The Internet: The Web of BS ?
Column A: Trust, Authenticity, and accuracy
Column B: Other social media besides Facebook (Tumblr, Twitter)
Column C: “Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably ‘bullshit’”
The internet is a bubbling crockpot of Twitter activism, leaked pictures, YouTube cat videos, and endless additional bites of information. No matter how much time you spend online, it’s impossible to consume every bit of news. It is also a place where you can remain anonymous, where you can’t always tell the difference between political satire and destructive, hurtful racism, and where people threaten to kill someone they don’t even know over a single paparazzi picture.
Tumblr for example, can be something of a sacred place for many young people because it is a source of political news, debates regarding social issues, and keeps track of information that isn’t widely covered by the mainstream media. I hear many of my friends say “I’ve learned more on Tumblr than I have in four years of high school” all the time. However, I rarely hear anyone my age express the same sentiment about newspapers, TV news, or news magazines. However, one of the things those “official” outlets have over blogs/Twitter/Tumblr is that they are way more likely to have done at least a brief fact check in any of their publications. Someone, whether that might be the editor, the professional fact-checker, or the reporter, is responsible for using the correct information, and their job is consequently on the line if they keep printing things that aren’t factually true. On the other side of the spectrum however, nothing happens to someone who tweets a lie.
This isn’t to say that Tumblr can’t be an effective tool for conversation, but it’s important to keep in mind that words flow freely within this bubble (and others such as Twitter for example) and not everyone has the same standards when it comes to being factual. Nathaniel Barr’s article “Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably ‘bullshit’” for example, discusses this idea of what is reliable information, and what is in actuality, bullshit.
The “Age of Bullshit” as he calls it, fosters this culture of a shallow kind of information processing that does not question, or fact-check the endless mounts of inaccurate information that is produced daily. In addition, the article discusses how easy it is to manipulate a particular concept, or idea and ultimately change its intended message through the use of sharing. For example, posting something on social media (especially on Tumblr, thanks to the reblog function) is a way for the information you post to lose its intentional meaning. You post a picture, someone reblogs it, someone else reblogs that post, tags that might have helped contextualize the post are removed, source information is deleted, and suddenly that selfie that you posted is spread across the internet, recontextualized in a way that makes you deeply uncomfortable. Therefore, the more your work is reblogged, retweeted, and shared, the less chance it has to preserving its original meaning and intention.
Barr also discusses an issue surrounding “catchy clickbait and cyber snake-oil salesmen” and how this tactic further fuels this culture of misrepresentation, and lies because companies constantly chase more page views, likes, followers, and subscribers. Tons of big, supposedly reputable websites are guilty of baiting you into clicking some insane headline just to get a rise out of you (and additional traffic of course, which equals more profits for the publication).
The widespread belief is that we’re all more informed because of the internet, and that’s true. However, we cannot forget that we are also being fed a lot of shit on the regular, which means we need to rethink, and question the information we are viewing rather than blindly following and accepting like ghosts. This is especially important because it’s become easier than ever to broadcast your opinion online, even if its based on complete lies or misconstrued information. Every single item in every one of your feeds is designed to grab our attention- but on many sites, that’s where their job ends. It’s your job in such cases to do your own research and establish whether this is true, or inaccurate. Ask yourself: Where did this come from? Who wrote/made it? What’s their background? And like the article encourages; receive more education, especially about what constitutes a good argument and evidence, and freely engage in reflective critical thinking so you can avoid getting caught in the web of bullshit that is constantly expanding on the internet.