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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Internet idiocy: the latest pandemic

    To be ignorant has always been easy: Simply sit back in your recliner and watch Fox News.

    But to be genuinely misinformed has become exponentially easier with the rise of the Internet, as lies and half-truths gush forth through its twisted web of data-tubes.

    In the pre-Web age, publishing something which was patently false required a fair bit of money or, at the very least, access to some dumb schmuck who was willing to publish your ideas for you, and giving legitimacy to ill-conceived or outright moronic views required hours and hours of cherry-picking quotes and struggling to find sources that agreed with you.

    The electronic age has largely done away with this demand. Now, disseminating information requires money for bandwidth, hosting and little else other than time.

    As a kid, I specifically remember being told not to believe everything I read on the Internet. But humans have an odd reaction to claptrap: Most of us simply go along with whatever we hear as long as it comes from a seeming authority. Our world revolves around the Internet so much that even YouTube movies, blog posts and forum rants appear authoritative.

    As far as Internet bullshit goes, nothing beats “”Zeitgeist: The Movie.”” Released on Google Video, the film is broken up into three parts which claim, respectively, that Jesus was nothing more than a pagan god and all of Christianity is really based on astrology; that the 9/11 “”truth”” movement is correct; and that the Federal Reserve is the product of a cabal of international bankers whose ultimate goal is to rule over all humanity with an iron fist. This trio of bizarre theories is touted by a legion of Internet armchair experts, and it currently has a 4.5 rating on Google Video with more than 23,000 votes.

    None of these ideas are new; in particular, the 9/11 Truth Movement is itself a product of the Internet. But becoming familiar with, for example, the Jesus-myth hypothesis once required hours of poring through texts so poorly written that the falsity of their content was manifestly obvious. Watch the movie, though, and you’ll be so bombarded with cool sound bites, slick images and video clips and the assertive voice of a dogmatic narrator that you, too, might join the ranks of the movie’s supporters.

    Miscreants like creationists, white nationalists, Ron Paulogists and conspiracy theorists all depend on this air of legitimacy to convince others of their views. Witty sayings, fear tactics and a cool, assertive air all enable them to convince the unwitting public of their points.

    As yet another example, consider the Internet campaign which insists that “”Black Hussein Osama”” is really a Muslim operative who wants to bring down the United States from the inside out. They’ve cleverly mined quotes and images to make it appear as though Barack Obama disrespects our flag and, with it, our country.

    There is no shortage of information which refutes this viewpoint. But this type of conspiracy relies on two elements common to web surfers: First, they’re only willing to check facts at the most superficial level, which usually means they’ll read a message or watch a clip just once before forming an opinion and moving on. Second, the honest, savvy users are always drowned out by a sea of morons. Check the comments for YouTube videos of Obama “”disrespecting the flag,”” and you’ll see this in action.

    Miscreants like
    creationists, white nationalists, Ron
    Paulogists, and conspiracy theorists all depend on the Internet’s air of
    legitimacy to convince others of their views.
    To be fair, online databases of information drawn from legitimate print publications have made it much easier to check facts as the Internet has aged – for those of us who care to look. And at the very least, we can rest assured that Internet idiocy isn’t all that bad. Gullible fools provide endless entertainment for the rest of us, and campaigns of misinformation haven’t had overly hurtful externalities: Even Ron Paul’s legion of Internet supporters hasn’t catapulted him into winning any states.

    The best possible solution to the problem of Internet stupidity is probably the most complicated. We need to ensure that all levels of our society are trained to be at least twice as skeptical in cyberspace as they are in meatspace.

    Fortunately, as our generation slowly nears the top of the political food chain, solving Internet problems should become easier and easier as people born and raised on the ‘Net acquire critical roles in the legislative process. In the meantime, the best thing we can do is to be careful on our perilous trek through the information superhighway.

    Taylor Kessinger is a junior majoring in math, philosophy and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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