The Dangers of Misinformation

Marcus Zarra on the dangers of misinformation:

As developers, we are frequently using the internet to help us solve issues. We run across an error code, a crash, or another type of problem and we usually go to the internet. With the vast amount of knowledge that is available, and the incredible search engines that we have at our disposal, it is pretty easy to find someone else who has already run across the issue. Sites like StackOverflow make it even easier to find other people who have experienced the issue we are running across.

The issue is that we don’t really know if the information being shared with us is accurate. The author of that post, or response, may be guessing. They may have found a hack or workaround that kind of works, for now. They may be completely wrong and are treating a symptom as the actual problem.

I agree with the premise of this whole article. It’s so hard in the ever changing world of tech to know what is still accurate and what isn’t. Just today I had to update a tutorial I wrote back in September. The basics of it was the same, but the dependencies changed enough to make it not work and in turn cause frustration for readers.

I’ve noticed in my own searching habits, that when looking for tutorials I always look for the published date. If it’s over six months old chances are it isn’t even accurate.

0 Replies to “The Dangers of Misinformation”

  1. This is a very interesting topic and often one that can leave us very frustrated. I think that misinformation often comes about for two main reasons:

    Firstly, the author of a blog post or article may make a set of assumptions that may or may not be true for all the readers of an article and this causes some differences in the realization of the knowledge to occur. This is sometimes very difficult to solve as often when focusing on one specific aspect of an issue, short-cuts might be taken with other parts of the code in order to avoid too lengthy an example and diverting from the issue at hand or becoming overly complicated. There is definitely some logic to this approach, but it can leave holes in the information gap for those who still have questions.

    Secondly, an author may have their own set of practices which may not always be the best in all aspects. This is a very common problem as everyone likes to share what they have learned and whilst not necessarily being the top expert in their field yet, certainly feel as though they have something to share. This is a very interesting part of the internet as we are all part of the information chain in the sense that often it is those people in the middle of the information chain who sit between the experts and the newcomers that can often have a better insight into the problems that are facing newcomers. It is also quite likely that with technology and information changing and advancing so quickly that the number of newcomers greatly outnumbers the quantity of experts in any field. So whilst, the middle members of the information chain may be more likely to pass on some misinformation, i truly believe that they are also fulfilling an important role by shrinking the knowledge gap and providing the manpower to help deal with all issues that arise.

    I believe that misinformation is more a symptom of the complexities of having a multitude of people try to learn something that is not only flexible, but is also morphing with time.

    Marcus Zarra pointed out the example of StackOverflow and our inability to truly ascertain whether something is correct or not. In some respects this is true, but as anyone learning anything, once we have have received a piece of knowledge, the only true way to make it ours, is to test it out and experiment with it. If we find something doesn’t work for us, yes it can be frustrating, but we should always try and dig deeper and cross-reference the solution to certain problems. It certainly wasn’t so easy to cross-reference problems in the pre-internet days. StackOverflow also offers tools such as voting and comments. Whilst, these tools might not truly tell us whether something is ‘true’ or ‘false’, often we can gain a great deal of insight into an issue by taking a look at what our peers think.

    It is good to see that you allow comments here on your blog, it is not possible to comment on the Marcus Zarra article.

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