Reilly’s main point is false.

It’s just not true that there is no restraint on what people say online. There is a powerful restraint and that is reputation.

Popular Internet writers depend on their reputations to maintain their readership, so they are highly motivated to be accurate and to quickly correct mistakes when they occur. And Internet writers do a great job of fact-checking each other, so these mistakes don’t go unnoticed for long. It has been my experience, and Eugene’s as well, that mistakes on the Internet are corrected much more quickly and visibly than in other media.

But, what about writers who are not so popular or who post anonymously? Well, clearly, the fewer readers there are, the smaller the problems that inaccuracies pose. And many readers have developed a healthy skepticism when reading things from people they have not come to trust.

So, perhaps Mr. O’Reilly should learn a bit about his subject matter and step into the 21st century before spreading these inaccuracies.

I’m sure his viewers will see a correction from him Real Soon Now.


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