Harnessing the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere

The mainstream media give a select group of think tanks and corporate interests air space in the name of balance. The blogosphere can help rubbish much of the bias.

Our guest writer is Andrew Regan who runs Poblish, a new hub for the political blogosphere

Anyone who follows the BBC News site, or who reads a newspaper, will be familiar with a good few interest groups and think tanks. Where their news releases aren’t the entire basis for the story, they are invited to comment at length, in the name of political “balance”, or on the basis of an often-undeserved authority.

A great deal of our time as bloggers is thus spent exposing the same old partisan front groups – the TaxPayer’s Alliance, and so on – corporate shills, and organisations that exist purely and simply for the promotion of a particular set of views. While individuals can always change their mind on an issue, interest groups cannot, and will not. Moreover, their neatly packaged set of proposals can be tempting for governments running short of ideas, and short of friends.

Whether the groups are ostensibly on the left or the right, their influence can only be bad for politics. In the name of “balance”, the essential politics within a debate – the key issues and arguments – is drained away, or rechannelled to the financial benefit of one organisation.

Why should we – as bloggers – put up with seeing the same discredited arguments trotted-out again and again, and which we have argued over and over again, when we have – at our disposal – a vast resource of evidence, argument, and opinion to call upon?

What I propose is a collective – and non-partisan – organisation of political bloggers, which will challenge the interest groups in the name of honest and open politics, and provide newspapers and online news sites with a central resource that allows them to dispense with the services of self-interested think tanks and self-styled experts.

These bloggers would come together whenever required, putting aside their partisan interests, to tap the blogosphere’s collected wisdom – and, just as importantly, its memory – to fisk, rebut, and generally trump groups that are used to thinking in relative isolation. Bloggers will have many advantages, not least access to background information about the groups, via SourceWatch et al.

Of course I don’t propose that bloggers attempt to produce consensus. Not only is this implausible, but it would be dishonest, and would drop us into the same trap as the BBC and others. While artificial disputes help no one, genuine disagreements must come out. The public must have access to the full range of political opinion – no political cause benefits in the long run from anything different.

All in all, by shaking up lazy journalism, exposing lazy thinking, and by undercutting the “go-to” groups and “experts”, the reputation of the political blogosphere – as simply the best resource for distributed thought and opinion we have – must surely increase.

24 Responses to “Harnessing the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere”

  1. Thomas Byrne

    I’m interested, however I do have to question the motivations when it pinpoints the TPA as something to attack.

  2. Reuben

    Were this piece just about corporate lobby groups it would have some merit. Yet it is not. Regan lumps such lobbyists in with political organisations bound together by common ideas. Thus he talks of “corporate shills, and organisations that exist purely and simply for the promotion of a particular set of views” and of partisan front groups.

    In doing so he puts forward an anaemic, individualistic vision of democratic politics, in which there is little space for collective action, for like minded indivduals to get together to promote a particular agenda, and in which the only “honest” discourse is individual-to-individual.

  3. Paul Evans

    RT @leftfootfwd: How to use the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere to expose the discredited arguments of interest groups //bit.ly/dmESoY

  4. topsy_top20k

    How to use the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere to expose the discredited arguments of interest groups //bit.ly/dmESoY

  5. Tim Ireland

    RT @leftfootfwd: How to use the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere to expose the discredited arguments of interest groups //bit.ly/dmESoY

  6. Vicky Stonebridge

    RT @leftfootfwd: How to use the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere to expose the discredited arguments of interest groups //bit.ly/dmESoY

  7. Thomas Byrne

    RT @leftfootfwd: Harnessing the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere //bit.ly/dmESoY

  8. GetLabourOut

    Great minds eh? Posted the following yesterday…

    “It’s Not Just Politicians That Should Declare Interests”
    //getlabourout.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/its-not-just-politicians-that-should-declare-interests/

  9. Andrew Regan

    Thomas, the TPA is just an example that left-wing bloggers will immediately recognise. The “and so on” really does mean that this is one group out of many. The purpose of the campaign is to get away from, and expose “fronts” – groups whose message might well be politically convenient for us, but who ultimately weaken politics.

    groups that we don’t necessarily agree with, but say politically convenient things.

    Reuben > “In doing so he puts forward an anaemic, individualistic vision of democratic politics, in which there is little space for collective action, for like minded indivduals to get together to promote a particular agenda, and in which the only “honest” discourse is individual-to-individual.”

    This isn’t a campaign against collective action, or against single-interest campaigns per se, the real problem is the way the mainstream media use these campaigns. They appear to believe: (a) that political “balance” is a good thing, and (b) that it can be achieved very often by balancing one unquestioned, unchallenged view from a left-leaning interest group, and another unchallenged view from a right-wing one. This is the kind of dumbed-down politics we’re fed.

    We, as bloggers, know that there’s generally far more to the debate than that, because we’ve written more, we’ve read more, and because we have open minds. That’s why I propose a *collective* effort from bloggers to perform the necessary scrutiny, and to restore the missing politics, not the approach of the individual fisker working alone.

  10. Andrew Regan

    Oops, ignore paragraph #2 – cut and paste error.

  11. Andrew Regan

    PS. link to the “Positive Political Blogging” Facebook page is missing from the article. Here’s where to sign up: //www.facebook.com/pages/Positive-Political-Blogging/360061149726

  12. Kevin Arscott

    RT @ByrneTofferings: RT @leftfootfwd: Harnessing the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere //bit.ly/dmESoY

  13. David Bortman

    Harnessing the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere | Left … //bit.ly/czyV4G

  14. Democratic Society

    Noted: Harnessing the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere //bit.ly/dAvd5s

  15. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by leftfootfwd: How to use the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere to expose the discredited arguments of interest groups //bit.ly/dmESoY

  16. Konnolsky

    This article is hurt my poor Smolensky head. Here in butcher’s shop, where today Yuri is try deal with rat infestation – he is look like Pink Panther of Hamlin, only is use Kalashnikov not flutes – we are struggle understand burst intellect of hemisphere, or whatever is idea.

    As I am see, much as enjoying nice blog and chat with English friends, web is not place for great thinkings. Sure, plenty campaigns. But can one Fyodor Dostoevsky be made from idle web chat of 2 millions of misanthropistic teenagers with hang up on religions or women and for whom blog is alternative for play with self? Bloggings is not produce great thoughts, as people is reach for lowest common annihilator.

    So here is wisdom. In Smolensk is great idea build power station, plenty electrics, plenty jobs. But all people on Ivan Grozny Estate near to propose site is get up big petition, nearly not happen. But Russian politicians is wise and overturn local people with mix of kind words, promise of vodka, and bulldozers.

  17. Matthew Sinclair

    Andrew,

    What exactly is wrong with a group of people who believe in lower taxes, more efficient services and less intrusive government campaigning for those goals? Sure, you might disagree with us and want to contest our evidence, you can even cast aspersions on our motives, but that’s politics. If we all agreed it wouldn’t be necessary and we could have everything be decided by happy clappy consensus.

    How is what we’re doing different to Left Foot Forward? This site claims to be fighting for

    “- Sustainable economy

    – Public services for all

    – Safe communities

    – Multilateral foreign policy”

    Given that your website looks like a poorly designed version of PoliticsHome, I have no idea why LFF have given you a platform.

    Best,
    Matt

  18. Andrew Regan

    Matthew,

    Please don’t insult my readers’ intelligence with this dribble. “What exactly is wrong” you ask, with the TPA? Well, it should be clear from my article that I have no specific complaint against your organisation, only that – alongside many, many others – it purports to be an authority on a particular issue, and has gained media traction on that basis, while simply being a campaigning organisation – a front, if you like – for a particular political cause, and set of policies. You don’t get any valuable kind of “balance” by pitting two such organisations against one another in a discussion.

    You’ll see that I also wrote “Of course I don’t propose that bloggers attempt to produce consensus”. Clearly, then, consensus is not what this campaign is about. It’s about honest and open politics, not about who can get in with the BBC and the newspapers, and narrow the debate down so it’s firmly on their own territory – your very raison d’être.

    Finally, I’m a big enough person to say that the TPA website looks just fine – shame you felt the need to go for the cheap shot.

    Best,
    Andrew

  19. Gloria Dawson

    Collective knwldge 2 slay political nnsnse?-//tinyurl.com/ygnj376- //tinyurl.com/y8begzn- I say #fullfact ! //fullfact.org/

  20. Gloria

    Ben Goldacre appears to be having similar discussions on his site. There’s definitely a few schemes being cooked up there – //www.badscience.net/2010/03/lib-dem-councillor-caroline-pidgeon-falls-for-bogus-rentokil-story-in-the-london-assembly/

    I think it’s worth keeping an eye on FullFact – they’re aiming to look at facts behind politicians’ claims and interrogate how stats are being (mis)used by parties to make themselves look better. They’re non-partisan and can be found at
    //fullfact.org/

  21. Matthew Sinclair

    Andrew,

    What those quotes – from different campaign groups or other such opinionated voices – do is offer different possible interpretations of a given set of facts. Say there is the finding – perhaps from one of our reports – that there are a lot more high paid officers in local authorities than there used to be. We could interpret that fact as suggesting that the pay appears to have got out of control and needs to be curbed. Others will see things differently. In lieu of reading only in treatises, you need the quotes as a shortcut then the reader can decide which interpretation they believe is the most plausible. The art of writing a good quote is to use the small amount of space you have to make a persuasive case based on the facts in the story.

    If the story is well written, readers should have the factual tools to help them make that decision over which interpretation they find the most convincing.

    Is that a substitute for some kind of Socratic discourse or an exchange of academic papers resolved at a conference? No. But if you lose the quotes from people with opinions, you will have extremely stale journalism or just substitute the journalist giving their own opinion, without acknowledging the possibility of other points of view.

    Best,
    Matt

  22. Andrew Regan

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your reply. To be honest my intention isn’t merely to cast suspicion upon think tanks and interest groups, but to question the commitment of journalists to the health of the polity, and to make a positive case for, as I put it, putting the distributed intelligence of the blogosphere to good and effective use – something that technology is beginning to make practical.

    There’s certainly a feeling that for journalists to have a small set of sources they can rely upon to provide a neatly-packaged opinion – whether they be groups, or indeed the so-called “big name” bloggers – makes those journalists’ lives a little too easy, and initiates debates that are all too easily framed and polarised. Journalists can very easily be misled. Bloggers suffer from the same set of biases, however, they are accustomed to operating in an intellectually competitive world.

    Interest groups have every right to state their opinions and run the gauntlet of public opinion, whatever their cause or ideology, but I challenge the level of access they currently have. That’s why I believe bloggers should aspire to operating collectively in order to challenge those groups that have a lot of political or media clout.

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