True story: we are all sitting around the table at a Berkman Center “fellows’ hour” discussion yesterday afternoon, and as usual most people have their laptops open in front of them, “multitasking.” Suddenly, one of the fellows interjects that he has just seen a report of a discovery that hardware keyloggers are built into Dell computers. Instant hubbub, multiple questions drowning one another out, followed by feverish typing from all around the room, followed by several fellows saying, in slightly different words, “Never mind, it’s a hoax.” Sighs of relief, and back to the previous discussion.
It was a perfect in-person demonstration of the dynamics of social networks and recommendation systems on the internet — human intelligence and interaction combined with the enormous information resources available online — all played out within 90 seconds. Apparently Michael Froomkin went through the same process of alarm and reassurance, but it sounds like his interactions were all online (he also has the links to the hoax and its debunking at Engadget and Snopes).
Two observations about this story: (1) there is definitely something to this whole idea of social trust networks and collective intelligence (that is, as Mom always said, many heads are indeed better than one); (2) recent revelations about the NSA have made all of us paranoid, because on sober reflection the story should have been implausible, even for 90 seconds.