A danger of the Internet
Nov 25, 2010

A danger of the Internet

A very curious phenomenon exists that has been made increasingly possible by the Internet. If you have an opinion - no matter how crazy - you can go on the Internet and find someone who agrees with that opinion. Not just agrees with it but supports it in very articulate ways with lots of evidence and facts beyond what you yourself know. Particularity with political opinions, one can read twenty blogs a day espousing the same opinion as you on whatever issue. To the extreme, if one believes in a conspiracy theory like the 9/11 truther movement,  there is an enormous body of support for this on the Internet and the actual veracity is irrelevant of this.

The result is you can now easily and convincingly reassert any opinion you have and have it continually reinforced. The examples of conspiracy theories perhaps detract from this message because the emphasis is that this happens to nearly everybody including myself. Our consumption on the internet is filtered by the sites we view and if, as is quite reasonable, we dominate this with sites whose opinions agree with ours we fall into this trap of reinforcing artificially a specific set of perspectives. This makes telling the difference between a rational opinion and a reinforced opinion very difficult.
The solution is multifaceted. Firstly, we need to be conscious of this effect and reevaluate constantly. Secondly, we need to actively seek out and consume a wide variety of dissenting opinions to balance our intake. I don't suggest just listening to Limbaugh, the bias is too easy in cases like this to identify and take the opposing view, but to find people and perspectives that genuinely challenge your current opinions and force you to think deeply about them. If your opinions can stand that test, than they are far more likely to be worthwhile.

This idea expands on my previous post about the bias we introduce into the media we consume. In that post I talked about how when we consume a lot of the whitewashed mainstream news media that is so devoid of strong opinions outside of acceptance of the status quo that it lets us easily place our own innate bias over top of whatever we consume. This post identifies in some sense the opposite end in that it considers what happens when we focus on a strongly stated opinion and let our bias affect our choice of the media we consume that espouses these strong opinions. The solution to the problem described in my earlier post is not just to consume more indepth, analytic and opinionated media than the banality of the mainstream, one also has to consume a wide variety of sources that continually challenge us instead merely media that echos our own current opinions.

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