Fiction in Facts
– Ali Muqtadir
As a country relatively new to widespread use of the internet, we forget that not everything we see on the internet has even a remote connection to reality. Whether it’s made up statistics advertising the latest health fad or ‘scientific’ articles from blogs, facts are rarely called into question. How can this beautifully made pie chart be wrong? Why would I question the advice of the man from the internet if he tells me he’s qualified?
Our willingness to accept facts without question, to take what we are being told at face value, is not because we don’t care about the truth but because it is simply easier not to care. So why does it
matter that some blog or some Facebook ‘celebrity’ posts erroneous content? It matters because misinformation is dangerous now more than ever with speed at which information spreads on the web. It is akin to a contagious disease that gets stronger with the more it infects, the more people that into contact with it and spread it to others the perceived validity of the misinformation is reinforced even further. The spread continues until it becomes a deeply rooted belief, near impossible to counteract. So what? I hear you say. How does this affect me? Well even if you do don’t subscribe to fibbers on the internet, odds are that you know someone does. It’s not just health tips and conspiracy theories but opinions that shape the perceptions of those who listen to them, ideas that influence behavior. You might not even notice it, the way you think about a certain group of people, the way you feel about certain issues. The change might not be blatantly obvious, it might be subtle, ideas fermenting in your subconscious slowly changing the way you are.
We seek those whose ideas are similar to our own and in this pursuit we insulate ourselves from all contrary opinions making our ideas even more polarized that they were in the first place. This effect is magnified on the internet. By surrounding our virtual presence with those who have similar beliefs and ideas and following them unquestioningly, we expose ourselves to the danger of being manipulated. Individuals having ideas on the extreme ends of the spectrum are popular for this very reason, yes and no, good and bad, there is no middle ground, no voice of sanity hinting at a third option, complicated truths distilled down to binary choices.
Misogyny and racism to jingoism and xenophobia,accompanied by the death of rational thought may all stem from blind faith in the ideas of others. Resisting superficial persuasion and adopting an interrogatory approachmay very well be the first step in reaching the truth.
Critical thinking is not a God given talent. It’s a skill that has to be learned and refined, needing patience and a willingness to learn. Asking questions, more importantly asking the right questions is the path to enlightenment.