The internet is a great place. It’s also, of course, awful.
Everyone talks about how the Internet has rewired our brains or made us lazier. Whatever. I worry more about the instant validation people can find for, quite literally, almost anything.
Elvis lives? Sure, there is a place you can congregate and talk about how you saw him in a Kroger in Texas buying chips.
Man didn’t land on the moon? Yeah, you can find a forum where you can tell everyone that your uncle’s buddy worked on the stage where it was all filmed.
Those are extreme examples, of course, but there are more worrisome examples of communities of people that go against widely accepted scientific or economic consensus. These communities of people can damage society and innocent people.
Before the internet, these groups had a tougher time getting a voice. Unless you lived in a community of likeminded people, it would be tough to feel validated.
Now validation is a click away.
Of course, there have been positives. For example, people who have diseases can easily connect with people who are also being treated. Even relatively rare diseases with only a few thousand diagnosed cases a year can have robust online communities that can provide support and informal information. It can take a relatively lonely aspect of coping and humanize it in ways that would be impossible before.
There’s obviously nothing we can do to stop an Elvis lives group from finding places to meet online. Obviously, the government and other international organizations try to take care of the unlawfully dangerous groups out there.
What can we do about the other groups?
I don’t have a good answer, but I’m trying to do my part.
For one, I want to look for truth rather than validation. I’ve built a network of people I trust and admire but I don’t have to agree with the, to earn their respect. In fact, some of the people I admire probably viscerally disagree on some really irritant issues. Validation from both parties is impossible. I must find my own truth.
The other one I’ll try is to teach my child that just because someone agrees with you, even if it’s me, doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Only the truth is the truth and she must find it.
What else can we do? Advocate for education that pushes for more critical and skeptical thinking? Maybe, but who knows how feasible or universal that can be. In any case, it’s one of the greatest and worst things about what technology can do for us.