The internet has become a breeding ground of confusion, a free for all, where anyone can say anything, leading to misconceptions, misinformation and mistakes! This freedom of speech is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it has cascaded through the World Wide Web, resulting in a dangerous game of Chinese whispers. On the outside this can be percieved as a goldmine of knowledge, but in reality it’s fool’s gold. Much of the internet is not peer reviewed; often it’s not even spell-checked! It may give you a starting point but the information should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
Species identification seems to be one of the worst hit in this epidemic and one that serves to cause the most impact. There is a big trend nowadays to post photos online, many websites allow you to do this and keen naturalists try to identify their captures. However, many people will type in key characteristics in a search engine and match it to the first identification they find. Many of these images however, have not been reviewed or identified using a reliable guide. This continues down the line, with a downward spiral of information seekers unwittingly fueling the contamination. This has the potential to change history, the wrong soon outweighs the right, making it difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction.
However all hope is not lost, a new generation of budding naturalists and photographers are being born. Initiatives such as Project Noah and iSpot allow experts and hobbyists to come together, share and correct knowledge, leading to a more reliable educational database for people to access. These websites have a form of peer review, all identifications are up for discussion and evidence should be presented to support your claims. So next time you pass on an interesting fact to a friend be sure to check it first before falling prey to the ‘Web of Lies’.