Truth and Trust Under Siege: Do We Care?

NBC's escalating crisis surrounding respected news anchor Brian Williams' fabrication of details about his reporting from Iraq in 2003. The deal Twitter just struck with Google to make tweets more searchable online. These two events should open a new referendum on the relationship between truth and trust in the information we digest daily. Intuitively, the correlation should be high. But the data makes clear, that's either a naïve conclusion or it's the premium we place on truth that's as fragmented by subject matter as is the myriad information sources available to us online.

Edelman's respected annual Trust Barometer for 2015 finds that search engines have become the most trusted source of news. They also are tapped first for general business information. As a result, television and online search are roughly tied as a first source for breaking news about business. The days are virtually gone when television was the central lifeline for information during a national or global disaster. As far as validating a story, nearly 20 percent more of global survey respondents go online today than turn to a newspaper or television.

Considering the ubiquity of search engine algorithms that spew forth results, purveyors of big data know we are inclined to desire, prefer, like, and/or believe those resulting websites. What does this mean for truth seekers? It means they gain easier access to more information ever available but risk that much of it may be false or just partially true.

Therefore, if we want to know what truly happened in 2003 in Iraq on the helicopter entourage that Brian Williams' traveled, you have some options:

• Conduct a search on your preselected site or search engine. Include tweeted opinions, access to your most trusted celebrity's point of view, all the major news organizations' coverage and editorials on the topic. Layer more opinion on top of that based on your preferences. Your research consequently, will be search-optimized by what you already are inclined to believe. This will require no more than 30 minutes.

• Wait for NBC to conclude its internal probe as well as other inquiries that may be politically driven or mandated. Read all of them fully and then seek guidance on how best to pursue the massive discrepancies you discover. This should require a year or so.

Or, you can await the dispatch of a truly reliable investigative reporter who painstakingly sifts through all this material and makes a judgment in a 20,000-word article. That will occur in three-to-five years. Then, of course, you will have to Google Brian Williams to remember who he is/was.

Such is our modern pursuit for the truth. If we can trust it, that is.