Now that we know that one of the greatest Internet hoaxes has been pulled off I think we are left to reflect on what it means to writing on the Internet. For most of the last three or four months Dave Winer has been promoting the idea of amateur journalism. His point being that today's mainstream media cannot be trusted, and does nothing but lie. Dave feels he can't trust writers of BigPubs because they could be bought out by some person or company. He questions their integrity.
The Kaycee Nicole saga ought to give Dave, and all those who promote the idea of writing on the web, a cause for concern. The saga clearly raises the question of how credible are the words that you read on the Internet, particularly words coming from people we don't even know.
Most people will suggest that the reader has some responsibility for determining what is real or not. Unfortunately, we also know, thanks to Kaycee Nicole, that even the most educated of readers can be convinced that what they read is real.
Writer Bo Leuf suggests that what we may be seeing is a new genre of writing being developed. He draws similarities to how what we now call fiction developed: "When modern "fiction" novels as we know them were originally published, many were outraged because the expectations were then that published works be "true" (in the then accepted sense). The narrative conventions of the time that make most of these works "unreadable" today contrived to make the stories "believable". Fiction was however here to stay, and the format evolved. Generations later, it was perfectly acceptable that novels could read like true stories as long as they clearly belonged to the genre "fiction". We also accept a "social cost" of fiction in that there are always a few people who will be confused by fiction, and really, truly believe that X-file's Agent Mulder is (or is based on) a real person, or that a trio of charming, demon-dispatching witches live in San Francisco, or that JFK was assassinated as part of an invisible military coup orchestrated by aliens living underground in Utah. Yes, life might be easier without fiction..."
INSIDE says that this incident means webloggers as a community have come of age. It appears a maturing community is demonstrated with good and bad apples. If weblogging is to become nothing more than a community, then it can survive the issues raised by this hoax. But, as to whether weblogging can get past the credibility issue this hoax raises is another issue entirely. In my opinion, if weblogging is to gain a place amongst recognized sources of journalism then it must find a way to demonstrate that these first hand reports being reported online did indeed happen and that the person reporting them is accurately representing themselves.
Some how, some way, if weblogging is going to provide news then it has to prove its credibility. That responsibility is entirely with the writer, and not with the reader.
Myself and many others are questioning themselves and how they could have been sucked into this hoax. One of the best articles I have read so far on that matter has been written by John M. Grohol:
"It takes a hypocrite to sit in front of the computer and deride the insensitivity and brashness of the mother to do the things that she did. The real truth of the matter is simple and yet just as painful -- open yourself up to others and you may get hurt by them. Online or off, it doesn't matter. Online, one could argue it's easier to emotionally or psychologically hurt another. Perhaps. But hurt caused by deceit in human relationships is nothing new and nothing that can be avoided entirely.
Yes, it's a shame that people were hurt by one person's exploration (exploitation?) carried past the line. But people get hurt everyday because they allow themselves to care about others. When we all stop caring, that's when this world will get very scary indeed.
Until then, incidents like this will just make people a little bit more distrusting, a little bit more skeptical, and a little bit more sensitive to the fact that sometimes people are not what they seem. Not just online, but everywhere."