The Robustness of the Blogosphere

There is a common mistake which can be made when criticizing almost any system (I often encounter it among opponents of polycentric law). The error is to compare the system under discussion to a perfect ideal, rather than to the best available alternative. For example, it is often assumed that the state will handle perfectly something which polycentric systems handle imperfectly. But these comparisons are not fair. Failing to meet impossible standards is as inevitable as it is irrelevant.

Crooked Timber's post about the White House using the blogosphere to spin the news suffers subtly from this mistake. It states:

To the extent that blogs help set the agenda for the media, pols have an incentive to spin the blogs, just as they have good reason to spin reporters. Blogs aren’t critiquing the system from outside - they’re increasingly part of the system. Expect more of this over time, not less.

First, note that in the case of the CBS memos, the blogosphere was "spun" towards truth. This is evidence of sense, not spinnability. Second, even if the blogosphere is occasionally spun towards falsehood, that's irrelevant. Blogs should not be judged by imperfection, but by whether they sort truth from spin more or less than the primary alternative - big media.

It seems clear to me that a decentralized system is harder to spin because it has few weak points. About the best you can do is to limit the data it has to work with, because that initial flow of data is a bottleneck. Still, the internet is good at routing around such problems. An example is the situation in Iraq, where the US govt. has tried hard to limit domestic news access. But the blogosphere can get its news from Middle East media almost as easily as from CNN, so we get data anyway.

Its easy enough to find flaws in a system, but the important thing is how those flaws compare to alternatives. We have no perfect source of news, so why not be happy with the blogosphere's incremental improvement?

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I'd add, though, that re:

I'd add, though, that re: Iraq, the US gets news that CNN et al. don't want to show you, either- that despite the horrors in many parts of the country, a far greater portion of the country has none of the problems detailed in the MSM 'storyline' (that the occupation is a failed disaster and on the brink of total, widespread, universal civil war). The presence of Iraqi bloggers helps get some of this alternative word out, too.

Speaking of the Iraqi blogs, they pushed a story into the US commentariat that neither the MSM nor the US Gov't wanted to tell- that some US soldiers murdered some Iraqis while on a routine patrol and dumped their bodies into the Euphrates; one of them happening to be a cousin (however many times removed) of an Iraqi blogger. He pushed the milbloggers that read him to look into it, and eventually the agitation got to the mainstream and there was an official US Army investigation, and now a prosecution. Ahh the power of small numbers.