Sunday, 28 March 2010

Information Literacy's new fan: David Mitchell not Hitler

It seems that information literacy has a fan in no less a person than comedian David Mitchell. In his column for the Observer “Before you start mouthing off about Hitler, you’d better know your Nazis” Mitchell highlights the perils of unedited, unauthorised comments found on the internet.

The title of the article refers to Godwin’s Law which states that: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." This “law” was created by Mike Godwin as far back as the early 1990’s although I had never heard of it until I read David Mitchell’s article and (shame) looked it up in Wikipedia. The truth of the law will, I am sure, be familiar to anyone who follows a controversial or even innocuous thread that spirals out of control on any internet forum.

David Mitchell however, makes the point that “to know if a Hitler comparison is apposite, you have to know more about Hitler than that he wasn't a nice guy” but with people increasingly reliant on the internet for their information, the librarian in Mitchell emerges. He states:

"The wearying truth about the internet is that it requires readers to scrutinise the authorship, bias and reliability of everything they read more than ever before….The shortcuts to reliability that the old established more or less responsible media provided are being closed off. In the online future, we'll be on our own, in a whirl of conflicting assertion and opinion. It's going to be easy to be bamboozled and lied to. We're going to wish we'd spent more on education."

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