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Monday, February 05, 2007

You would expect such a sentence to be pronounced by an IT Geek, a Guru or an IT teacher, but it isn't quite the case.

This was said, in an extremely natural tone, by one important Italian politician: Gianfranco Fini, leader of the second biggest opposition party "Alleanza Nazionale". He said this during a press conference, replying to a question about the coherence of its position about the latest government deeds.
"I never changed opinion, if you don't believe me you can search Google for my former statements."

Well, it is interesting that a politician is so well informed about how much powerful internet can be, so that it can be used as a reliable recorder of recent history. What is concerning me is the fact that he explicitly cited Google, rather than just the Internet, as a reliable source. First of all, Internet is not a "reliable source" by definition. It contains everything, and its contents are not controlled. It is so and it MUST stay so.

The immediate consequence of this is that any information coming from the Internet may be true or false, correct or incorrect, accurate or sparse with no other mean to check for its validity than check it against other informations, possibly all of them coming from the Internet.

Blindly believing in Internet correctness, other than being just a plain formal error, carries also two very relevant drawbacks.

The first is that it may lead the user to believe in the first information that is retrieved during relatively simple search. The immediate consequence of this fact is that a malevolent organization (i.e. your government) may considerably alter the perceptions of a target audience by injecting false news on the Internet, taking the best possible efforts for them to be highly ranked in the relevant search engines. Amazingly, but maybe not so surprisingly, a well built false information has higher chances to be ranked highly by search engines than a plain true information. That's because it's easier to be scored high when you built a page taking into consideration search engine scoring algorithm rather than simply writing down what you have to write. If the malevolent organization is powerful enough (i.e. again your government), it may also exercise direct or indirect pressure on the most commonly used search resources to have its informations scored higher or to prevent adverse information to be presented. A direct order is not the only way by which this can be achieved. Also twisty regulations may serve this purpose, so that the audience gets barely aware, if aware at all, of the pressure that has been exercised.

The second, more subtle drawback is that of leading a set of decision makers (i.e. your government) into the belief that all that's on Internet should be true, in the apparent good-will to provide internet users only with true informations.

In example, in Italy the presence of a lawfully recognized journalist as a "Responsible Director" is already enforced by law for all the sites that provides "news" and collateral informations, as i.e. comments on news. In other words, the activity of bloggers commenting news (i.e. this thing you are reading) is already on a smoky borderline, and it may possibly be target of repressive actions, as I am not a lawfully recognized journalist, nor I can pay one to carry out the direction of my blog.
A true good-will to help Internet users, or a malevolent ill-will to control information sources, disguised as good will, may limit expression liberty.

Internet is free and must stay free. Even if this means that not all the thing you may find on the Internet are true, nor pleasant.

Actually, not everything that is under your eyes is necessarily true as you see it. Internet, complete yet unreliable as it is now, is an excellent training ground for an healthy doubtful attitude.

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