After writing my previous post on how the internet won’t change standards of journalistic objectivity, I thought of one small way it might. I was standing in front of a pile of books for sale, on which John Lott’s Freedomnomics had a prominent place, causing part of my brain to scream “EVIL SOCKPUPPETER!” I don’t think my decision to ignore John Lott is partisan–almost no one would take him seriously given what he did. There is something partisan about the fact that I’m aware of his actions, however. The people I read at crookedtimber really enjoy bringing up his actions whenever it’s relevant. If John Lott had been similarly deceptive but liberal, my favorite authors would have stopped listening to him, but they probably wouldn’t have written headlines about it. And the average person has nothing like the part of my brain that lights up to scream about sockpuppeting, whether they’re liberal or conservative.
I think that in the near future when we’ll all be carrying around super wireless communication devices, those devices might just be able to replace that part of my brain. I’m imagining a web service that takes the name or author of a book, and tells you “that author is an Evil Sockpuppeter.” You can already find that out with Google + Wikipedia, but the evidence is that most readers are unwilling to spend the five or ten minutes that takes. The improvement would be the automatic nature of the service (imagine a barcode scanner that interfaces with your communication device).
The key point is that the information about John Lott isn’t particularly opinionated–he lied about his identity on the web, going so far as to fake reviews of his own teaching. It’s also easily verified and of interest to anyone thinking about buying his book, regardless of their ideological stance.
The services that collect and deliver that type of information could be either run by individuals contributing bits of information or by relevant experts. In the former case, there would be a possibility for the system being gamed, but given that the information is readily verifiable, there’s every reason to believe it would be manageable.