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From Information to Reputation

There is a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge from 'information age', moving towards the 'reputation age'.

This shift involves valuing information only if it has already been filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. From this perspective, reputation has become a central pillar or gatekeeper of collective intelligence. We become reliant on biased judgments of other people.

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Paradox of knowledge

The increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous.

Instead, it makes us more dependent on other people's judgments and evaluations of the information that we are faced with.

If you are asked why you believe in, for instance, the big changes in climate, you might answer that:

  • You trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that peer-review is a reasonable way of sifting out 'truths'. 
  • You trust newspapers, magazines or TV channels that endorse a political view that supports scientific research to summarise its findings for you. (Here you are twice-removed from the source - you trust other people's trust in science.)
Even in conspiracy theories, people trust secondhand information based on the reputation of the sources.
To question and assess the reputation of an information source, ask:
  • Where does it come from?
  • Does the source have a good reputation?
  • Who are the authorities who believe it?
  • What are my reasons for deferring to these authorities?
According to Frederick Hayek's book Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973), 'civilization rests on the fact that we all benefit from knowledge which we do not possess.’

In a civilized cyber-world, people must know how to assess critically the reputation of information sources.

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RELATED IDEAS

When there is no official information, or if the official statement is vague, a certain gap is formed, and that ambiguity and mystery, along with mistrust of ‘official information’ combines into a conspiracy theory.

The official explanations of certain unexplained events like a mysterious plane crash or a sudden celebrity death are often inadequate and full of holes, providing space for the conspiracy theories to grow.

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IDEAS

The scientific method doesn’t come naturally, but neither does democracy. For most of human history neither existed.

How misinformation builds
  • When we encounter unfamiliar information on a social network, we verify it in one of two ways. We either go through the burdensome process of countless claims and counter-claims to understand if it is true, or we rely on others by way of social proof.
  • If we search for online information, instead of coming up with our own way of assessing the quality or the usefulness of every website,  we rely on Google's PageRank algorithm to come up with the best sites. In essence, we rely on other people to source information by use of user traffic, reviews, ratings, clicks and likes.