I remember watching Alan Funt’s Candid Camera on TV when I was growing up, and then again as an adult. Some of the situations created and reactions of people caught on camera were amazing, and we always marveled at “who thought this up?”. Alan Funt’s son Peter has recreated the show on TV Land, and wrote an interesting Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on 9/27/14. In it he states his amazement that: “…after a 10 year hiatus …. people are more easily fooled than ever“. He attributes this to multi-tasking. Alan Funt had the problem of distracting people. Peter Funt does not have that problem – people are on their cellphones or other devices, and have less than full focus for his pranks. He fears this also makes them more vulnerable to real trouble and potential scams.
He worried that our tech savvy adults of today would not believe some of the sets and props, but found that because of their viewing all kinds of media so easily, people now accept almost anything, and sometimes complied with actions when asked. For example, after showing people petitions to recall fictitious state officials, many people signed and stated their support for the recall.
People also now whip out their phones or other devices and record everything that is happening, and don’t stop to think about what they are recording. It is the recording that is important with the chance that what you film will go viral. Peter is amazed at how many people are recording their candid camera appearance without knowing they are on candid camera! These people are removed from the activity they are recording, and haven’t determined the worth of digitally saving, sharing/uploading, yet they do it anyway.
Howard Rheingold states, in the introduction to his book, Net Smart:How to Thrive Online: “…it is clear to even technology enthusiasts like me that our enhanced abilities to create and consume digital media will certainly mislead those who haven’t learned how to exert mental control over our use of always-on communication channels”. One of the 5 digital literacies he outlines in the book is Crap Detection. He says, “The real difficulty kicks in when you click down into your search results. At that point, it’s up to you, the human who is using the machine, to sort the accurate bits and the ones that have immediate relevance for you and your circumstances from the ignorantly or maliciously inaccurate information“.
Are we losing our ability to be Crap Detectives? In an article in the Huffington Post by Britney Fitzgerald from 2012, a Harris Interactive poll found that 98% of adults do not trust the information they find on the internet, and 94% stated “bad things can happen as a result of acting on inaccurate information online. The two most popular concerns were about users wasting their time or getting a computer virus because of inaccurate information.” Yet the article goes on to say that we may be contributing to this distrust. A Consumer Report survey found that one in four Facebook users lie on their profiles or on their walls. About 25% reported falsifying information to protect their privacy, but people also just embellish their posts or profiles. In another twist, the Cornell Social Media Lab reported data stating that business found a LinkedIn profile more truthful than a paper one because it is more public and subject to scrutiny from other sources. On the one hand the data says social media has led to a distrust of online information, while on the other hand a more public business resume is more truthful.
How do you become a Crap Detective and better assess the validity of what you find, see, and hear online (and for that matter, off line too in case Candid Camera pays you a call!)? Howard Rheingold has some suggestions:
- Develop infotention*, the combination of learned attentional skills and learned information technology know-how. Pay attention to your technology use, habits, and routines. Like a good journalist, develop the online sources you trust. Adjust your attentional skills so you are using your trusted sources instead of trolling for information you don’t know is reliable.
- Check your sources. Use multiple search engines to research authors, topics, places that are related to the information you need. Check the sources of the sources. Don’t rely on the first source that comes up – it may be the least reliable. This does take time, but accuracy and reliability are important factors.
- Assess whether the information makes sense, and what other information you need to make an informed decision. What are the names of politicians running for which offices? What do they stand for? What is their platform? Then sign the online or paper petition to repeal them if it makes sense to you.
As for those who record everything (and now with the GoPro and other mounted digital devices, this is more and more prevalent), sometimes you have to be in the moment–without distraction–to experience it and assess the validity, usefulness, or credibility of what is happening. The only downside of all of us being better Crap Detectives is it would make it hard for Peter Funt to film many episodes of Candid Camera each week!
What skills do you use as a Crap Detective? Are you suspicious of internet information – why and what do you do about it?
*Howard Rheingold has coined this word as an important new aspect of digital literacy. pg. 17 in the digital edition of Net Smart.