With the recent hoohaa over the failure or not of citizen journalism, I’ve been thinking a bit about ethics and trust, and why we seemingly automatically imbue some people or institutions with trust, which they may or may not deserve.
Disney has just taken a bit of a bashing from film critics for using quotes from IMDB users on ads for its latest movie, the Boy with the Stripped Pyjamas. The main thrust of the argument being that we can’t possibly trust these reviews because they are anonymous and could be written by the director, and that there are no frames of reference for a reader to make a judgement call on the movie. By this I mean, having read the reviews of A. Critic in the Times for the past two years, I now know that I hate everything he likes, or vice versa.
Refreshingly the main critic quoted also admits that this move is making critics a bit worried about their futures.
There is a fear that it could spell the end of the critic. I’m hoping that it will highlight the inconsistencies of the internet and reinforce the point of us. People will realise they can’t be guided by ‘Pete63’ because they don’t know who it is.
The implication here is because we can’t possibly know the individual blogger who comments, how can we possibly trust them? We don’t know their individual motivations or biases. We don’t know if they are being paid or are so susceptible to free tickets to a premiere that they would’ve given Catwoman five stars.
Obviously with newspaper critics this isn’t an issue as we know that they are being paid and therefore everything they say is unbiased and from a neutral base. They would never overrate a film in order to win a bet with another critic about who could get quoted on a poster first, which admittedly possibly an apocryphal tale but the point remains that we only trust newspaper critics because they write for a newspaper, we still don’t know the details of their motivation or if they have upped the rating on a movie a bit because of previous freebies or the friendship they have with the studio PR.
The same charges that the professional critics lay at the feet of the bloggers are pretty much the same charges we could lay at the feet of the professional critics. We don’t really know who they are, yes we have a name and a picture and they cannot operate anonymously. That said most ppl online give their real names and pictures and we trust anonymous posters less because they don’t provide that most basic of information.
We believe that professional critics are somehow less likely to be affected by freebies and because they are employed by a newspaper that they are above such activity, in effect outsourcing the trust checks that we would carry out when listening to anyone about anything from the person to the platform.
What is irking me at the moment are the calls to trust bloggers in the same way, as if everyone single one of us is ethical, trustworthy and duty-bound to tell the truth at all times – we’re not. We need to teach people to assess the person, not just blindly trust the platform.
NB? Admittedly this is a fairly moot argument because does anybody actually look at the ad for the movie and decide to go see it or not based purely on the snippets of reviews that the movie makers themselves have chosen to endorse their product?