On the effects of Digg on responsible reporting

The Internet is an interesting place to be right now, either as a content consumer or as a content producer. Websites such as Daily Kos are quickly gaining steam and credibility (Daily Kos, for instance, is quoted almost nightly on Keith Olbermann’s show these days), while being simultaneously lambasted by the traditional media for concerns of integrity — some legitimate, some manufactured for obvious reasons.

However, these are age-old issues that have already been extensively explored by people far more versed and intelligent than I. Today I’d like to comment instead specifically on social news sites such as Digg.

Digg has had an interesting effect on the ecosystem of the Internet. Digg upends the traditional structure of the Internet, acting as a user-determined hub that sends traffic to the far-flung reaches of the web. To be featured on Digg means a blast of traffic, with hopefully some residual increase, and to be a Digger whose submissions are regularly featured on the front page is to have a certain amount of power. As both of these are desirable outcomes, those vying for such benefit find themselves now in a bit of a competition — and all that comes with it.

The issue of note here is that everything that comes with competition. Digg in general is a cesspool of noise, unorganized chaos that only plays at coming together into a cohesive idea. A submission will float through the ether and be lost, while perhaps mere minutes later, a nearly identical candidate will be picked up and flung into the stratosphere. In today’s world of short attention spans and busy denizens, every moment counts, and if anything fails to interest within a small handful of moments, it gets dropped for the next scrap in the heap; and it is thus, amidst this whirlwind of conditions, that we find ourselves in the thick of it.

Today’s Digg, and — dare I say it — blogosphere is a giant collection of exaggerations. One after another, with everyone struggling to stand out against the noise, minor issues are magically and thoughtlessly transmogrified into grand proclamations of triumph and terrifying prophecies of impending doom.

My point is illustrated, and indeed was inspired by, the recent discovery of a “trojan” that targets Mac OS X. Headlines drifted by my Digg feed proclaiming doom and gloom for Cupertino’s favorite operating system, with one article going so far as to declare that years of not patching security holes will now finally catch up to Apple.

From a purely technical standpoint, this entire ordeal is a pile of putrid stink. The so-called security flaw consists of a user downloading an executable package, supplying the adminstrative password, and finally finding their requests redirected to web-based advertisement portals. This is roughly equivalent to pointing out the horrid security hole in Unix whereupon a user is convinced into typing in rm -r *. And as a side note, this is not equal to most of the user-instigated security holes on Windows, as most of those involve carriers that are not executables.

Regardless, the issue at hand stands; how are we as a community to deal with attacks from all sides regarding our credibility when we ourselves, vying for a spot in our own limelight, fail to uphold any scrap of integrity or dignity? Perhaps I am the one that is overreacting here. Perhaps in today’s atmosphere, words have lost their edge, their meaning dulled. Perhaps these hyperbolic articles flooding my screen are no longer an affront to a society of emotional capriciousness. All I know is that Digg and the social news conglomerate seem to be becoming less and less relevant.

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