Facts, apparently, are irrelevant in today’s world. And I blame the internet.
And 24-hour news channels on TV.
True, the internet can be a good thing. So can 24-hour news. I’m not sure 24-hour cartoon channels are a good thing, but I digress.
Thanks to the internet, the world has shrunk a lot. Want to meet and chat with someone around the world? No problem. You can even chat via a video link. I have been able to stay connected with families I once lived with.
Information is also readily available online. There are more sources than you could read in a lifetime on virtually any topic. You can get book summaries, movie synopsis, census data, maps, historic photos – the list goes on and on. I think students have it easier now than ever in researching topics for papers.
At the same time, mis-information is also readily available online. Age-old rumors that, without the internet, would have died long ago or never gotten past a couple of people making stuff up, can now live on, recycled in new e-mails that change dates or events to help the rumor maintain an odd relevancy that people seem insistent to spread. Thanks to “social” sites (yes, I used quotes around social for a reason), these rumors can gain a life of their own as more people forward it to friends, somehow believing in its authenticity but without taking a few moments to check it.
Facts? Eh, whatever.
It has become a bit of a joke, even used in humorous commercials, that “if you read it on the internet, it must be true.” The problem is those who don’t get the joke.
Anything – and I do mean anything – can be put on the internet. Photos can be faked. Dates changed. Sources invented.
But we have begun to encourage the development of a blind eye. And this, I think, is where things get dangerous.
Once upon a time, back in the halcyon days of rural America, back when you really did have to walk two miles to the nearest neighbor and another mile past that to school (uphill, of course), a person could be as crazy as they wanted to be. And, as long as they didn’t come to town too often or stayed too long, no one really seemed to mind. You knew who these people were and knew to keep your distance.
Now, thanks to the internet, people with odd, crazy or even dangerous ideas are no longer isolated, no matter how infrequently they come to town. In fact, they can reach out to the entire world. They may even find others who think the same way, which only reinforces their thinking.
These ideas could be harmless or even silly – rumors about an actress or athlete. Or they can be dangerous – conspiracy theories abound.
And it only takes one step to go from one rumor to another – turning a blind eye to the facts.
What it comes down to is any theory or idea or story I want to believe I can probably find something online to reinforce it. Man didn’t land on the moon? There’s a few hundred websites that support that thought. The actress from that TV show has a violent criminal history? Sure. Others think the same thing and have put it online.
The same goes for the 24-hour news channels. Each is catering to a specific demographic. It’s a business model, not honesty, that drives their reporting. Therefore, if I lean one direction or the other politically (or am standing firmly at the far edges), I will tune in to only the news source that will feed and satisfy what I perceive is right. The other news sources, therefore, are clearly wrong because they report things in opposition to my way of thinking.
Is there a cure? Yes, fortunately. A healthy dose of skepticism. Question what is reported, especially if it seems to support one side more than the other. There are sites and resources that work to counter rumors by checking facts. Listen to those who know the facts and have no reason to be biased in giving you the facts.
And really, don’t believe everything you read.
Except for that last sentence. Believe that. Trust me.