Dismantling Officiality

We exist in an era where more people have the ability to write and publish than ever before, but the mentality of many who would take in that writing hasn’t caught up: standards for legitimacy and notability are rooted in organizational status, not independent-of-status factors. YouTubers exist with viewcounts rivaling or exceeding that of popstars, but many of those YouTube users have yet to enter Wikipedia because a system of determining notability uses pre-internet criteria to exclude them. Bloggers with equivalent viewership in text can write about those YouTube stars and nothing will change, because blogs aren’t deemed legitimate confirmation of notability due to their self-published nature. And when bloggers try to go against that stigma anyway, they can be shut out because their medium is not considered legitimate.

This is medium discrimination that exists from a view of officiality that needs to be dismantled: the faith in organizational structures and external support to provide truth and legitimacy, simply because they are structured and external. What is inaccessible seems legitimate; what is accessible seems easy, and therefore less likely to be true or worthy. Past a certain point of perceived establishment and distance from the reader, the acknowledgement of an organization or group is said to make something official, and therefore notable, or true, or both. Blogs, or self-published anything, are seen to hold inherently less legitimacy than more official forms of media, but this belief is mediumism based on an unwarranted quasi-superstitious faith in structure. Organizations are arbitrary. What makes something true is its method, not its medium, and a shift from medium-centric evaluation to method-centric evaluation is crucial for efficient exchange of information and content in the 21st-century.

Editorial Review. ???. Profit.

Self-published material, such as through blogs, are generally not allowed as sources, because:

Anyone can create a personal web page or pay to have a book published, and then claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason, self-published media, such as books, patents, newsletters, personal websites, open wikis, personal or group blogs, Internet forum postings, and tweets, are largely not acceptable as sources.

Organizations, by contrast, are official. They are registered, trademarked businesses. They hire people. They have more than one person working for them.

Most importantly, they have “editorial oversight.” Which to say, they have an editor. An editor who looks at things and tells people why things are wrong and how to fix those wrong things. It’s a lot of looking at things, though.

Even for an academic journal, most of the job of editor will be “look at things and write about those things you looked at.” I am being cheeky, of course: what an editor does will, usually, have the phrase “look at” rephrased to something more official-sounding, such as “inspect” or “review.” But reviewing itself is just a very intelligent form of looking at things, so my wording will persist to drive the point home. The Journal of Marriage & Family outlines their review process, which you can read but I will summarize for you here:

  1. The editor looks at things.
  2. The editor gets more people to look at things and they’ll probably tell someone to change things they looked at.
  3. Editor makes a decision to reject/include the looked-at things.
  4. Author responds/revises.
  5. Editor looks at more things and asks for people to look at things some more, probably.
  6. Editors talk about those things they looked at some more.
  7. Another person looks at it and maybe corrects some grammar or style.

Imagine this scenario:

A blogger witnesses a fire occurring at his school and records a testimony with his camera. He proceeds to write about it and break the story on his blog, which uses WordPress. He looks over it before it’s finished to make sure there aren’t any serious errors.

A journalist witnesses a fire occurring at a school and has someone record an interview with a better camera. They proceed to write about it for their news website, which uses WordPress. An editor looks over it before it’s finished to make sure there aren’t any serious errors.

Is the blogger more likely to tell an accurate account of events? Why?

“Editorial oversight” will be the usual answer, and it’s the strongest one.

So what is the editor is bringing to the table here? The editor wasn’t at the fire and has no idea what went on other than the journalist’s account. The editor will certainly make the article more grammatical. The editor could also correct some fact that the journalist is indeed wrong about, but unrelated to the story – “he took a cab to the fire; the driver was from Barcelona, Spain’s capital.” (Madrid is Spain’s capital.) But with respect to the statement actually being true, it’s all on the  journalist.

This is because eventually, all news sources boil down to “I heard this from someone.” Suppose someone said “North Korea is run by midgets.” Their information conflicts with existing information purported to be true, granted. But that’s not a source at its most fundamental level. A source at its most fundamental level would be something like a report of what happened somewhere that cannot be verified by other means.

Once you peel back enough of the layers of sourcing, facts of news are fundamentally “I consider this person to be a trustworthy deliverer of information.”  Trust can be determined by a number of things, but no matter how credible the deliverer of information may seem you will never have a perfect guarantee if that deliverer is telling the truth or doing so accurately. They can do so to the best of their ability, but no one is a perfectly objective observer.

This was the very premise that Stephen Glass used to evade fact-checkers during his time at The New Republic. Not only did he abuse himself as a source, he evaded editorial oversight in a lot of other ways:

“Glass created fake letterheads, memos, faxes, and phone numbers; he presented fake handwritten notes, fake typed notes from imaginary events written with intentional misspellings, fake diagrams of who sat where at meetings that never transpired, fake voice mails from fake sources. He even inserted fake mistakes into his fake stories so fact checkers would catch them and feel as if they were doing their jobs.”

Stephen Glass was not the only person to do something like this, though. Jayson Blair did something very similar with the New York Times. So did Judith Miller, also in the New York Times. So did Christopher Newton at the Associated Press – allegedly.

What is preventing more people from doing things like this? I suspect the answer will be something like, “years of expertise” or “journalistic ethics” or “objectivity.” The latter is a bit easier to define: a neutral writing style that is not promotional, that does not attempt to promote a “should” viewpoint. But when your rationale for excluding blogs is “someone could frivolously report nonsense on a blog,” then why include news outlets when they are vulnerable to similar criticism? These are high profile scandals. If this level of deception is possible at some of the most esteemed journalistic organizations in the world, much more pervasive fraud should be possible at lower levels of the profession.

Now suppose that editor is the blogger? What then? Is the editorial oversight, the objectivity — is it still there? How much are you willing to bet on “this person looked at it, so it must be true”? And what’s stopping the readers themselves from evaluating with those standards? It’s not like distinguishing Fox News from Reuters requires attending J-school.

Arguably, Wikipedia has a loophole for this: editors might be “experts.” But – funnily enough – only if they’ve been deemed such by third-party publications, when they themselves might have been doing the expert-crowning. This ends up looking a lot like a trial, where really questionable reasoning about what defines expertise comes into play. With that said, if this person was objective enough to verify the expertise of others, it’s not a stretch to imagine they could apply similar standards and methodology to themselves.

Sure, most self-published works are bad and most traditionally published works are good. But “most” is not “all.” Editors can be idiots and bloggers can be geniuses. Geoffrey K Pullum, author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, has a blog. Lawrence Lessig has a tumblr. And I once had an editor – I believe, head of a journalism department at a University no less – ‘correct’ “Lex Luthor” to “Lex Luther.” I’ve told this story to other people in journalism, and they’ve recalled similar stories of editors changing things for the worse.

What makes someone credible is the stuff going on in their brain, not their title, and not their means of publishing. “Editorial review” means nothing if the editor is an idiot. And if you have a way of determining whether the editor of a journalistic organization is an idiot, you can use that criteria for the same editor’s blog. This isn’t hard.

Truth is in the Method

If you try to prove something true by appealing to the status of the person (or organization) who said it, this is probably going to be an ad hominem, because the character of a person does not make what a person says true. If John is ugly and John says 2+2=5, his ugliness is not what makes him wrong. And even if you wanted to rely on a facet of his character like “reliability of statements” to determine if his eyewitness claims were true, the consistent record of true claims is what you’d look for, which only has a superficial connection to John.

The method, in other words, is what makes John right or wrong – not the fact that he’s John.

If I say “a man robbed a bank yesterday”, and the Express News says “an unidentified man robbed a bank yesterday”, most people would trust the Express News.

Method of truth discovery: “I saw this thing happen.”

The only reason to take one “I saw this happen” over another “I saw this happen” is because you know one of them has a better truth rate than the other because they consistently apply better methodology. That is, one’s claim of “I saw this happen and am describing it accurately” may be right 80% of the time while another may be right 65% of the time. One is probably more true; neither is definitely true.

Suppose then that I say “a man robbed a bank yesterday,” and I have video proof. The Express News has no video. If you still trusted the Express News’s account by that point, you would be behaving irrationally, because the method by which you determined something true has been subordinated by the medium by which the truth is delivered. If I had released this video on YouTube, the Express News proper would pick it up anyway, because the Express News would realize that this video substantiates their claims to begin with.

Society has been, until just recently, built around a system where medium-centric discussion is important. What organization a statement comes from matters a lot when you exist in an era pre-search engine and cannot verify the claim on your own. In that sense, discriminating against character is a shortcut. Knowing that something comes from the New York Times is enough, generally speaking.

This is not the case anymore. We exist in an era of Google where the fact-checking can be done by 3rd parties. Many, if not most, of the vehicles a more traditional media source would use to fact check you are available at your fingertips.

In fact, news organizations have been criticized for using tweets as news material, because tweets hold a seemingly superficial distinction. While there is cause for concern among more serious issues, it’s not unreasonable to use tweets; it is largely cutting to the source of what they would do in the first place: go to the location where something happened, ask people about what happened, and summarize those accounts.

To simplify this: a tweet, in itself, is not reliable. A tweet from a reliable person is.

A tweet from the Daily Mail is not reliable, even though it’s from an organization.

Reuters has, through time, established itself as trustworthy. A tweet from Reuters is highly reliable, and shouldn’t be treated any differently than if that same sentence were logged into Reuters’s WordPress rather than tweeted. Some people still have the idea that a post on a website carries some inherently greater truth than a tweet. It’s undeniably true that, on average, websites are going to have better quality information than a tweet. But a tweet being a tweet does not invalidate it; a tweet seems superficial and unreliable only because of what is usually made with it. If the only people who tweeted were Nobel prize winners, “a tweet” would have more currency.

News organizations will not, by virtue of being organizations, have more legitimacy than any blog. They might have more legitimacy as a whole, but there isn’t an inherent overriding factor that makes a news organization legitimate and a blog not. This is just as silly as assuming that all blogs are legitimate. Many organizations are lacking in rigor; many individuals are rich in rigor. If a blog publishes its methodology that is more rigorous than another organization’s, or it is apparent that the blog is using a more rigorous methodology than an organization, there is no reason to favor that organization over a blog. Criteria matters.

Still, there is a distrust for this because based on the way a naive person might see it, “blog” is something unofficial and not-facty and subjective. Official things are facty and objective. So to read blogs is to read something inherently less truthful, like “opinion.”

‘Opinion’, by the way, does not mean “subjective.” Preferences are subjective. In the context of news, “opinion” is used to mean “editorial.” An editorial piece is an argument (“killing is wrong because …”), as opposed to an empirical statement (“John was at [place] at [time] …”). Arguments can be weak or strong; which is to say, some arguments are more true than others. This is also the case for not just arguments, but much of the social sciences, which rely on large degrees of statistical correlation.

The editorial is where news organizations and blogs are on the most equal playing field. Christopher Hitchens’s column on Slate was functionally no different than the kind of post he’d make on a self-run blog, were he alive to do it. The distinction between “news website” and “blog” is solely that of editorial review and organizational structure; this matters slightly when you’re talking about statements that need to be fact checked, but since editorial writers can do that on their own, it becomes matter of oversight. That Gawker and Buzzfeed temporarily switched to the tumblr engine is indicative of how little difference there is between a news medium and a blog medium. Many news sites (NYT, Forbes, Reuters) use blog mediums in the first place, like WordPress.

Now for the big question: can a person have the reliability of reuters? There is no reason to believe this isn’t the case. It’s not as if, when reuters reports a tweet, that THE WHOLE OF REUTERS is verifying it. This would be a waste of resources, anyway. More than likely, one or two people *from* reuters gathered the information, and they are representing Reuters.

In fact, there are existing reasons to believe this is the case – that a single person can report on a level of a news organization. A Banker’s Anonymous post in my hometown has extensively detailed the financials of SAISD Superintendent candidate Manuel Isquierdo. The author does not just extensively detail his reasoning for why they believe Isquierdo has been financially irresponsible in the purchase of his $1.15 million home. Tax liens, violations on the public record, and grand jury subpoenas are covered as well. While this may or may not be Texas Tribune-tier reporting, it is certainly a level of analysis higher than what you would see on a mainstream news outlet.

This is not limited to blogs at all. It can happen in reddit comments. Details of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing on reddit were extensively liveblogged by commenters such as empw, who made 128 edits in total. The quality of reporting was such that commenter WikiReddit said empw was “putting the media to shame.” When this comment was removed by moderators for a brief period, users like Poetlaurehate were outraged:

Motherfucker, this is a link-aggregating website. A vast crowdsource of information. You know how much quicker information was related here than motherfucking Channel 7? I’m from the area, I live in the area, and this was serious business to me. They removed or made read-only a thread that was updating faster and amounted to me watching like 11 news channels at once. That’s not trivial! We have a right to feel a bit jerked off.

A few days later, JpDeathBlade posted a liveblog thread of similar updates. The comments were even more supportive of this as a legitimate source. A sample below:

AnalogKid2112: I just want to say thank you /u/JpDeathBlade for your hard work on the updates. This is the fastest news source I’ve found.

Purple90: And I somehow have more confidence in him than I do in CNN…

PantsGrenades: I’ve repeated this elsewhere, but I feel we’ve reached a certain threshold here — The internet is finally outstripping cable news completely. In fact, I wonder if we’re inadvertently doing their work for them…

Owenjs: To quote Patton Oswalt: “So, @CNN is reporting a “battle of the bands” between Boston and The Police. “I always liked ‘More Than A Feeling’” adds John King.”

But this, perhaps, was the most relevant statement of all:

Vpnburner: So, CNN is reporting that Reddit is saying… And over at Fox News an unnamed source… Meanwhile MSNBC HAS NO FUCKING IDEA WHATS GOING ON! WHY ARE YOU WATCHING IT! IT’S BORING!! Oooh, Maddows on. And she’s wearing glasses.

Swish that thought in your head for a second: comments and blogs cannot be used as a source. CNN, however, can be used as a source, and those comments and blogs can be used once CNN reports that blogs and/or comments have said something.

Using an official organization as a source that uses unofficial material as a source? That’s fine. Going to the source yourself? Not allowed.

To coin a phrase, this is mediumism: the idea that the medium by which information is sent determines the worth of that information, and some mediums are inherently worth more than others.

There is no easier way to see mediumism in action than to simply visit a link aggregator, like reddit, where some forum moderators have a blanket ban against blogs, but allow news sites with content that is of equal or lesser depth. Editorials from Gizmodo are no different than blog essays. In fact, Gizmodo is a blog. So is Gawker. So is Jezebel. So is any website that runs on the WordPress platform. In fact, it doesn’t even have to run on the WordPress platform. If it can be cloned by the WordPress platform, it is a blog. Yet Wikipedia defines Gawker as a blog explicitly, while Wonkete is an “online magazine” and TMZ is a “celebrity news website.” Not only is this distinction inconsistent, it’s ridiculous. They are all blogs.

Right, but these websites have editorial review, so they are okay as sources. Nevermind that we’ve already seen that individuals can report higher-quality news than those guided by editorial review – there is a magic in editorial review that is the dividing line between sourceworthy and not.

Here are some scenarios to consider:

I have a blog run by two people. One person reviews the other in a back-and-forth fashion. Is this “editorial review”? If I pick the right person, there is no reason why this person cannot follow the guidelines for editorial review and fact-checking practiced by other magazines.

But then, say two people isn’t enough. Say I have a community blog, like LessWrong or Cracked or the Daily Kos, where a collective of bloggers can subject their work to the review of other bloggers. Certainly, if individuals can write on the level of a news organization and if more people reviewing one’s work means legitimacy, the process of submitting one’s work to the review of multiple editors will do the trick.

Ultimately, the legitimacy is in the method. There is no shortage of people who can fabricate in light of editorial review. A source should be reviewed by its content, not its medium.

Notability of the Individual

While the determination of facts is one thing, the determination of notability is even more insane. This would not normally be an issue, since the factuality of information can be determined by the user. Notability, however, is solely up to Wikipedia. You are regarded as notable primarily by your inclusion to Wikipedia, which serves as the closest thing the 21st century has to Who’s Who.

Wikipedia’s notability system is famously bad; it’s a plunge into “Who guards the Guardians?” levels of external verification and officiality superstition, where practicality goes to die and a convoluted methodology is held up as a standard of objective notability, even though it just means notability-to-print-media.

Arguably, their system of notability is even more convoluted than their system of factual verification. A video of something happening is a largely undeniable instance of fact. Notability, by contrast, is up for debate. Consider the following scenarios:

Person A is a YouTube musician who has received 5,000,000 views, collectively, but has yet to be signed to a major label and is unknown to traditional music journalism.

Person B is a musician whose YouTube channel has 200,000 views, collectively, but has received the Peacock Award, and was recently covered in Chords magazine. (Recall, via the Wonkette/TMZ/Gawker comparison, that the distinction between “magazine”, “news website”, and “blog” is not clear.)

By a large margin, you are far more likely to see Person B on Wikipedia than Person A due to their coverage in Chords. This is because Wikipedia prioritizes independent sources and independent verification, which is what the award is supposed to be. The award is supposed to represent an official recognition that the musician is significant, as is the coverage in Chords. Yet, the YouTuber with 5,000,000 views is left out in the cold, because views can be subject to gaming, or so Wikipedia editors say. (Can award shows and independent verification not be subject to gaming as well? Presumably, sleeping with a magazine writer is a strong form of gaming.)

Now, what happens if a journalist writes about a musician simply because that YouTuber has 5,000,000 views? It could be allowed, according to Wikipedia’s notability guidelines.

Let’s add a twist to Person B’s circumstances: the Peacock Award doesn’t exist, because I made it up. Chords magazine does, apparently, but its readership is small. Its Facebook page has, at the time of this writing, less than 300 “likes”. By comparison, the San Antonio Current, a local newspaper in my city, has 20,000 — the Express News has 19,500.

What are these Wikipedia editors going to use for measurement of notability of the coverage itself? Ironically, probably readership. Or independent verification by another magazine, but it’s not like there’s a surplus of meta-magazines devoted to the coverage of other newspapers and magazines – so probably readership.

Many bloggers exist with readership far exceeding Chords and even the Current. But because Chords is an organization – that is, they filed paperwork to register as an organization with their local city government and paid someone to have their magazines printed – this makes them official, and their coverage that reaches maybe a few thousand people trumps that of millions who have watched Person A’s YouTube videos.

When the question is, “has this musician been covered by a news source,” you’re basically asking whether the writer for a newspaper pitched it to an editor, who may or may not know about anything about the music scene that musician is involved in. And if it’s traditional print, the editor’s concern will be less “is this significant?” and more “do we have space to put this in the paper?” I have seen this happen. This is not an exaggeration.

Therefore, despite how objective newspapers try to be, they can still be biased: what you try to define as “newsworthy” will be subordinate to your practical constraints and your ideological constraints, both political and ethical. Any time something is covered by a news organization, there is an implicit recognition of “this is significant.” What a news organization chooses to cover is what it deems significant and not-significant. There may be a close-to-objective coverage of something, in the sense that some accounts can be more objective than others, but defining “objectively significant” will be like trying to build a house out of Silly Putty. At the base of it, the decisionmaking process of what a magazine or news outlet chooses to cover is not much different than yours.

“Huh, I think this thing is pretty important. We should cover it.”

That’s the gist. Unless your newspaper has a reputation for long-form journalism and highbrow articles that address abstract topics, usually, “there’s this thing going on and it seems important” tends to be the criteria. Chords magazine, or any magazine, isn’t doing anything much differently than you would when it comes to choosing what to cover. Especially when it comes to highly subjective matters like “this thing is notable,” which is just an appeal to a value system.

What Exactly Do Award Panels Do?

In the height of bureaucratic absurdity, one of Wikipedia’s notability criteria for the inclusion of porn stars is “featuring multiple times in mainstream media.” Why, exactly, a porn star would be covered in mainstream news outside of a “dangers of porn” diatribe, I have no idea. At any rate, it’s not going to measure their notability in porn, but the fetishization of “independent sources, reliable (non-blog) sources” seems to trudge on. (Why they are also distinct from “entertainers” or “acting” I have no idea, since bad acting/bad entertaining is still acting and entertaining, respectively. Okay, I do have an idea, but it’s a bad one.)

Award panels seem to represent an enigmatic, indisputable form of confirmation. Yet this is also their flaw: you have no idea how much cognition or decisionmaking an award panel is actual doing, you don’t know its criteria, you don’t know what they considered or how they deliberated.  The function an award panel performs can range from the mountainous – the Nobel Prize in Physics — to the minor — such as with Time’s Person of the Year going to “You.”

And even if the panel spends a lot of time discussing something, you have no insight as to the quality of that discussion. My mental image of the Time PotY panel is a person saying “What about ‘You’?” and a turtlenecked editor jumping to his seat shouting “I like it!”

So there is no Award Award. Yet awards can be, and frequently are, dubious. Some Wikipedia editors have noticed as much, and have attempted to prevent this issue by creating a guideline for evaluating the notability of awards themselves. Saparmurat Niyazov, for example, was awarded the “Hero of Turkmenistan” award five times by his own government. This attempt at creating notability guidelines for awards was thwarted by other editors, thankfully, but for reasons of excess. Even if they had gone through with it, the notability criteria are absurd: coverage by independent sources, for example, from which blogs would be predictably exempt.

Blogs have won book-person awards, by the way. The Language Log blog won an award in 2008, but only after they had published their blog into a book. Now assume you’re a Wikipedia editor evaluating the award itself, and needed “independent coverage” of the award. I have no idea where you’d read about an award in linguistics outside of specialist blogs, but it’s certainly not going to be in traditional print media. Is this neutral? Not really.

Suppose you’re adamant on sticking to the standard of publication, though. “Language Log was published in a book? Well, that’s notable.” Sort of. But then you run into the question of what publishing houses are notable. “Reputation” doesn’t work, unless you have independent publications reviewing and rating publishing houses. That is not likely to happen, and overlaps with the Award Award problem.

If you draw the analogy of publishing houses = record labels, this question has already been addressed: it has to be a “major” publisher or label. Since this obviously seems to discriminate against indie music, the criteria for “major” is not market share. And if that’s the case, then what defines “major”? Is it… someone writing about it? Predictably, that’s one of the reasons. So if three relatively obscure publications all write about each other in some kind of notability pact, their chances of being “notable” rise considerably.

But they’re still obscure. For all practical purposes they’re not notable. If you take the notability guidelines for record labels to their logical extreme, you are left with a convoluted system where high levels of public visibility are not sufficient to acquire “notability,” but coverage by obscure, barely-visible publications are.

Common sense would say, “but no one reads them.” Then what? Even Wikipedia administrators have cited the Ignore All Rules policy when practicality gets in the way. No matter what the subject matter, notability will eventually come down to numbers in some form or another, either via number of independent reports, or number of viewcounts on YouTube – which will guide numbers of reports, anyway.

The 1/5/10,000,000 Views Solution

Wikipedia does not count YouTube views as “notability,” for two reasons: they can be gamed, and there isn’t a way to interpret them. “Gaming” notability for publications is as simple as sleeping with a writer for that publication, so that’s dismissible right away. The more problematic justification of this policy, that treating viewcounts alone as notability constitutes “original research,” is less explicitly flawed. To assign a value to a number, they have interpreted the numbers as meaning something. This explanation is poor, because:

0. You cannot make a statement on what is and is not original research without making a judgment call. Your statement on original research would be, paradoxically, original research.

1. Value judgments have already been made, in this respect. Wikipedia has made a judgment call – original research – that if a source is under editorial review, it is less credible than a source not under editorial review, independent of the abilities of the author and editor.

2. Wikipedia has made a judgment call – original research – regarding organizations created to circumvent notability. So for organizations to be sufficiently credible deciders of notability, there has to be some artificial detachment from Wikipedia — an agnosticism to the notability process in general.

3. Other Wikipedia administrators have given a “common sense” precedent to believe that large numbers of views are admissible.

By assigning notability decisionmaking to an organization, and especially organizations which will report on things based on factors which might as well be considered by Wikipedia in the first place, all you’re doing is saying “we value this form of independent source over this form of independent source.” You’re still providing an independent metric you like; that metric just so happens to involve a middleman.

With sufficiently high numbers, any organization will report on anything. A 100,000-person concert is notable no matter who reports on it, and if there’s a 100,000-person concert you can be guaranteed that it will be reported on. By assigning notability decisionmaking to an organization, you’ve implicitly confirmed the inevitability – raw popularity via numbers – as an important factor anyway.

If you pick any subject that’s more obscure than politics, sports, or movies, there’s going to be a rich coverage of that subject area via blogs and maybe a little via print media, but it’s hardly the deciding factor. When Mattathias Schwartz’s 2008 article on internet trolls had been published, the culture had been thriving for years before that point. The reaction was less “wow, how breaking” and more “I can’t believe it took this long for print media to catch up.” Yet until then, Encyclopedia Dramatica did not have a wikipedia article for the reason that it had not been covered in a major newspaper, among other reasons. Wikipedia at that time was in a fuss over whether to include it or not.

But absurdly enough, if you get journalists to write about said viewcount, that counts as notability… using methods of publishing that, for all intents and purposes, will have their own notability determined by numbers. The raw-numbers approach is currently the case with music broadcasts anyway (“gold certification” and “significant broadcast segment”), so why isn’t this the case with self-published authors, musicians, bloggers, and vloggers? This reeks of “we can’t treat the things CNN is using as sources as sources, but we can treat CNN’s reporting using those things as a source as a source.”

A wikipedia editor might respond: “if someone has 50,000,000 views on YouTube/Amazon/wherever, certainly they have enough independent material published about them to make an article.”

This is demonstrably not true, for a variety of reasons: the journalist who would write about them may not be a YouTube/blog/ebook addict, the journalist couldn’t find room or relevance in their current selection of columns, the journalist has more important things to write about even though he/she feels 50M views is still significant.

In any case, Hodge Twins, the most popular bodybuilding channel on YouTube with over 200,000,000 views across their YouTube channels twinmuscleworkout and hodgetwins, don’t have a Wikipedia page at the time of this writing because they haven’t been written about. TheAmazingAtheist, at 120,000,000 views and a similar number of subscribers to that of the hodgetwins channel, is also conspicuously absent. And even if tomorrow a Wikipedia editor decided to add them, this wouldn’t change a thing: they should have been added a long, long time ago. 100+ million views should not be where the bar is set, though; I am posting it purely because of the absurdity of excluding people who are obviously notable.

The legwork in determining what is a reliable source, or a “major” publication, or, worse, a “major independent record label”, is far more burdensome than the legwork from looking at a viewcount and saying “this has more views than the viewcounts on major artist music videos.”

Karmin’s “Hello,” at the time of this writing, has 9,500,000 views. This is a single that received wide radio airplay and has an entry on Wikipedia. If you’re keeping tabs, this means that The Amazing Atheist has over 12 times the viewcount but lacks a Wikipedia page, even though the sources of independent coverage for “Hello” will be basing their coverage on airplay and overall popularity.

Think back to earlier, when I mentioned that Wikipedia expects porn stars to be covered by independent sources. How could porn stars possibly be covered by independent media in a way reflective of their actual notability as porn stars? Viewcount on sites like Pornhub or Redtube are far more likely to be an indication of notability, considering that viewership is the lifeblood of pornography in the first place.

I propose a solution: if around one, five, or ten million people have participated in whatever it is you’re doing, you’re notable.

This number can be adjusted to more or less depending on the kind of content we’re talking about. I’d be surprised if any blog got more than a million views yearly, for example – Brian Leiter’s philosophy blog is the most notable law blog on the net, and hardly rakes in the viewcount of Karmin – but for a YouTuber, a million views is standard. (Hell, I have a YouTube video with nearly a million views.)

De-Officializing Standards

There seems to be a view that the methodology used to determine whether something is true can’t be evaluated by the people reviewing the sources, so they let journalists do that for them. This is odd, since in evaluating the rigor of a source, you’re going to end up deciding whether that source is worth listening to on the grounds similar to what journalists would use to assess other journalists. It is obvious to everyone involved, for example, that the reporting on bankers-anonymous or the liveblogging of the Boston marathon are legitimate sources, even though they are blogs and comments, respectively. Similarly, the distinction between Wonkette/Gawker/TMZ as magazine/blog/news is a matter of perception, not a distinction in what kind of facts they put out.

This aversion to evaluation reveals its greater layer of absurdity when evaluating notability. When obscure indie bands gain entry into Wikipedia because of their coverage by an equally obscure magazine (but not blog) while The Amazing Atheist and Hodge Twins don’t, despite having  12 to 20 times more views than a song which will be covered due to its popularity anyway, something has gone wrong with the system. When porn stars of all people need to be covered by independent media to acquire legitimate Wikipedia noteworthiness, there has been a flaw in the system.

For as populist as the idea of blogging and democratizing news is, the perceptions surrounding internet media do not allow for it to be as populist as it would, or should, be. This is due to mediumism exacerbated by an unwarranted faith in officiality and unwarranted aversion to unofficiality. Sure, it’s harder to get a newspaper article written about you than a blog article, but only because print media is slow and space is limited. It’s a lot easier to say it’s the editors job to gauge reliability than doing it yourself. Both are cognitively easy: if you shift the burden to organizations that exist in place already, you can outsource the burden of source-assessment and significance-determining to journalists, who probably won’t think much more about it than you will. Yet this small extra layer adds an aura of certainty, as if you are part of an objective process of certification.

The process is not objective. The emperor has no clothes. If media is to meet the 21st century, evaluators of media need to figure out what it looks like first.

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