Free wi-fi and the echo chamber

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

The frenzy began Monday morning when the Washington Post reported that “the federal government wants to create super Wi-Fi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.” Best of all, network access would be free. “If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas,” the Post reported. The clear implication: this was a bold—and entirely brand-new—plan. Unfortunately, the piece was basically nonsense.

I’d seen this report a couple times myself—and even seen one or two libertarian-esque “government provided services are an outrage!” responses—but hadn’t commented on it. But I hadn’t noticed the fundamental problem that, y’know, the story was horsepucky.

What we saw at work here, of course, was the echo chamber effect. This has always been with us, in myriad examples large and small: a story appears to have been reported in multiple places with multiple sources, except that if you follow the chain backwards, they all end up coming from just one source and if that one source got things wrong—even with the best of intentions—you get, well, government-provided free wi-fi.

  1. chipotle posted this