By Shelly Palmer and Jared Palmer –
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the concepts and constructs of Truth (with a capital “T”), truth (with a lower case “t”), truthiness (as coined by Stephen Colbert), reality, wikiality (also coined by Stephen Colbert) and facts as they apply to our connected world. You can read part one by clicking here and part two by clicking here.
It’s time to look at trust circles, truth clusters and the way information travels. We’ll try to map Truth, truth and facts, and think about ways to navigate the body of knowledge as we continue to explore truthiness in our connected world.
In part two, I highlighted a story in the New York Post about the John Concepcion case. The Post reported that Concepcion (a convicted murderer who had damaged his own liver by attempting suicide) had somehow made it to the top of the transplant list ahead of seemingly more deserving people, and been given a liver transplant.
If you remember, I had a Socratic debate with Judge Jeanine Pirro in the make-up room at Fox 5 about how this happened and what could be done about it. We had a lively discussion. Both of us retained our point of view, no minds were changed and the facts of the case were never in dispute. Sadly, this story was not a Truth, truth nor fact. On July 28th, 2010, the Post corrected itself, saying that they could not actually verify that the transplant took place. The correction was made in a tiny 2×3 box on the inside flap. (Author’s note: I read the paper version of the New York Post almost every morning, it is one of my guilty pleasures. It is not my intention to beat them up over a mistake. This particular incident just happens to work perfectly for our truthiness thesis.)
This week I also ran into Judge Jeanine Pirro in the make-up room just before our respective segments on Fox 5. We chatted about stuff and then I asked her if she saw that I mentioned her in last week’s piece. Remarkably, Her Honor had not seen the Post’s retraction and she did not know that Mr. Concepcion had not received a liver transplant.
The facts didn’t change Jeanine’s opinion about how the hypothetical situation should have been handled, but it did render our discussion moot. Now, Jeanine Pirro is very smart, and she had no trouble adjusting her worldview to incorporate the new evidence. But, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people who did not see the Post’s retraction. And they are still operating under the assumption that John Concepcion received a liver ahead of other, possibly more deserving, people.
I’d like to examine how this information traveled around the InterWeb, but first, we need some definitions. Let’s define a “trust circle” as our immediate, must trusted sources (friends, relatives, colleagues, thought leaders). Our test being that we would trust their opinion over Brian Williams’. (You can use your own benchmark for trust, we trust Brian!!!) Let’s define a “truth cluster” as a group of trust circles with similar beliefs. And, just for fun, let’s imagine a “super cluster” as a group of truth clusters.
Although this story was initiated in print by a New York Post credentialed journalist — within a remarkably short time, it was broadcast in the local market using both radio and television. While it was not known to be true, the Post’s standards and practices allowed it to print the story as fact. And, due to the sensationalist nature of the story, emotions on both sides of the issue instantly came into play. Significantly faster than the story was translated from print to broadcast media, it put the InterWeb in OverTweet. There were dozens of blog posts, tweets, status updates, comments, emails, smoke signals, and carrier pigeons flying all over the place telling all kinds of stories about this story.
There were no facts, just the “truth” with a small “t” printed in the New York Post. However, this truth became a Truth, with a capital “T” to some and was assumed to be a fact by others. The idea that a convicted murderer who damaged his own liver while trying to commit suicide was somehow put on the top of the liver transplant list, made people’s blood boil. Trust circles embraced the idea and a huge super cluster of complete misinformation appeared within hours.
In a physical explosion, the energy would have dissipated by now. And so it did with this story. It’s no longer in the news cycle, practically forgotten by all. Except, the misinformation can never be unpublished and the rhetoric can never be unsaid — it is all part of the body of knowledge of the InterWeb, the blogosphere, the tweetosphere, Facebookistan, etc.
We have all seen this kind of behavior before. It’s not new. People make mistakes or simply lie all the time. Storytelling is an art form and there is always plenty of artistic license taken no matter who is telling the story. However, this is the first time in history that we have seen trust circles empowered by instantly scalable technologies. In the next and final installment of this series we will look at message management in the information age and explore the techniques that may help us find truthiness in our connected world.