When the Internet first started to become a fixture in our society, it was believed by many that this was the dawn of a new age of a more informed populace. After all, we would all soon have a computer in nearly every home connected to an unlimited resource filled with the answers to any questions we might have about history, the world or what’s going on right around us.
Except, that’s not really what happened.
What’s actually ended up happening is the Internet gave rise to social media and together they’ve spawned an unstoppable tsunami of misinformation, lies and conspiracies that have infected nearly every facet of our news and information – especially when it comes to politics and government. In turn, that’s resulted in our politics and government getting seemingly worse with each passing year.
Not to say that information at our fingertips hasn’t had a lot of great benefits (it most certainly has), but a lot of those benefits have come at a cost.
So, I thought I’d list a few of the ways the Internet and social media has done this.
1. Crazy and unqualified people now appear legitimate: Nowadays, if you can build a website and write somewhat coherently, you can find yourself as a “source of information” for thousands – if not millions. It doesn’t matter how unhinged someone might be, or how unqualified they are to actually discuss complicated topics; if they know how to write, build a website and pander to the right audience – they can make themselves appear to be a “legitimate news source.”
2. Conspiracy theorists are thriving: If there’s one thing that sells best on the Internet and social media, it’s fear, or a “shocking” story. And in the world of “fear and shock,” no one does it better than conspiracy theorists. If you want to see how easy (and ridiculous) it is to become a conspiracy theorist, check out John Oliver’s hilarious takedown of those who live their lives convincing people that 2+2=4 because that’s what “they” want you to believe.
3. Memes: While we all share them, the vast majority of memes I come across are woefully inaccurate. Some are very good, but most do nothing except spread completely inaccurate information to tens of thousands of people who often never fact check what’s on the meme – they just share it if they agree with what’s on it. Memes are, by far, the biggest driver of misinformation on the Internet.
4. Comments sections have created tribal mentalities: We’ve all left comments on an article before. But one thing I’ve noticed is that leaving comments seems to give people some sort of emotional attachment to a position – much more so than in the past. It’s almost as if in these comment battles we see on every single article a “tribal mentality” is formed where people feel as if they’ve become a part of an “us vs. them” online battle where rational discourse goes out the window and debates become nothing more than vile, hateful back and forth arguments. That world has become such a big part of so many people’s lives, they’re now taking that sort of behavior into real life society and it’s making our political disagreements much more hostile and unproductive.
5. Fake outrage: I loathe fake outrage. You know, the “massive story everyone is talking about and outraged over” – that vanishes into oblivion in less than 2 weeks (if even that long), never to be seen or heard from again. It’s the “trending hashtag” about a comment someone said in a random forum that no one really cares about, but because it’s online and they want to be a part of something, they pretend to care. For example, remember when Chick-fil-A was the most bigoted and hateful business on the planet that should be boycotted by everyone? Funny, the business seems to be thriving and almost every pro-LBGT liberal I know of still eats there.
6. Confirmation bias has become a mainstay: Now more than ever, people don’t seek out facts or the truth – they just wrap themselves up in sources of information that tell them what they want to hear, while vilifying and attacking any sources that don’t. I can’t count how many times people have told me they’re never reading anything I write ever again because I dared to have an opinion or state a fact that didn’t go along with what they agreed with.
7. It’s harder than ever to really tell what’s true or not: While Google is an amazing tool, there’s so much misinformation out there that it’s really difficult to tell what’s factual and what just appears to be factual. Even as someone who follows politics, I often have to spend a good deal of time tracking down original sources, full videos or entire speech transcripts to make sure that the “shocking statement from (fill in the blank)” wasn’t taken completely out of context.
8. It’s made political correctness spin completely out of control: Look, I know that to many liberals, being “PC” is a very big deal. And in many instances I fully agree with being more sensitive to what we say because we’re living in a society where bigotry and ignorance are becoming less and less acceptable. That being said, it’s getting to a point where you can’t say anything without it offending someone. It seems like every day I come across another story where people (usually college students) are making a massive fuss over something completely absurd. Such as this gem where some students threw a fit because a school served Mexican food on “intergalactic night.” Why were some “outraged” by this? Because they felt it was a subtle slap in the face to undocumented immigrants who are sometimes referred to as “illegal aliens.” No – I’m not kidding.
9. Most people only read headlines: Once upon a time, people used to pick up the newspaper and actually read an article. Now, I would say about 80 percent of the people who see an article (even those who comment on it) don’t read anything more than the headline. It’s an easy way for people to believe something that’s not actually true if a headline is blatantly misleading or flat-out inaccurate.
10. It’s killed any hope of an effective and functioning government: Because fear, hate, anger and sensationalism sell best, the word “compromise” has become a very… very dirty word. If a bill is passed where “our side” got 80 percent of what we wanted, there will be hundreds of articles from “left-wing purists” whining and complaining (working people up into a frenzy) about that 20 percent we failed to get. This often leads to movements that keep pushing politicians further and further to the left or to the right, making it nearly impossible to have a government that stands any chance at actually functioning.