Protecting skepticism’s online reputation is easy. Here’s how you can help.

Over the last few years, social media has radically changed the way information is created and disseminated, and skepticism has been both a participant and a beneficiary of that change. Our participation is evident from the countless blogs and podcasts that have cropped up over the last few years, requiring new services like Skeptics on the .NET just to keep track of them all. The benefit we receive is evident from the traffic logs of all of those sites — a large proportion of our audience each day is brought in via social networking sites like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.

Facebook, in fact, has recognized the power they have in this regard and seem to be viewing it as a responsibility as well. At least that’s how I read their announcement on May 15th that they’re integrating site reputation service Web of Trust to warn users when a shared link has a poor reputation.

This is a great thing for consumers and skeptics alike. Tim Farley of What’s The Harm? has written in the past about how skeptics and science advocates should be using Web of Trust to provide “appropriately negative scores to the sites that are selling products based on lies and misinformation.” I think the key word here is “appropriately”, and I take Tim’s meaning to be that we should use Web of Trust in an honest and judicious manner to protect consumers, rather than as a tool to spread ideology.

But just because we’re using it that way doesn’t mean that everyone will, and the Facebook integration makes it a lot more likely that science and skepticism sites will be the subject of ideologically motivated attacks. Today’s minor annoyances like Mabus are nothing compared to a world where Facebook users get warnings every time they click on link to Pharyngula or Science Based Medicine. It won’t be long before someone tries to game the system to make this happen, and when they do, I want us to be ready.  And that’s where you come in.

Introducing: The WOT Project

The WOT Project is a new site that aims to motivate skeptics and science advocates to help build a protective barrier against such attacks. The idea is that if enough honest ratings for science and skepticism sites are in Web of Trust’s database, it becomes difficult for an ideologue to counter through an attack campaign. Think of it like a vaccine for our online reputation.

Participating is a snap.  Once you’ve installed the Web of Trust Plugin and created a WOT account, simply subscribe to the WOT Project’s RSS Feed and Twitter stream to get updates. As each new volume of science and skepticism sites is released, just click the links and use WOT to rate the sites honestly.

It’s that easy, and has the potential to protect something important to us all. I hope you’ll join me in making this initiative a success.

3 Responses to “Protecting skepticism’s online reputation is easy. Here’s how you can help.”

  1. DMG says:

    I wonder how successful crowdsourced reputation systems like WOT can be, when conspiracy sites like “prison planet” manage to score an 86/100 trustworthiness rating (with “very high confidence”).

    It seems WOT can only help with sites that manifestly irritate or harm visitors. For anything that can develop a following, regardless of how many lies are told in the process, it becomes a popularity contest.

    Based on this, it seems like WOT really should be phrased in terms of “safety” rather than “trust.” I’d have to admit that content on, say, foxnews.com is likely to be “safe” (they’re a big company with a lot of liability if they ever allowed malware to infect their visitors), even if not necessarily “trustworthy.”

  2. Cat's Staff says:

    If you do another one, I noticed that augustberkshire.com was hit by a lot of down votes. It was red a while ago, now it’s yellow.

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  1. [...] that? What’s Web Of Trust? I hadn’t heard of it either until I saw this piece at Skeptic North and read Facebook’s announcement. Essentially, what we’re talking [...]


  • Erik Davis

    Erik is a technology professional based in Toronto, focused on the intersection of the internet and the traditional media and telecommunications sectors. A reluctant blogger, he was inspired by the great work Skeptic North has done to combat misinformation and shoddy science reporting in the Canadian media, and in the public at large. Erik has a particular interest in critical reasoning, and in understanding why there’s so little of it in the public discourse. You can follow Erik's occasional 140 character musings @erikjdavis