This essay was written by me, Brandon Nolet, in the context that you shouldn’t believe in ideological superiority.
In today’s news cycle it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When you have sources telling you “trust me, trust me!” the problem intensifies. Humans have a limit as to the effort and capacity that one can dedicate to storing information, and this is doubly true when it comes to the news. With the world’s ‘knowledgebase’ being updated in real-time, you can find yourself even further down the rabbit hole.
News today usually is lead by some inflammatory headline meant to either enrage you or confirm your bias. There’s a tendency of the general public to only read headlines, the result is a mass of people within a given region (however large you want to define that reason is up to you) who’re at each other’s throats throwing around jargon and spreading information about topics they know very little about.
In the times before the internet, this may have been quelled in a few weeks or so until the next local scandal happened but in today’s climate, that’s not even close to the case. If you look to Twitter, you’ll probably see at least five different trending news stories, all with some sort of controversy.
Compound this problem with the real-time news cycle and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. You don’t have time to “recover” since the last time you got into a debate about a recent news event. That part doesn’t only exist on Facebook or YouTube. That’s something that pours into real life.
With tension high, it’s easy to see why people become overwhelmed or complacent. It’s easy to see why people ignore the smaller, finer, details. It doesn’t mean they should, but it’s the result of a political climate that divides people, trying to fit them in a single box.
With these factors, you can see why people are so quick to share information that confirms their biases. A lot of people end up identifying so strongly with a single identity (something like being a skateboarder or being a parent) and any information that in the slightest contradicts your worldview is erroneously dubbed fake news or is allegedly flat-out wrong because that’s the emotional side of someone speaking. If you identify strong with something, oftentimes an attack on that thing is perceived as an attack on you.
So those pieces of information get ignored. You don’t go looking for more information. You don’t go looking for the other side’s opinion. You don’t go looking for the whole picture. Most would rather live in their own echo chamber and feel superior getting pats on the back from friends than solidify an opinion further by critically evaluating opposing or opposite viewpoints.
So then when someone comes to you and presents factual information that stands contrary to what you believe, you debate with them. Many will debate until they’re blue that their opinion is correct. This is all the while headline reading or not staying on top of a given issue/topic. Then when something is definitively proven wrong, conveniently just a case of “well I don’t really know that much about this topic so I’m not surprised that I’m wrong.”
But not only are tensions already high, you also have the real-time news cycle leading to people getting conflicting information. Between one person getting their news from one site and another from another site, you can have wildly different stories depending on a bouquet of reasons. Sometimes a story is still under development, sometimes one news outlet will get a certain witness and the other will get another.
Then those who are less willing to get the full picture end up taking only what is served to them through social media, either posted by their friends or through some sort of ad. They take this minimal amount of information and continue to debate. They debate with the whole picture and either get called out for being uninformed or the other person is much less informed and think that the debater is actually knowledgeable in the topic.
Realistically both would be better off not knowing anything.
I know just enough to be dangerous. - Unknown
Up until now there’s been little to no malice. We can see that people are acting honestly and that the problem is a lack of proper perception or a lack of information. Yes it’s up to ‘the people’ to be informed before debating, but apparently being scholarly is for ‘losers’.
What if you present all these flaws in our system to a foreign actor. What if that actor is a bad actor? We’re not talking about Hollywood, we’re talking about any foreign or domestic individual with an axe to grind. Take the fact that you know someone’s not going to go very far, if at all, to verify the information that you present to them. Someone with enough malice can find a way to benefit from that.
With a concerted effort you could get a group of individuals in a given area to believe a story from a fake news site that popped up yesterday. The website doesn’t need to have much content on it to appear real to the random headline consumer. Doesn’t even need that much for someone clicking in from Facebook to consume the whole article, post it on their own timeline, and share their own opinion with it. Then the next person sees that, sees a friend of theirs read and commented on the story and then the website is “trusted” by more and more people. They trust until the rug is pulled out from under them and then suddenly “everyone” was already suspicious…but shared it anyway.
I know just enough to be dangerous.
It’s enough that bad actors are sharing disinformation and purposely fake news. It’s enough that some people don’t know that The Onion is satire and believe the stuff written there. Don’t spread information about a topic you haven’t explored before. It’s better to keep silent on an issue you’re uninformed on than to spread information you don’t know is true.
Trust me, I know how tempting it can be to get your two cents in. However, you putting your incorrect two cents might actually hurt a cause you’re trying to support.