I was browsing through some of the sources I used for this column recently, and one from the past (September 19, 2016) piqued my interest again, “I Used to Be Human” by Andrew Sullivan. It was a critique of the social consequences of the internet, you guessed it, but it was the subtitle that really piqued my interest: “The endless bombardment of news, rumors, and photos has made us information-obsessed. It broke me. It might break you too.” He supports his claims that range from the spread of misinformation to the mechanisms he uses that will lead to addiction. If your search engine can find the article, I highly recommend reading it if it’s just the line, “If the internet kills you, I’m kidding, I’ll be the first to find out.”
My initial reaction was – if this was true more than five years ago, is it better now or worse? Well, to stop chasing, some things are better and some are worse.
Pros and Cons
On the plus side, the Internet has a large number of videos from showing how to fix a washing machine to dealing with your computer (for the most part). It’s an easy way to keep in touch with friends, make travel plans, arrange your photos, shop, and pack the rest. One can subscribe to receive current news on The Washington Post, New York Times, Wikipedia, and The Wall Street Journal to check out or explore the source material for their column. Just saying ‘.
On the negative side, there are also sites that can cause harm to the user and thus harm to the community. For example, consider really sinister sites like the teen-oriented How To Suicide site that can easily be spread across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Additionally, TikTok has an app that recommends teens take drastic measures to lose weight with a 300-calorie-a-day diet to take laxatives after overeating and if they find they can’t stick to the dumb and austere diet, or other resort to Teens to slander them, “You realize giving up after a week. It’s not going to take you anywhere, right?…You’re disgusting, it’s really embarrassing.”
To be fair, TikTok said it will adjust its recommendation algorithms to avoid showing users too much of the same content, “as part of a broad reassessment of social media platforms and the potential harm they are causing to younger users.”
To test this, I tried typing “how to commit suicide” into a Google search and it got 322 million hits and the first page looked like this”
Help is available
Talk to someone today
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Business hours: 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish. learn more
Intercepting and redirecting queries like this is best handled through the operating system or browser rather than TikTok itself.
rumor of danger
The internet is exceptionally good at spreading most baseless rumours. Like the “Pizzagate” case which featured the outrageous allegations that Hillary Clinton was using a pizza shop to deceive unsuspecting children who were to be sold to sex traffickers.
Pizzagate was so instrumental in convincing one man that pedophile Democrats were abusing children in the basement of a Washington pizzeria, and in 2016, he showed up with an AR-15 to “rescue” non-existent children. He was sentenced to four years in prison for the three shots he fired at The restaurant. Pizzagate was a cautionary tale, showing how online conspiracy theories about sex trafficked children can lead to real violence. But this did nothing to prevent the further spread of made-up stories.”
For a more comprehensive analysis, search for:
“Pizzagate: From rumors to hashtags to the 2016 DC shooting” washingtonpost.com
For another horrifying example of the internet amplifying rumors and presenting them as facts, search for the “Wayfair Washington Post hoax” where a strange combination of circumstances and a tendency to believe conspiracy theories turned a harmless two-day escape by a teen into the last packet of trafficking misinformation sex, which hurts many people along the way. The article is too long to describe all the chaos it caused, not least the reassignment of the police and social services personnel from real jobs to work on this imaginary job.
A less lethal but significant example is from the December 13, 2021 article in the New York Times,
Now in your inbox: Political disinformation.
At least eight Republican lawmakers have sent fundraising emails containing blatant distortion of a potential settlement with separated immigrants during the Trump administration. One of them, Senator John F. Kennedy, R-Louisiana, erroneously claimed that President Biden was “giving every illegal immigrant into our country $450,000.”
The allegations are based on news that the Justice Department was negotiating payments to settle lawsuits on behalf of immigrant families who were dismissed by the Trump administration, some of whom have not been reunited. But the payments, which are not final and could end up getting smaller, will be limited to this small portion of immigrants.”
This is a good example of a hit by an omission. What the Inbox article omitted was an explanation of why it is a cheaper and more effective way to control the current influx of immigrants into this country. It may cost you more money to continue to enforce the “illegal immigrant” problem we already face. But, again, we are dealing with politicians, and as the old saying goes, “The best way to tell if a politician is lying is if his lips move.”
Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) articulates in his book The Aims of Education a view I have always thought given: with them.’ I still think it applies to many things today like elevators, air conditioners, and cars, but it seems to me that this viewpoint It is not quite right about the Internet.Besides the many conveniences it provides, there are unexpected problems that can only be solved by thinking about them.
Dr. Stuart A. Denenberg is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Plattsburgh State, recently retiring after 30 years there. Prior to that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer, and consultant for the US Navy and private industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com, where there are additional texts and links. You can also contact him at email@example.com.
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