Alistair Cunningham: Silence the internet noise

The internet is a powerful tool but it is also becoming harder to filter. The ability to publish a huge volume of content means prolific bloggers might, on occasion, hit the nail on the head just by throwing enough mud. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Financial conspiracy blog Zerohedge, for example, showcases many pseudonymous bloggers predicting market apocalypse. I do not pretend to understand their unfathomable analysis, often regurgitated from other sources, but their daily prophecies have occasionally coincided with bona fide downturns. These isolated incidents are heralded as predictions; those timed wrongly, forgotten.

It helps if you care an awful lot too. The intention of Women Against State Pension Inequality may have been to promote sensible discussion about poor communication from the Government and to encourage support for a narrow tranche of individuals who were particularly harshly treated. However, the furore whipped up on social media, blogs and certain mainstream papers has mutated its apparent aim to the rolling back of legislation over two decades old that would see women have an age 60 state pension age.

This is clearly an unfair target. But more concerning is the venom that has been directed at those expressing a view in opposition to Waspi supporters. What these particular Waspi supporters lack in knowledge they more than compensate for in misdirected, aggressive, most likely anonymous, energy.

Often we see a limited filter on quality. Search engines are generally getting smarter but websites that throw money at buying Google’s key terms will see more traffic than more relevant sites. Try searching for “take my pension early”, for example.

The trend continues to sites marketed to advisers targeting new clients, such as Unbiased and VouchedFor. These offer promotions to paid users and may use metrics that do not necessarily result in consumers accessing the best (or sometimes even appropriate) advice.

Negativity is more popular than positivity, or even realism. I attribute the popularity of Robert Peston to be less about his peculiar style of waspish, rambling speech and more about his glass half-empty reporting. Paul Lewis also never fails to draw crowds: his bashing advisers or ill-founded assassination of non-cash assets are the most commented upon.

The rise of the “guru” is another curious phenomenon exacerbated by the internet. It is my general observation those who call themselves gurus are the most poorly placed to give advice. Social media gurus often have few followers beyond automated “followbacks” and spout a monotonous “buy my stuff” message. Meanwhile, content pushed by business consultants in the advisory world is almost universally bland and frequently of little value.

Automation is a terrible bore too. The best stuff written or spoken tends to gain a life of its own and becomes self-promoting. However, many curators of new, but dull, content find the need to publish and republish the same message on their site, on other sites and then using Twitter to promote again.

The unfortunate side-effect of the web’s accessibility and ease of publication is that it has become a great place for those more vocal than they are equipped in other areas. To be heard and to be popular, it is often more useful to be noisy than to be informed.

Alistair Cunningham is financial planning director at Wingate Financial Planning