We live in a world where opinions are easily spread through various pathways online. There are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram widgets, blog posts, online threads, and comment sections on almost every webpage out there. All of these forums allow our fellow humans to jump into a conversation and voice their opinion. Usually this would be seen as a positive thing because it allows for various views to be shared and considered to broaden our horizon on a specific topic. This, however, is no longer the case. Many times this leads to “keyboard warriors” – or “trolls” – forcing their staunchly held opinions on others. These forums allow people to bash, berate, and belittle any other person who does not fully agree with what they are saying.
Instead of this being a useful tool where people can learn something new, all too often it becomes another thing that divides us. It becomes another way to fuel hate. An article in Psychology Today identifies 8 main reasons why people feel justified saying some truly heinous things online. The one that resonated the most with me was anonymity.
People are able to hide behind screen names that aren’t necessarily linked to any real part of their lives. They are virtually invisible and therefore feel they can say any ignorant, disgusting, or unpleasant thing because there are little to no consequences. That is, unless they take it way too far, at which point the law could potentially get involved.
While anonymity (among other justifications) is a notable problem on its own, the bigger problem we encounter on these open forums and discussion groups is the increasingly muddled line between fact and opinion. People have become so convinced their opinions are the truth and share those opinions as such. Others don’t do the necessary research to fact check, which promulgates inaccurate information on the internet. This is a recipe for disaster. Many feel because it is on the internet, “it must be true”. So, what can we do to sift through the bull and get accurate information? Do our research, cross check the information, and evaluate the websites we visit.
Here are a few of the guidelines Psychology Today listed to help when looking at websites:
- Objectivity – Is the information biased? Think about perspective of the author.
- Authenticity – Is the information authentic? Know the source.
- Reliability – Is this information accurate? Consider the origin of the information.
- Timeliness – Is the information current? When was it published?
- Relevance – Is the information helpful?
All in all, be objective when looking at sources online and analyze whether or not the information is authentic and accurate as well as up-to-date and actually helpful.
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