A couple of weeks ago the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (otherwise referred to as Obamacare) was constitutional. This ruling did not come without controversy because, as with most cases brought before the Supreme Court, there were people who disagreed with the ruling.
More to my point though, is that there was controversy because of the lack of agreement amongst the news agencies as to what the ruling was in the first few minutes that it was released. If you like political humor/satire, then you’ll definitely want to check out The Daily Show’s bit about the mixup. Interestingly, one of the best rundowns of what took place on the morning that the decision was released comes from the same website that is being hailed for its coverage of the decision.
As you’ll have seen if you watched the coverage, read about it, or clicked through to the clip from The Daily Show, CNN was the first agency to report on the decision — but — their reporting was wrong. Immediately after CNN reported the (wrong) decision, those with access to technology began perpetuating the wrong news to their social networks. Shortly after CNN incorrectly reported the news, SCOTUSblog put forth their interpretation and the subsequent major news agencies fell in line reporting the right decision. Even after this happened, CNN and FOX News continued to report the news incorrectly.
This situation brings to light what I see as a potentially major negative externality of our ability to connect with hundreds of millions of people in an instant (read: internet). As soon as the reports from CNN and FOXNews came out, everyone began telling everyone else the wrong news. This spread quickly. When the right information was thrown into the mix, it became hard for people to know who was right. Were CNN and FOX News right because they had it first? Were SCOTUSblog and other news agencies right because they took the time to read more than the first couple of pages?
Regardless of who’s right and wrong in this situation, it left people confused and unsure of whom to trust. Different news agencies were telling them different things (about the facts). Now, this happens on a daily basis, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
I’m beginning to wonder about the wisdom of crowds and it would appear that I’m not the only one. I came across an interesting article this weekend from David Leonhardt called, “When the Crowd Isn’t Wise.” There were some interesting points made by Leonhardt, particularly as they relate to how some folks have begun to trust the “wisdom of crowds” as showcased by websites like Intrade (an online trading exchange website where people can bet on events in a similar fashion to how people can buy/sell stocks).
Some folks think that the internet can be viewed in the same way (wisdom of the crowd). I’m not sure how I feel about this, especially when a well-respected news agency like CNN that’s been operational for over 30 years can make a mistake like this and set the internet ablaze. I like the last paragraph from Leonhardt:
After several years in which the market was often celebrated as a crystal ball, the Supreme Court ruling was a useful corrective. The prediction-market revolution, like so many others, initially promised more than it could deliver. But its not as if the old order was working particularly well.