The internet is rife with rumors and hoaxes, in case you didn’t notice. Worse yet, those of us who’ve used the internet since the early 1980’s see many more rumors and hoaxes than we saw several decades ago. That does not bode well for the internet, as its trajectory is toward even more rumors and hoaxes.
Some internet users and publications have taken it upon themselves to debunk rumors and hoaxes; however, they apparently toil in vain due to the internet echo chambers. An internet echo chamber is a situation in which internet users have their beliefs reinforced and amplified by initial transmission and repetition in an enclosed system, where different views are underrepresented. An explanation of the internet echo chambers is accessible on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Cp4CF1pUdI
Using an extreme example to make my point, a person who believes that the Holocaust never happened tends to read articles, message boards and blogs and otherwise converse with others who also believe that the Holocaust never happened. They’re not interested in seeing proof that the Holocaust happened.
The presence and resilience of internet echo chambers was studied by the Laboratory of Computational Social Science at IMT Lucca. Researchers spent 5 years analyzing 54 million American Facebook users. From January 2010 to December 2014, the team of researchers divided those 54 American Facebook users into two groups: those who interact with proven scientific information; and those who interact with unsubstantiated conspiracy-like information. Speaking for the research team, Walter Quattrociocchi stated that:
– both groups interact in internet echo chambers;
– 47,780 posts debunking hoaxes and conspiracy theories were worse than ineffective;
– in fact, those 47,780 debunking posts caused supporters of hoaxes and conspiracy theories to become even more adamant in their support; and
– hoaxes and conspiracy theories will become increasingly common on the internet, because:
– Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter provide “a direct path of content from producers to consumers, changing the way users become informed, debate ideas, and shape their world views”;
– There is such a bombardment of information that nobody has the time or intellectual capacity to discern nuances and discrepancies.
The human tendency to hang out with people we like and with whom we agree is taken into an extreme degree at which scientific-minded and conspiracy-minded people are resolutely isolated from each other. What’s more, that tendency will apparently worsen in the future.
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