The Rise of the Unqualified Expert

Author: Linda J. Popky

One of the side effects of our interconnected, always-on world, is that we seem to have created a new set of experts. Every time you turn around, you’ll see someone pontificating on a topic as if they have studied it in great depth for years.

Except that, in most cases, they haven’t.

The problem is that all it takes to be an expert on the Internet is to say you are … and to start acting like one. In an age of quick re-Tweets and Facebook shares, Instagrams and Vine, we’re often tempted to pass on “expert” advice without considering the source or the quality of the information.

I write this a few days after the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. This came as a shock to everyone, including William’s friends and family. The accolades and remembrances across the Web have been pervasive and, in most cases, quite touching.

But these were immediately followed by “experts” offering advice on suicide prevention, espousing why someone like Williams would take this dire step, and pondering the secret lives of celebrities. We’ve seen people say this was because Williams slipped back into addiction (that appears to not be the case), because he had financial difficulties (which is highly unlikely), or his depression was deepened by his leftist politics (this one is hard to even understand).

This is not an isolated incident. The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines 370 earlier this year brought out all kinds of “experts” who provided “evidence” of what happened to the plane and where it could be found. As of today, none of that has panned out.

We see “experts” discuss police shootings … from the viewpoint of the police, as well as those who were shot. “Experts” point to video shot in Gaza showing how Israeli missiles struck UN schools and civilians. Yet, other evidence points to those same locations being hit by stray Hamas rockets, not by Israeli strikes.

Even Donald Trump suddenly became an “expert” on Ebola Fever … protesting the return to the US of new Americans medical workers infected with the disease. This is in spite of the fact that these two patients are safely isolated and beginning to recover, and no new cases have been reported.

With all this “expert” advice out there how can we separate the real information from the rumors and innuendo? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Always consider the source. Certain news stations tend to skew content one way, others will tend to favor a different point of view. Donald Trump may have extensive experience on real estate investment, but why would he be the go-to person on infectious diseases?
  • Just because it’s popular, doesn’t make it true. If this were the case, the Australian Navy would have found the debris from flight ML370 months ago.
  • Arguing with the arguers just leads to frustration. There’s nothing a conspiracy theorist likes better than people telling him he’s crazy … that just proves there’s really a conspiracy to keep people from knowing the truth. Additional attention given to innuendo or inappropriate responses just fuels the fire that keeps these folks going.
  • The Web really IS an incredible source of expert information. The secret is knowing where to look. It’s not necessarily Facebook or Twitter. We now have easy access to extensive medical, scientific and historical information through the Web. If you really want to learn about a topic, choose credible sources to study.

How does this impact us in the business world?

We need to be monitoring what’s being said about us in the media and online. If information is inaccurate or incomplete, get the corrected complete version out there. Make it available in multiple media and across various formats.

Don’t give credibility to the faux experts by arguing with them. Instead, surround them with accurate, accessible information that is clearly communicate and easily understood by our target audience.

And, as always, be aware that the Web is enduring, not endearing. Focus on the areas where your expertise is both relevant and responsible. Leave the endless pontificating to others.

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