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The internet is mostly bullshit
Good luck, everyone!
Let’s do an exercise.
Think about something you’re an expert in. You know this thing inside and out. Now google it and search Twitter and Reddit and read people’s takes about it, particularly the ones that speak very authortatively about it - and lose a little faith in humanity in the process.
Now, extrapolate this to all the times you sought out information for something you aren’t an expert in. And think of all the times you believed someone’s take about it, because they spoke very authortatively about it. If you’re like me, you will come to the following realization:
This happens to me when I look up information on one of the very few things I think I’m probably an expert on - my own life. But, if I google myself, the first link that comes up shows me that I’m apparently a multi-millionaire (my actual net worth is under a million) alongside a picture of the dogecoin co-founder Jackson Palmer (not me).
These false narratives stick, and it’s annoying. It’s understandable why - we don’t actually have the bandwidth to fact check every single thing, it’s several times easier to spread misinformation than do actual research, and fact checking is pretty difficult since you’re just fact checking against other possible misinformation - but people have realized this and use it to their advantage, to manipulate your mind and further their agenda!
…Or are just good at SEO and don’t care about anything but the clicks. And I’m helping the SEO by linking to it in this article.
In the extremely near future, we’re going to have to deal with all the junk that comes from AI technology improving. Deepfakes are getting better and better, so we can’t always trust what we see and hear, and a lot of internet content will be written by AI. This AI gets trained by all the misinformation already on the internet, so a perfect storm of authortative sounding garbage is on its way.
So what do we do about this? I have three pieces of advice, because adding numbered bullet points make me look smart and organized:
1. Be diligent, but don’t automatically assume bad intentions
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
We all spread misinformation. Generally, we don’t do it because we want to inflict damage on society or some other grand conspiracy, we just rehash something a friend said, who read it in some reddit comment, or whatever, and didn’t do a ton of vetting and research through all the garbage on the internet to ensure the 100% accuracy of whatever we said. But it’s good to do some self-checking every once in awhile, and to try not to speak with authority on stuff we don’t really know. Which is hard, I know.
Now, a lot of time the origins of the information can be traced back to some propaganda outlet, or talking points from politicians trying to get re-elected, or whatever. Most things come down to money, in the end, because it’s the literal basis for our society. But you don’t need to jump to some grand conspiracies right away. Everyone’s just trying to navigate this garbage heap too.
2. Don’t take information at face value
Everyone has an agenda.
Always consider the context of a statement. If a politician makes a tweet, it’s probably gonna be some simplistic talking point that paints them as the hero and some boogeyman as a villian because that’s the lowest common denominator way to influence people who are easily influenced.
People mostly change their narratives to what they believe benefits them the most. In the cryptocurrency space, for example, people tend to be more optimistic when they are heavily invested in the arbitrary hash strings, and more pessimistic right after they sell, as they want to justify their decisions and not feel the terrible regret and pain of missing out on a lot of money. Which is understandable, but it does lead to some very dull takes!
And most everyone on social media is seeking money, happy brain chemicals, validation, entertainment, clout - I mean, why else be on social media - which of course comes at the expense of well-vetted, well-researched information. Because that takes way too much effort for way too little reward.
3. Have a sense of humor about it all
Life is too short to get mad about things we can’t control, and we certainly aren’t going to fix a massive, complicated problem like “internet misinformation” perfectly. Platforms have tried and it just leads to faux authority, narrative control, power struggles… All the regular ol’ human stuff. Everyone becomes a little bit like Dwight when they have the power to shape the narrative, intentional or not.
But we can always choose how we react to things, and I choose to find it all at least a little bit amusing. It’s much more tolerable that way!