This is not as simple as distrust.
Digital platforms and ubiquitous access to these spaces have ushered in a new public mindset that ends in a refusal to accept any mainstream or official account of the world. This also includes being instinctively suspicious of anyone claiming to describe reality in a fair and objective fashion.
This mindset begins with a legitimate curiosity about a story or topic.
There is no real way to validate fake from real anymore. What we previously would identify as “reliable” news outlets pick up bullshit stories and run with them. This is all amplified by social media accounts that amplify these stories. Friends in echo chambers share the same BS across social media and speak to each other about “I saw it on (insert social media account here).”
Most people do not realize or care that a majority of the misinformation is coming from fake accounts, troll accounts, and straight-up bots designed to spread crap. The intent is to spread this misinformation, but more importantly, crowd out other “truths” and flood other misinformation posts to give them ‘likes’.
People put way too much weight on something as useless as a “like”. They treat everything with such a juvenile way of thinking that if something has a ton of likes it couldn’t possibly be wrong.
The masses always have an inability to discern the truth. We can all probably locate ourselves somewhere on this spectrum. Somewhere between the curiosity of the engaged citizen and the corrosive cynicism of the climate denier. Someone that definitely believes aliens exist on other planets and the person that believes the world is flat.
Once doubt descends on public life, people become increasingly dependent on their own experiences and their own beliefs about how the world really works. Facts no longer seem to matter as individuals are increasingly suspicious of the “official” stories they are told and expect to witness things for themselves.
Once we do find a new truth that matches our experiences, we’re taught quickly by others in this new group that our collective truth is the new, real version. Our truth is real and all others are lies. If we read or write certain things, we’re part of this new group. To stay in this group we need to wear certain shirts, put specific bumper stickers on our cars. People are also quickly taught that we do not question this new truth. The questions, curiosity, and mindset that brought us here should now be abandoned.
This inability or lack of desire to employ critical thought is not novel to the Internet. The vast majority of human beings have very little ability for abstract critical thought, the Internet just makes it more easily visible.
As an individual reads, shares, or likes a post online, they give very little thought to how destructive this may be. They indicate that anyone is free to read and write whatever they choose. They have the freedom to think and make choices as they see fit.
They might just be doing it for the lulz.
The question is whether this mentality is doing us any good, either individually or collectively.
Blaming social media or the Internet for what people choose to say is not looking at the root of the problem. It’s like blaming soapboxes for the people standing on them.
In my opinion, this is one of the biggest threats to humanity. With fewer and fewer people getting educated, these mass misinformation and disinformation campaigns easily influence a growing population.
Education is no longer important for individual success, education is critical for the success of society and humanity as a whole.
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash
This is an intriguing piece Ian. Personally, I am reminded of my own education, and Stanley Fish’s idea of interpretative communities. Although we may use the same words, the meaning is something different.
Thanks a ton, Aaron. Been thinking about this for some time. I’ll reflect on what you’ve shared.
I hope all is well with you and those around you.