SHSMD Conference Features Controversial Web Speaker

At the SHSMD Conference in San Francisco Thursday, September 18, one of the featured speakers was Andrew Keen, a self-described Silicon Valley insider and pundit who sought to expose the “grave consequences of today’s new participatory Web 2.0” world. According to Mr. Keen, “in today’s self-broadcasting culture, where amateurism is celebrated and anyone with an opinion, however ill-informed, can publish a blog, post a video on YouTube, or change an entry on Wikipedia, the distinction between trained expert and uninformed amateur becomes dangerously blurred.”

Not surprisingly, many in the audience took offense. Nobody argued that misinformation is bad. Rather, the point was that information on the internet should not be limited to only those contributors who are deemed to be “experts”.

Indeed, the internet is a surfeit of information, of which not all is honest, accurate or fair. But the same charges of inaccuracy can also be applied to all our sources of information over the past few centuries. Truth is, information only has as much credibility as the reader is willing to give it.

Now I agree that there are people out there who intentionally write posts or blogs full of misinformation in an attempt to harm a person or organization. That’s too bad. But any reader who accepts just one opinion is looking for trouble — or simply looking for information, no matter how bad, to support a position. Fortunately, in most cases the internet is full of information about virtually every subject. So getting “the other side of the story” is almost always a click away.

Speaking of getting out “the other side of the story”, it is this exact idea that leads me to disagree so strongly with Mr. Keen. While I believe the benefits of these “amateur” blogs and posts very much outweigh the negatives (for instance, when trying to learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease, I found the posts and blogs authored by relatives of the patients to be far more emotionally educational than the clincial information I found that was written by the “experts”. In healthcare, “experts” have to be careful about what they say for fear of lawsuits, whereas amateurs write it as they see it), I also know that the negatives can create many problems for my clients; therefore, we monitor information about our clients and react to it with our own posts and blogs. In essence, we’re presenting the other side of the story whenever we see a negative one inititated. We are our clients’ “online brand manager” and our job is to make sure their names and information are everywhere they need to be.

What’s more, we think that the internet’s role as an information source can be used to our advantage for our clients by allowing us to put up an incredible amount of positive information covering any topic we want. By uploading videos, podcasts and photos, and generating blogs and posts, we can literally dominate a topic for our client’s benefit.

Are we harming the world as Mr. Keen sees it? Hardly. The participatory information game is on, and it’s been active now for nearly a decade. All we’re doing is playing the game to our client’s advantage using the same messages we run for them in other traditional media.

And I can tell you this: our clients are winning.