How to read things on the internet

Imagine Bob, a blogger-cum-journalist who primarily writes stories about how bad Japanese cars are. Ostensibly his site says that he writes about "thinking critically about the automotive industry" or "honest car talk" or something, but all his best stuff is about how bad Japanese cars are compared to the rest of the world.

He writes most positively about US-manufactured cars and is neutral towards European manufacturers.

Any time there is a news story about a Toyota or Honda malfunctioning or being unreliable, he writes about it. He makes much hay out of any story where the details are unclear or aren't fully known yet. If clarifying details arise later, he never updates his old posts.

He spent years writing about unintended acceleration issues in Toyota Camrys in the mid-2000s. Whenever any negative detail popped up, no matter what the source, he would be there with another somber post.

In retrospect, only about 10% of those posts were actually meaningfully accurate, but it doesn't matter – the fact that the unintended accelerations were eventually shown to be caused by defects has been used to shield himself from accusations of being a conspiracy theorist ever since.

When he started out, he mostly implied that Japanese cars sucked due to manufacturer incompetence, but after so many years cataloging malfunctions he feels he has no choice but to assume malicious intent. By the end of the decade, most of his posts about Camrys were more rants than journalism – in his eyes, anyone buying a Toyota was a dupe who deserved the fiery death they had coming.

You could call Bob a "Toyota detractor". He has great motivation to say negative things about Japanese auto makers (that's what his readers expect), and no motivation to say anything positive.

Should you read Bob's posts?

No. If you're an outsider hoping for a holistic perspective on what car to buy, you won't get it from Bob. He will recommend a few Ford or Chevy vehicles that might be worth looking into, but you will never get an intellectually honest comparison of the cars on the market today.

Even if you're an industry expert commanding a broad view of the benefits and downsides of various vehicles, Bob's posts aren't worth reading. His regular readers never hold him accountable when he shares bad information, and it's not worth your time to try to sort out the truth from the fanfic.

The other side

Imagine Alice, a writer working at a Toyota dealership. She's worked there for over ten years. A few years ago she started blogging about her experiences and has built up a sizable following.

She writes on her own time and isn't paid by Toyota, but she almost never says anything negative about the company. She wrote very little about the unintended acceleration issues, though she was quick to let her readers know about the weather mat recall when the NHTSA investigation determined that the cause was weather mats getting stuck under the gas pedal.

You could call Alice a "Toyota booster."

Should you read Alice's posts?

Probably not. Even though she's less likely to be lying than Bob, if there are any serious issues that make Toyota look bad relative to other car manufacturers, she is unlikely to share them.

Even though everything she writes is factual, she meticulously leaves out any context that would give readers the ability to use those facts to make an educated comparison between Toyotas and other cars.

Alice's posts don't give you any appreciable advantage when it comes to making your next car purchase.

So who should you read?

If you filter all the detractors and boosters out of your feed, and learn to close the browser tab as soon as you realize you're reading one of them, you're ahead of the game.

There is good analysis to be found, but don't stress out about finding it. If you're diligent in avoiding bad sources, but you have some friends who care about the full truth and distrust anyone taking a "side" for or against Toyota, you may eventually get to read about what actually happened to those Toyota Camrys. Oftentimes the most truthful answer is "well, it's complicated."