Technobabble: People wouldn’t just go on the Internet and lie, would they?
A while ago, I stated that the greatest achievement of the Internet is the dissemination of knowledge.
Today if you don’t know something you can just go online and look it up. There are communities like wikipedia, khan academy and several others to help you learn. And Google exists to make finding that information easier.
The second greatest achievement of the Internet is the ease in which a person can go on it and distribute their message. There are thousands of channels available to anyone that has something to say. Places such as Facebook and Twitter allow you to build up a large social network that will see your every post. There are blogging sites that allow you to create your own blog to talk about what you want. For a very small amount of money you can create your own website to display whatever content you want. A lot of people make a living distributing their message. Their following is so large that they can sell ad space on their blogs/websites and earn enough money to live.
There is an inherent problem with this, though. Everyone knows at least one person that makes stuff up in a way that it sounds authoritative so everyone else just believes them. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? Hopefully you’re not that person, don’t be that person, no one likes that person. Those people exist on the Internet, too. Because the barrier to distributing your message on the Internet is so low, a lot of people can and do. The problem is that a lot of these people will discuss topics that they’re interested in, but in no way are they an authority.
It can be rather difficult to spot them. A lot of the time they make something up that is a reasonable conclusion to come to. They will spout numbers and cite studies that don’t exist. These people aren’t limited to their own websites or blogs, they also post on forums and other communities. Because of this, arguing with people on the Internet becomes challenging and tiresome. I used to argue because I thought (and still do) misinformation out there is a bad thing. I rarely do anymore, though. It’s too much work to create an authoritative post that is hard to rebut. You have to cite credible sources with numbers to back up your statements. If you just correct someone for being wrong without a source they’ll just argue their point. Some people argue just to kill time, and because they’re jerks. Others will make stuff up to try to convert you to their point of view. Because the Internet offers them anonymity, many of these people are more bold than they would be in person.
The easier ones to spot are the ones that make you go “wow, I would not have thought that!” Almost everything on the web that sounds incredible is not true. Every chain email you get today (these were more common before Facebook) almost certainly contains a fiction. Those posts on Facebook about famous figures doing or saying something that seems to go against their character are almost entirely fiction. There exists a site, snopes.com, that actually investigates a lot of these chain emails and Facebook posts. So far snopes.com has stellar track record of getting to the truth of the matter. Many times they even find out how the fiction was started.
The positive side of this is that anyone can get their message out. The Internet has been a boon for free speech not just in the U.S., but around the world. People in countries all over are communicating and organizing via sites like Twitter to challenge despotic governments. I’ll gladly take the lying jerks if it means that we are making the world a more free place. Lets hope that the Internet remains as free as it is.
— JASON OGAARD was born in Bemidji and is a software engineer for FICO, a Minneapolis based public company providing analytics and decision-making services, including credit scoring credit bureaus.