Tristan Louis has a post on gatekeepers in the weblog world, the idea being that the “A list” bloggers set the agenda and most other people pick up the topics of interest based on what the gatekeepers are talking about. I tend to fall into the camp that argues that this sort of thing is inevitable. Nobody can absorb and process all of the information that’s available, and what follows from that simple truth is that some sources of information are going to be more popular and more trusted than others.
What I find interesting is failures of the gatekeeping class, whether it’s on the Web, in print, or elsewhere. The furor that has arisen over the offensive editorial cartoons is an example of what happens when gatekeepers misuses their influence. The cartoons were actually published last September, and only through an organized effort by gatekeepers in the Muslim community did they become the cause of global rioting that they are today. Were the cartoons provocative and offensive? Of course. But it was the irresponsible acts of gatekeepers that have led to riots, death, and destruction.
Every day in the blogosphere you can find people posting highly dubious, incredibly inflammatory stories that spread fast because they’re provocative. Take a look at the new entries at Snopes.com on any given day and see the triumph of outrage over common sense. Given that gatekeepers are a fact of life, is it wrong to expect more of them? (I’ll leave the discussion of the positive correlation between popularity and provocation for some other time.)