Not Everything We Read on the Internet Is True: The Age of Bullshit

Column A: Trust, Authenticity, and Accuracy

Column B: Facebook

Column C: “Most of the Information We Read Online is Quantifiably Bullshit”

Anyone with a Facebook profile is familiar with the classic articles “You Won’t Believe These Shocking Photos!” or “The Woman Crossed the Road….You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”. These tempestuous titles, however, almost always direct the curious to a page overwhelmed by advertisements or a disappointingly vague article.

Every time we click on one of these stories and are directed to a disappointing page, we feel defeated, as if we should have known better. Indeed, it’s like a journalistic Rickroll.

Our internet and even our fact-to-face interactions are saturated with these sorts of misleading, untrustworthy news, facts, and opinions.

In his article Most of the Information We Spread Online is Quantifiably Bullshit, Nathaniel Barr talks about the “Age of Bullshit” where misleading claims, clickbait, and mediums that limit word counts (Twitter) spread bullshit through capitalizing on “vagueness disguised as pith”.

Barr’s article explorers the more harmful aspects of bullshit on the internet. He discusses the meeting of bullshit and politics: a dangerous place where politicians who are (perhaps unfortunately) endowed with a truthful, accurate and authoritative voice, can utilize bullshit in the creation of their platform or to push their agenda. These days, politicians, and people with a basic understanding of Facebook or Twitter, can create hype and generate views, likes and dislikes through creating bullshit. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press. Of course, widespread misinformation is never a good thing. However, our increasing exposure to bullshit in our Facebook and social media world, may very well be important in creating a more critical, thoughtful new media world.

Whereas stories and information were once spread through ‘Serious News Corporations’ such as The New York Times and dedicated to objectivity and trusted by the public through their authoritative voice, now journalism is catering to the casual viewer, the facebooker. These new media journalistic sites are eager to gain views, likes and followers, through producing clickable, shareable stories that can oftentimes be seen as bullshit. Many lament this short form journalism, where going viral signifies a stories success. However, we can’t pretend journalism was better in every capacity back before the internet.

In the days where journalism institutions ruled the media, biased and bullshit stories made their way to the the front page (a recent example being the Rolling stone fiasco ). These stories are harder to challenge and easier to trust because they have the weight of Institutions supposedly dedicated to objectivity and accuracy behind them. However, in the new media age, the control these institutions once had to create and investigate stories is slipping away.

These days, many people get their news not directly from a newspaper but through social media sites like Facebook. Facebook serves an interesting forum for considering the spread of bullshit because so many people, from varying new media backgrounds, have a Facebook profile. Most of us are friends with our co-workers, actual friends, and a plethora of family members from parents to great aunts. Facebook is a site where many different people can share stories to a wide circle of friends with differing beliefs and bullshit detectors.

Obviously, bullshit stories are not just going to disappear, given how online profit is largely generated by advertisements. However, as our society becomes increasingly tied to the internet, we can begin to recognize or question vague articles and bullshit journalism. We can move from a place of trusting what we read because it comes from an esteemed institution and begin to question the accuracy of the articles we read. Using the greatest fact-checker — the internet — we are able to read comments and find sources that may contradict many of the bullshit articles that we scroll past daily. Through recognizing that many of the stories and articles we read may be bullshit we can begin to question the accuracy and authenticity of all that we read and become more critical online participants.

For the time being, our online experience is not perfect, but we, as the news-reading public, are still transitioning from the authoritative news source of the past to the current, immediate internet news. As we are increasingly exposed to bullshit online and specifically in social media like Facebook, we are reminded and forced to consider that just because its on the internet, does not means it’s true.

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