Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"All Warfare is Based on Deception" ~Sun Tzu

The best I can figure, we entered the Misinformation Age roughly eighteen years ago.

Shortly after the internet TCP/IP went global around 1990, and given a few short years for BBS mail services and basic website pages to emerge—particularly those in the sphere of finance—multitudes of boutique public relation (PR) firms sprouted like pimples on a teenager with a refrigerator full of Mountain Dew and mayonnaise.  To this day, those firms and many like them have evolved and devolved into the ethically-challenged (to be extremely polite) communities of competitive shilling.

Anyone remember the dot-com boom of the late 1990s?  Sure, a healthy portion of that growth is attributed to legitimate gains for worthy companies:  ISPs and infrastructure, Amazon, and countless brick-and-mortar corporations exploring the new electric avenue (there’s your soundtrack for this post!).  A vast number of other companies were nothing more than vapor created from a company legal filing, a strip center mailbox with a cutely deceptive “suite” before its number, and a slick website to make it all corroborate.  All it lacked were a few people telling you how great it was, and you were sold.  Those people, as it turns out, were fake.

Let’s not kid ourselves; shills are nothing new.  Manufactured reviews and endorsements have been around for centuries.  Book reviews, magazines, music (payola!), military hardware, government contracts, etc.  The depressing news that the maxim remains—money talks.  Only now, money talks, types, texts, and shoots video. 

There is a lengthy ulterior narrative concerning shills.  I’ve considered a novel based on one but that’s way down the road.  They come in all varieties and now infiltrate all internet aspects where opinion matters.  Shills may be hired to pump the latest designer shoe, post “their” pictures of a cool concert they attended, craft lengthy anecdotal reviews about their family and the restaurant they love, or scathing exclamation marks queued by the dozen to abuse a competitor’s establishment.  "CAVEAT EMPTOR!!!"  They are tools (and I mean this literally and figuratively) by which modern companies with challenges, in ethics and as going concerns, utilize for a competitive edge.  They may also be utilized simply for dumping, as in the hundreds if not thousands of cases that elude the Security and Exchange Commission’s porous investigative divisions.  Oh, to lament the scam-ridden OTC Bulletin Board.  Raging Bull, anyone?  Shills populated that forum by the hundreds.  And since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, they’ve gravitated to other work.

Facebook Likes by the Thousand…

Just a few years ago, the popularity contest that is Facebook emerged as the next great movement in marketing buzz.  Shills now replicate themselves in the thousands ready for your fa├žade!  Look at this: 

Not only can you boost your perceived popularity, you can get people talking about you too.

So what’s the net effect here?  A fallacy.  For all the information wealth brought by the internet, it has also brought a dilemma.  On the whole, it cannot be trusted.

Sure, there are quite a few sites that have endeavored to be accurate, mainly because their livelihood depends on it., Snopes, the various news outlets: CNN, FOX, BBC, etc.  (I didn’t say anything about bias!).  And, ironically, I posted a couple links from Wikipedia—a tremendous reservoir that has struggled with reliability for years, only now gaining accolades for accuracy.  It took a lot of work on its part.  A well-intentioned society prevailed.  But what about the companies with alleged questionable motives or impossible filtering?

ABC News ran a story on one such website Monday.  Interestingly, the story concerns a review site, in this case, Yelp, and their efforts to expose companies that pay for positive reviews.  Likewise, they also attempt to filter fraudulent negative reviews if they suspect they’re not real or worse, posted by a failing and/or jealous competitor.

Now for The Rub…

So happens, I’ve posted dozens of reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other sites over the years, all in an effort to share knowledge.  Before the onslaught of fake reviews, I found many outstanding products and services as well as avoiding the garbage.  Now, sad to say, this has come to an end.  It would seem that, in their efforts to clean up, my reviews have become a casualty.  You see, I posted under an alias, with the intention of remaining anonymous.  Many of my reviews raved the worthy.  Many others, however, were not so ingratiating.  If a restaurant or what have you warrants a second chance, I’ll often give it.  But why invite the snot topper?  Anonymity has its place too.

Yelp and many of these other sites encourage linking with your social network’s profile.  I get it; real person, real review.  But rewind to the Facebook likes bit.  We come to the unfortunate logical conclusion that there simply may not be a clear solution to real, verifiable reviews whether from a real person who doesn’t mind giving their name, photograph, thoughts on the weather, etc.—and someone who does.  The internet has, for all practical reasons in the regards of consumer reviews, muted itself, and I'm wildly curious as to the final solution.  History has provided no clues, only indications that deviance is an incurable part of society. 

Welcome to the ‘80s.  Know a good place to eat?  Call me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

From the Cornucopia, Another Thank You

Once again, I'm giving away FREE Kindle eBOOKS!  Visit AMAZON this Thanksgiving Day and download DUST 2ND EDITION free of charge. 

Thanks for reading and have a terrific holiday weekend!

T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita