Crowds are only as wise as their dumbest component

Once, LinkedIn was a useful job board where buyers and sellers could sniff each other out before they made interview dates or other arrangements to meet.

It evolved into a revenue-generating B2B network with a function beyond job and employee hunting. Suppliers and potential clients could post quality content, meet online and take the first steps of a productive business relationship.

Today it is teetering on the brink of degeneration into just another ‘same old, same old’ social network. Its majority content comprises advertising disguised as information, platitudes, homilies, fantasy and nonsense. Nuggets of usefulness must be searched for whereas once they were easily discerned on the home page.

Driven by superficial ‘sharing’ inspired by Facebook, Instagram and, increasingly, LinkedIn, communication has become an end in itself. Many people, especially the voiceless, believe this is good, liberating progress  because online there is no-one to reason or remonstrate with them. And because online is mostly anonymous, it is not edited, not filtered and not policed.

It is hardly surprising that angry and hateful content is such a loud and forceful element of social media content.

To me it is more worrying that facts are the real victims, killed off by opinions that have no reality of their own.

In a month when we remember the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Somme, armchair generals from all over have filled the forums with sentimental tosh and uninformed nonsense about the battle, the way it was fought and how the troops were led.

It was a refreshing revelation to see historian Peter Barton on BBC2  explain the context of the battle, provide a clear and accurate picture of the first day and inform his narrative with disturbing revelations gleaned from German military archives. Of particular interest were those recording how much more than name, rank, number had been forthcoming from, and indeed volunteered by, English and French prisoners of war. That information, plus the fact that German intelligence signallers had tapped into British telephone lines, meant that the attack was doomed to fail from the start. Facts; nothing like them to bring history, and stories, to life and make content great.

The fight for user numbers on LinkedIn, Facebook and others is driven by an insatiable demand for advertising dollars. We, the users in question, are the product that these networks sell. The more controversy there is online, the more eyeballs it generates. It’s a self-perpetuating vicious circle that will bite us all in the bum.

Where is the quality content? Going, going and, unless we rescue and nurture it back to full health, soon to be gone, drained away like blood on a battlefield.