Warning: I have edited my “rantro-duction” after reading this hilarious but sad page. I named this entry “I’m with gullible before I read the page and now it’s even more sad/funny. Mostly sad though.
The internet makes me sad sometimes with the staggering amount of information, incorrect, inaccurate or just plain malicious. In addition, yes I think we’re “out there” too much but that’s a whole other rant. So is my feelings about bad grammar and missing words on “professional” blogs.
**** There is no malicious or cruel intent in my interest in this subject. If anything, I hope any readers would examine their daily information intake and decide decisively whether information is accurate or inaccurate. ****
Surfing the Internet
When I first had access to the internet in 1996, I used it for research in high school (namely researching RHPS). Then at 18, I spent a lot of time online reading, learning HTML and playing online “MUDs” (multiplayer real-time virtual world, usually text-based according to wikipedia.com). Later, I spent time online shopping, building my own websites and chatting with people from all over the US. In 1999, I started online journal-ing with LiveJournal.com and made friends. I then fell out of love with the internet for a long time and have mostly spent what time I do spend online with social media sites like Facebook.com and twitter.com as a way of staying connected to friends and family.
But then I started to notice people posting things that seemed really implausible to me. I started to see these implausible posts being “reposted” by friends and loved ones. I started seeing blogs and articles with words missing, bad grammar and slew of other errors that just did not seem befitting of professional writers and websites. I started to silently wonder if we were all just getting too lazy to proof read or fact check the information were were sharing with a potentially UNLIMITED audience.
I like the internet, don’t get me wrong. I like having information at the tips of my fingers instantly without long trips to the library. However, I now question the validity of the information that I’m accessing. What is “real”? What is accurate? What is written by actual professionals as opposed to any Tom, Dick and Harry who has a computer and can influence others for the positive or the negative?
A Whole Lotta “Wrong” Information
- Disinformation is intentionally disseminating incorrect or inaccurate information with the goal in mind of convincing someone of “untruth”. You would be familiar with this as it is used in propaganda.
- Misinformation is information or data that is incorrect but the intent is not malicious in nature.
We use the internet every day, most of us, in one way or another. We use it to view the weather forcast, look up sports scores, keep in touch with family and friends or use it for school and work, and so on. However, with individuals globally increasing their use of the internet and their own contributions to the “information super highway”, more information is being spread by inaccurately sharing information or purposely misleading readers by sharing information that is intentionally harmful or incendiary.
I’m sure everyone has received chain emails or emails sharing stories or “facts”. There are most certainly times when you read these emails and think “something seems odd about this” be it a quote that doesn’t sound historically accurate, a statistic that sounds like it cannot be true or a story that sounds so fantastical that it has to be impossible. I’ve read more of these emails than I even care to think about and have often times thought “can I verify this information” or “why are people sending me this crap”? I discovered Snopes.com and started to use it as a tool to research these emails, if they are valid or just complete bullshit. Often times, I found they were complete bullshit.
But then, social media came along and these “facts”, “figures” and “true stores” were no longer confined to my email where I could just click “Delete” and stop one more link of the chain. I started to these same “facts”, “figures” and “true stores” all over my FB time line, my Twitter time line and every other inch of the internet, just infesting the minds of people I know.
Reading an ABC.com article, this quote below really sums it up for me.
The question you have to ask is: If Internet information that should be accurate, such as a simple quote from a movie, is so often wrong, exactly what can you trust? You also have to wonder what happens if the information is a lie designed to manipulate readers.
I wonder often just how many blog posts, FB posts and other bits of information flotsom and jetsom I find online are written accurately, written inaccurately by mistake or written with the actual purpose of sharing lies with readers in order to manipulate them. We think the latter can’t and doesn’t happen because by nature, we want to believe that what we read is the truth but look at the above quote “… what happens if the information is a lie designed to manipulate readers.”
Think about photo hoaxes. We see them all the time and I would wager that most of the time, we don’t know that they’re even a hoax. They’re often difficult to detect with the naked eye, that’s for sure. These aren’t new, of course, but we not only see them often online but we share them with others and these are often prefaced with taglines about the photo that further spread incorrect or malicious information about the photo.
There is a good, simple one of a Teddy Bear in the clouds on Snopes.com. It apparently circulated by email in 2006 with the lines “God will even send us Teddy Bears …” as to suggest supernatural or Divine signs in the sky … of teddy bears. But upon inspection, it’s actually a film still from the movie Amelie (one of my faves). Here is the snopes.com article on this photo (with photo).
That’s kind of cute and harmless, right?
Another photo is of former US President, George Bush, holding a book upside down while presumably reading to kids. Funny! I was never a Bush fan myself so of course I would have wanted to believe it was true. But it’s not. The photo was manipulated, much like the people who believed it was real. Here is the snopes.com article on this photo (with photo).
Again, it seems harmless and potentially it may be insofar as no one is going to react in an unlawful or harmful way just from seeing a picture that paints someone out to be less intelligent, etc. But if you think about it to some extent, anything intended to misrepresent someone’s abilities or character is harmful. We can manipulate photos of famous people to appear naked, to appear to do something immoral or unlawful or make someone appear to be unreliable or stupid (to put it plainly). There could be legal repercussions for the person creating these images but once it’s “out there”, it can be distributed unregulated by a potentially large audience.
These photo hoaxes range from silly to nasty and though the accepted logic is that people don’t really believe these things, they’re “just for a laugh”, I seem to find people believing that God sends us cloud shaped teddy bears and forwarding it on. It doesn’t hurt anyone but when the photos turn to the political, when they claim to capture the failures of Presidents, the deaths of US soldiers and claim to expose evils in the world around us – we tend to look, to believe and to forward. People do get angry and worked up about emails and posts about people and incidents that they believe are real without considering these items may have been created with a misleading or malicious purpose against the subjects.
More Than Wrong Information
No these things are not new. We have had misinformation and disinformation in some form or fashion since the beginning of all media and probably the dawn of Human communication. But a time came when if something was unintentionally wrong in the news paper, they could print a retraction. A website might do that if their simple and unintentional error is caught. Now, we have social media and even an unintentional error can be “shared” across thousands or millions of users quickly, before anyone can retract the information. And just as quickly, anyone with a computer can spread lies or harmful information to users across the globe.
We think “but if someone does spread information that is blatantly not true, we will either figure it out or someone will tell us all and we’ll stop, right?” How many times have you seen that happen? People believe and pass along a lot of information daily that is wrong. Maybe not detrimentally wrong but still, wrong. Figures that are totally wrong are shared and become part of what we accept as fact and add to our knowledge of the World.
I am sure all of us have heard of incidents where statistics were reported partially, biased in some way or misreported by an outside source. When we hear that a statistical study was done on something, anything, we tend to want to believe that the science is sound and the numbers are accurate. However, we often later hear reports for one reason or another that the survey had flaws, etc and that perhaps the data is not correct. That’s a shame in itself but when we continue to report incorrect or incomplete data, it has a social effect and a psychological effect.
We could be hearing inaccurate data about other religions, other cultures or segments of our own communities that cause us to distrust or even dislike. We could receive data about products, services and companies that cause us to behave differently. And then, we “share”.
My Crappy Conclustion
This is a post I’m just whipping up because I honestly get concerned about the future effects of the things we come to think are true and whether we investigate or research their validity. We keep reading things on the internet and believing them and passing them on at lightening speed. This becomes part of what we accept as fact and add to what is our personal knowledge of the World and/or Society. We may make choices or decisions based on these either intentionally misleading pieces of information or information that’s just not very accurate. It could have small effects on our lives now like we no longer buy baby carrots because they think they’re treated with chlorine. We may develop unhealthy attitudes about other people and cultures because of maliciously disseminated information about them.
Yes, these things have always happened. Now they are happening faster and spreading faster. I wonder what it will be like in 10 years with facts being distorted daily and being shared a million times. To me, it becomes a daily glimpse into an Orwellian future where we are influenced by faceless propaganda, misinformation and disinformation and the manipulation of the past in varying degrees. I sound like a paranoid but really, I’m just seeing us all subjugate ourselves one bit at a time, believing crazy stuff and passing it on as truth and even limiting our own ability to express our selves.
But sticky caps and “text speak” are another topic completely. I would wonder where it was we stopped proof reading, fact checking and doing research and when we started parroting inaccurate information but it seems like it’s just been a slow and steady de-evolution. We take a giant technological leap forward only to sink slowly into a sand pit of … well, gullibility.