Sorry for getting here late. Hopefully I can re-ignite the thread.
Neal's premise is exactly the purpose of my firm, Fiskkit
. Fiskkit is a tool that lets readers critique and tag online news, blogs and other articles-- rating it for "truthiness," logical fallacies and other things like civility. (I gave a visual example in our IndieGoGo video, on our homepage.)
We have two - I think pretty firm - theses: 1) Online comments are horrible and 2) media in general does not make sure that the information it puts out is true or even logical. The BS production rate is too high to fact-check!
So what we're doing is turning the tables on content creators. Remember how you were nervous in 7th grade when you had to read your English paper to 40 other students, because one of them probably knew the subject better than you and would catch your mistakes? Well, why the hell aren't columnists a MILLION times more nervous, since that's how many people they might reach?
The reason is because media is one-directional. Broadcast. Not two-way. So people can piss on our heads and there's not much we can say about it. What are you going to do, write a letter to the editor?
Here's our solution. We are building a comments platform in which all of those hundreds or thousands of readers can give their detailed feedback and send it off to their friends/social networks, etc. On the backend, we then run a statistical test of significance to see if any sentence in an article received an unusual number of any particular tag. Say, Straw Man Argument, Unsupported or Conspiracy Theory (have you READ the comments sections?!). We then present a publicly reference-able version (or overlay) of the original article that shows people what sentences "popped hot" for which tags.
So people who want to express themselves and trade opinions can do that, knowing that they are essentially voting for what is true/false and valid/invalid. And those who just want to know if anything was fishy with the article they just read, can check it in 6 seconds by pasting in the URL.
Here's the point. People don't participate because they think it doesn't matter. So we make it matter, and we create an incentive for people not to write obviously incorrect or fallacious stuff because they'll be publicly repudiated and embarrassed. People don't participate because it's unpleasant. That's why we will (with funding) make it so people can tag each other's responses with tags like Profanity and Ad Hominem Attack. Once we have that data, we can let users filter out however much harsh language or trolling they want, and just see posts that talk about the issue and don't get mean and personal.
I spent 2 years of my life if Iraq because the whole country failed to have a rational, fact-based discourse about an issue as monumental as war and peace. And we continue to struggle to engage with each other because you can't have a discussion if both sides can't agree that up is up, green is not blue and the sun sets in the West.
There's a lot more to it, like how we do a lot of this, and how we hope to work with advocacy organizations to have them fact-check (fisk) stories despite their explicit bias. But hopefully that's enough to provoke some thoughts.
I'd love to grab a beer with anybody interested in this space.