Tag Archives: digital age

Why We’ll Never (Fully) Get Rid Of Misinformation

How Private Information Helps Fake News Hoodwink the Public

Being informed is important. In some cases, it is literally a matter of life and death. That’s a big reason why I’ve made multiple posts urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It could literally save your life. It’s also free, by the way. How many other things that could save your life are also free?

Seriously, people, get vaccinated. I’ll belabor that as much as I have to.

However, this isn’t only about vaccines or the idiots who refuse to get them. It’s about the “information” that these people are using to justify their choices. I put “information” in quotes because calling some of this stuff information is a poor use of the term.

Information, by definition, is supposed to inform. It’s supposed to make you more aware and educated about the world around you. Lies, propaganda, and misinformation do none of that. That sort of thing makes you dumber, more vulnerable, and more easy to manipulate by those willing to do so.

It happens in politics, religion, pop culture, business, and even shady marketing schemes. Much of these endeavors don’t have facts, truth, or verifiable information on their side. As a result, they require that people buy into whatever misinformation they feed them. It’s dishonest, disgraceful, and should be condemned to the utmost.

The problem is that people still buy into it.

Moreover, some people actively seek for this kind of information.

This is something I think many people have experience with, either directly or indirectly. I also suspect it has become a lot more relevant lately, given the rise of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theories. This sort of mentality was always present. The problem is that the internet and social media have made it disturbingly easy to spread.

Now, it’s easy and tempting to blame big tech companies for this phenomenon. Make no mistake. Big tech companies are certainly at fault to some degree. Many of these same companies also have done some incredibly shady things, to say the least.

However, I’m still of the opinion that, no matter how disreputable big tech companies can be, it still ultimately falls on the users to control what information they seek. Whether it’s Google, Facebook, or TikTok, these systems don’t operate in a vacuum. They simply respond to user input. We are, to some extent, responsible for the information we seek.

I’m certainly guilty of seeking out information that isn’t exactly reputable. There have been times, including a few very recent instances, where I find myself seeking information that turned out to be less than truthful. Even if it was for something as innocent as comic book news or NFL trade rumors, it’s still misinformation as best and outright lies at worst.

That may not do much harm if the information you’re seeking is only damaging to your Fantasy Football team, but if that information involved politics or your health, then that’s where the real damage can occur. I’ve already seen it manifest with friends who fell down some very dark internet rabbit holes. Some of that might have just been by accident, but I also don’t doubt it was intentional in some cases.

In recent years, I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to seek accurate, truthful information. I haven’t always succeeded, but I genuinely try to find true and accurate information, even if it’s something I don’t like. The fact it takes so much effort has me worried.

On top of that, it has led me to believe that it might not be possible to avoid misinformation. Even without the internet, it will find you. Propaganda and lies did exist before the digital age. It’ll likely always exist to some extent, so long as human brains are wired a certain way. Since we can’t change that anytime soon, despite the best efforts of Elon Musk, we’re likely stuck with misinformation.

This has me genuinely concerned because, even as some tech companies are making greater efforts to combat misinformation, it’s still relatively easy to find. On top of that, there are people out there working for nefarious organizations who are actively engaged in creating, spreading, and supplementing misinformation. Even if you shut them all down tomorrow, others will just spring up to replace them.

In some respects, it’s a lot like the war on drugs. You could arrest every single drug dealer in the world this morning, but by dusk a bunch of new dealers will emerge to take their place. Like it or not, there’s still a demand and there’s money, influence, and power to be gained.

Misinformation may not be the same as heroin or pot, but is subject to the same incentives. People actively seek it. Taking it in makes them feel special, important, and smarter than their neighbor. Today, it’s misinformation about vaccines, liberals, and gaming culture. Tomorrow, it might be about something else entirely.

It all comes back to how we’re wired. Our brains are not designed to seek truth or accurate information. They’re designed to keep us alive. Misinformation might be damaging in the long run, but it can make us feel better in the short-term, which is sadly more than enough incentive for some, even if it proves deadly in the long run.

I seriously wish I could end this on an uplifting note. I genuinely tried to find some way of putting a positive spin on this struggle. Unfortunately, the best I could come up with is to simply urge everyone to try harder to seek true and accurate information. If these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that bad information can cause a lot of harm.

We can never get rid of it, so long as our brains operate as they do.

We can and should still do our part. Truth and accuracy matters. You may not like it, but it may very well save your life in the long run.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants, technology

Remembering (And Celebrating) Your First Email Address

People of a certain age still remember what life was like before the internet. Trying to describe that age to someone under the age of 21 is like trying to describe a lost civilization. Some just can’t wrap their head around the idea that getting information involved using books, asking a professional, or just giving up entirely.

I consider myself lucky. I do remember the pre-internet days, but for the vast majority of my life, I’ve had access to it. I also came from a family that embraced it fairly early. I had access to a computer long before some of my friends. We didn’t entirely know what to do with it, but I loved exploring it and the digital world it offered.

It culminated, so to speak, when I finally got to make my first email account. That might not seem like a big deal now, but you have to understand that this was a time when few people had access to the internet, let alone an email address. We still called each other on the phone. I’ll give teenagers a moment to stop cringing.

That first email address was mostly a novelty for me. It was also kind of tedious to set up. It was an AOL address, back during an era when AOL ruled the internet. I didn’t know what I’d use it for. This was around 1997. The internet was still such a novelty. We didn’t realize at the time how revolutionary it would be.

Hindsight has revealed plenty, but I can still say with pride that I have that old email address. It’s still active. I still use it regularly. It’s not the center of my internet world anymore, but I kind of take comfort that I’m still using this email address that I set up before high school.

That’s not the case for most of the people I know. Aside from email that was set up exclusively for work, most say they don’t use that first email address they created. For some, it has long since been deactivated. I can’t say I blame them. Some of those early email addresses were clunky and hard to remember.

Those that still have their first email address, and regularly use it, tend to have a unique perspective on the internet. Even those younger than me treat it differently from all the other email addresses they have. Considering how some people have dozens, that’s quite a feat.

With that in mind, I’d like you to take a moment to recount your first internet experiences. It might just help you appreciate how far you’ve come in this digital world we’ve all come to know so well.

What was the first email address you ever created? What did you use it for?

Did you realize at the time why it was so important?

Do you still use that first email address?

How many email addresses do you have in total?

How many have you abandoned or closed?

How much does email impact your day-to-day life?

For young people, these questions may be a bit harder to answer. There’s an entire generation coming of age that has always lived in a world that has the internet. For them, having an internet connection is akin to having clothes. It’s a necessity to function in the current world.

For those in my age range or older, it’s easier to take a broader view of how the internet has impacted your life. They’re still difficult questions to answer, albeit in a unique way. We can remember what life was like without it. Whether you remember that period fondly or not is entirely personal, but there’s no denying the extent of the impact.

I encourage anyone reading this to appreciate this perspective. Take a moment, if you can, to think about that first email address you had and how it impacted your life. Regardless of your age, it helps you see just how far you’ve come and that’s worth celebrating.

Leave a comment

Filed under philosophy, Thought Experiment