Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Accuracy on the internet

It’s a very small point. But it illustrates perfectly the dangers of relying on the internet as any sort of record of note.

Over the last couple of weeks, I appear to have turned into UK numero uno writer on the subject of extreme porn (at least, according to Google). Accident: I’d much rather be writing about Data Security!

It does mean, however, that I keep an eye on who is saying what about the subject. Like the BBC. On 8 May the Criminal Justice Bill received the royal assent. The BBC ran a short piece that was written very much from the perspective of those celebrating the Bill’s passage. Fair enough. There are two sides to every argument, and both should be heard.

What was not so fair were a number of inaccuracies. The article stated that the new provisions on extreme porn became law on that day. (Nope: they await a “commencement date” in Parliament). It also suggested no significant opposition. Equally untrue – unless you dismiss peers, lawyers and public demonstrators as “insignificant”.

So far, so ordinary. What follows is seriously Orwellian. A thread (on the BBC messageboards) pointed out these inaccuracies. Debate followed. And if you re-visit the BBC link today – there is no sign of these inaccuracies. The page also carries a “last update” stamp – but this has not been updated. Yet.

Perhaps this is all in the spirit of modern exams: if you make a mistake, you put it right again and again and again. But it did set me thinking.

There are swathes of recent history that I have experienced personally that just aren’t recorded accurately – or at all – on the internet. We all know how unreliable it is.

But you might expect the BBC to be more accurate. Or if they get it wrong, you might expect an edit trail to show what they have changed.

This sort of thing happens ALL the time. It even afflicts Hansard – the supposedly comprehensive record of all that is said in Parliament - most usually when the recorder “doesn’t quite hear” decidedly unparliamentary language.

Can anything be done? This is not really a Press Complaints issue. It is corrosive. Perhaps the time has come for readers to be more active in recording and objecting to this sort of re-writing. Because if it happens for the little things, you can be pretty sure that one day it will be happening for the big stuff as well.

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