This is a piece I have wanted to write for a long time, not least because I have always been worried about trust and integrity online.

The commercial side of media and the distribution of content have become issues that are almost biblical in their complexity and their abuse just seems to go unchallenged.

We have gone from the spin on the content as the reasons consumers choose to engage to the presentation of certain data controlled largely by technology.

For travel, “spinning” has been a way of life for an eternity. When superlatives like “fastest”, “cheapest”, “only”, “most luxurious”, “best” etc define the products, then it has to be spin.

This is something I know all too well. I was an Ad-man for more than seven years. It was my first career.

Old school

One of the most important tasks I used to have to fulfil was fact-checking copy, both in print and for broadcast. I have ingrained in my brain and sense of what is “allowed” and what is not.

Furthermore, what will fail and result in a legal slap or, worse, a lawsuit. The art form of spin extends significantly to what NOT to say rather than just to watch what is said or written. Oh yes, and those wonderful disclaimers which are largely meaningless.

Driving home from watching a movie with friends, I was listening to NPR’s “On the Media”. I didn’t catch the beginning but here is the podcast. I listened to it again before writing this piece, and it occurs to me we have truly lost our ability to know what is a truth and what we can trust.

We rely on technology to be the filter, and this has given Google the power of control over information at a level far greater than any Hearst or Murdoch.

As one commentator in the story noted, the shift has already taken place, meaning conventional media is largely irrelevant. Let’s face it, even the White House and many other government mouthpieces are just media organs.

Most Americans listening to this podcast will be somewhat mildly amused by it. I suspect Europeans, especially Germans, will be shocked that the Land of the Free actually has so little that is free (as in access).

Many of the accusations typically aimed by successive US Administrations at foreign powers it does not like, really should be looked at in the light of the mirror of what the US Government is actually about, not what it says.

Technology is not the problem

The issue comes by those who control it, and realize that they can control the hearts and minds of individuals.

Big Data has shown that we are predictable and controllable animals. Google’s now well-exposed and hollow refrain of “Do no evil” is but one example of this paradigm shift.

In travel, our ability to provide absolutes such as a definitive statement on verifiable data is hampered by a distinct lack of desire by the vendors and suppliers of product to be actually (wholly) truthful.

It must be accepted that the mission of an airline and a hotel brand is to obfuscate the price and product to the best of its ability.

Where are the honest brokers in travel? Where are the sources of neural verifiable data?

Google FlightSearchTripAdvisor? Hardly.

When companies such as Uber and Lyft are allowed to get away with using the word “RideSharing” as the definition of their service, it comes to fruition that we get what we pay for.

Free information doesn’t mean open access on a level playing field. The line of independent curation has been lost just like the line of demarcation between journalism and advertising. “Native Advertising” is but another manifestation. We cannot tell any more what is truth and what is spin.

We have no trust we can subscribe to. For travel brands that translates into those who can afford it, will spend large. Those who cannot will be marginalized.

The real truth in all of this is that we made a pact with the devil. We traded “access to information for free” to “free access to our information”.

NB: Halo laptop image via Shutterstock.

Original author: Timothy O’Neil-Dunne