Credibility and Incredibility
The more seemingly knowledgable the poster, the more likely he or she is to be believed. A posting by someone who reports they went to the courthouse and examined a deed transaction will earn a certain degree of trust. An infelicity of language may diminish that trust. A demonstrated inability to read or understand the process of deed recordings can further diminish that trust. And once the poster can be clearly identified and is previously known to be a prevaricator, all credibility disappears.
It works the other way, too. Assume a poster who is plainly identified, who apparently is knowledgeable, and has a strong ability to communicate in writing. That poster, particularly in a field of expertise, can create, wittingly or unwittingly, an impression that a falsehood is the truth. Our friend Roger Baylor has a particular expertise in the processes, textures, and flavors of boutique and imported beers. If he were to submit a posting claiming that porter ales are sweet and fruity, with a light texture and a pleasing aftertaste, I would be unarmed to dispute him. But, if I later tasted a porter and found it to be bitter and heavy, my estimation of Roger's credibility would suffer.
Let's imagine just one more example. Let's say an elected official panders to an unknown constituency with sweet words demanding the effective use of public monies while at the same time voting to squander those same funds in pursuit of self-serving electoral theatrics. Let's assume a man who claims to be a man of the people but who opposes public works designed to benefit the people as a whole to protect his cronies and political supporters.
Will the words or the deeds be your yardstick for measuring credibility? For a time, words will win out. People, particularly those who vote, want to believe the words they hear. But in the end, it is the deeds that are the measure of a man. Credibility in the eyes of others is a precious commodity. It can be gained with bluster, with eloquence, and even with violence. But it is the deeds that ultimately determine credibility.
It's that easy folks. Credibility can be gained over time, but lost in an instant. So when you're posting on the blogs, keep that in mind. If you want to be taken seriously, get your facts straight. When you are wrong, admit it. When you make a mistake, correct it. And if you want to have credibility in the blogosphere, you have to earn it.
Conflating truth with fiction is easy, particularly when you want to believe it or when it suits your purpose. Don't believe me? Then consider this.
In yesterday's post, I conflated truth with fiction. Not one reader caught my mistake. The narrative seemed credible; the blogger (me) seemed to know what he was talking about; a few terms of art were scattered among another few clever turns of phrase, obfuscating the error in a dazzle of obscurantism.
But it served my purpose. Although the error was harmless, it could well have damaged my credibility if it weren't designed to teach this lesson.
What's the error?
Robert Penn Warren did write All the King's Men. He was the poet laureate of Tennessee (although perhaps not at the time he wrote it). It was published in 1946. It did tell the story of the rise and fall of Willie Stark. The harmless error? Every Man a King is a real song. The fictional Willie Stark never used it in his climb to power. All the King's Men is a roman a clef that mirrors the rise and fall of Louisiana's Huey Long, who did, indeed, use the song as a theme in his myriad campaigns.
See how easy it is. Imagine how much easier it would be if posted anonymously but authoritatively. Imagine how much easier it would be to fool the people if your platform weren't a blog, but the office of New Albany City Council Member.
So when you read something on a blog, by its owner or by a correspondent, consider the source, measure its credibility, but never cede your thinking to someone else. If something sounds incredible, check it out. Ask questions. Challenge it.
And when you hear incredible things coming from a member of the City Council, I would counsel you to do the same.
Here endeth the sermon. Next time, we'll try for something lighter and frothier; it's just that today I'm fed up to my eyeballs with people trying to insult my intelligence thinking I'll believe anything they say without checking it out.
Have a great sunny day.