The spread of false information on the internet has now become an immediate danger to those who don’t know how to spot it. Now, more than ever, equipping yourself with the tools of logic and reasoning will save you from being manipulated and will allow you to be a free thinker.
The first thing you’ll want to bookmark, or download is one of the most comprehensive and succinct handbooks for quickly learning about arguments and fallacies — the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Fallacies.
All forms of conflict are almost always settled in 1 of 2 ways:
- Physical conflict where one party takes the other by force
- Argument, discussion, debate, and negotiations for power and everyone remains physically unharmed
Ideally we always want to remain civil, so we must settle conflict via the 2nd method. But, in order for there to be any sort of meaningful debate, all parties must be able to fundamentally agree on what is logically or rationally true, or not true.
It is precisely here — on the most fundamental level — where something is holding us back from having a rational conversation so unfortunately, physical conflict has already begun unfolding.
Why Is That Something Holding Us Back From Having Rational Conversations?
The United States has remained mostly internally peaceful since the American Civil War in 1861. The American people have for the most part been able to keep civilization in tact and avoid any large scale bloodshed.
Bret Weinstein — American Biologist and Evolutionary Theorist who was involved in an altercation with protesters at Evergreen College after he submitted a letter to faculty expressing his concerns about a change in one of the college’s traditions in which he felt that the change would establish a dangerous precedent that he thought was oppressive in and of itself.
I don’t want to argue for or against his claim, but he points out that this was the moment that he could see a whiff of a dangerous compromise of free speech on college campuses. Not only that, but compounded with aggressive intolerance and a refusal to participate in any sort of productive conversation on the basis of logic and reasoning, rather than feelings and beliefs.
In a way he claims that this incident was perhaps the origination of this sort of intolerance that has gotten so far away from logic, reasoning, and really science — he said in one of his Dark Horse Podcasts that he also felt that this movement was anti-science after more calls to put a halt on STEM and academia after claims that these fields did not promote diversity.
2 Common Beliefs Or Claims You’ve Probably Heard Recently
Consider the following 2 examples of sides of an argument that you have probably recently encountered, and are especially significant right now in 2020.
Maybe you think president Donald Trump is the most diabolical, racist human being to walk across the face of the Earth?
On the other hand, maybe you think Trump is the perfect person in position to protect the United States from a full collapse at the hand of far-left radicals?
Here’s another one…
Maybe you think that diversity programs give disadvantaged people the opportunity to compete in a system that is rigged for white people?
Or you might think that these diversity programs are inherently racist and if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have issues regarding race at all?
More than likely the “truth” lies somewhere in the middle of these two-sided arguments and it’s up to you to search for it.
Rapid innovation in digital technology spurred by the information age has presented new challenges that humans have never seen before.
There are many issues with the current configuration that we have for how information is being transferred via the internet and social media platforms which so far as I can currently see are these:
Main Issues With Information
- Anonymity of the source
- Information can be highly manipulated with software programs
- The functions of the algorithms that rank and suggest information is not transparent
- The nature of how we trust sources on the platforms is broken
No large scale solutions exist to protect people from false information. Twitter just recently added a fact checking feature, although there’s a fundamental problem with allowing Twitter to determine what is “true” or “false”. It’s far too dangerous for an organization to have the power to determine the validity of information.
The BEST solution is for you to take it upon yourself to learn and commit to memory some of the most common logical fallacies, and follow these key tips on this page.
Immediately Be Skeptical
Skepticism is your first line of defense against false information. The critical mind should always immediately be skeptical when encountering any kind of information.
This goes for people who have authority as well.
Back in the days before the internet and social media existed, people gained trust via the interactions they had with the people around them and through word of mouth from those they interact with.
This foundational system of trust has completely been shattered with the advent of social media.
Anonymity is a fascinating concept that is brand new to humans. On one hand, it allows people to have their voice heard without having to reveal their identity at the risk of being shamed or humiliated. The downside is that people can’t be held accountable for promoting false information that could hurt other people.
Another troubling feature that contributes to the degradation of trust is that one can appear to have authority on the platforms while also being an untrustworthy person. “Winning” on the platform is a numbers game. If you have more numbers, you perceptually have more authority. It get’s even worse when you compound this with “verified accounts”, like getting a blue check mark on Twitter.
There’s a fundamental fallacy that so many people get fooled by which is this:
The ad verecundiam fallacy concerns appeals to authority or expertise. Fundamentally, the fallacy involves accepting as evidence for a proposition the pronouncement of someone who is taken to be an authority but is not really an authority. This can happen when non-experts parade as experts in fields in which they have no special competence-when, for example, celebrities endorse commercial products or social movements. Similarly, when there is controversy, and authorities are divided, it is an error to base one’s view on the authority of just some of them.
Think about some of the “experts” or celebrities that you follow on Twitter or Facebook. You should always keep yourself in check and remember that just because somebody appears to be trusted or verified, doesn’t mean you should accept what they say as “fact” before conducting your own investigation.
Nobody has all day to investigate every claim or argument that they encounter on the internet. But you can use the following tips on this page to identify false claims so long as you remember to always be skeptical at first.
Logic, Analysis, and Creativity Are Your Friends
So, why is logic and reasoning so important for protecting yourself against false information on the internet?
Being able to detect and avoid fallacies has been viewed as a supplement to criteria of good reasoning. The knowledge of fallacies is needed to arm us against the most enticing missteps we might take with arguments-so thought not only Aristotle but also the early nineteenth century logicians Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill.
Beware Of These “Enticing Missteps”
On the internet, those “enticing missteps” come in the form of:
- Click-bait headlines
- Video clips that leave out context
- Clearly biased journalism (main stream journalism has arguably morphed into entertainment)
- Photoshopped imagery (like photoshopping an image of Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler together to fit some narrative)
- Mainstream news outlets like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, and others are motivated to embellish the story as much as possible for viewership (their motivations should really be in question)
- Brands, celebrities, companies, and high profile individuals are under a lot of social pressure to push narratives or support movements that might not necessarily be logical and could even be harmful — with social media and phones, everyone is incredibly vulnerable online
The next time you see a video on social media or read an article online — stop yourself and see if you can do some brief analysis on the information/claim/argument.
Acknowledge That Algorithms Are In Play
When you first began using web browsers, search engines, and social media platforms — you essentially signed yourself up to be subjected to a long-term psychological experiment.
“With social media, we’ve all been enrolled in a psychological experiment in which no one gave consent, and it’s not clear how it will turn out. This isn’t just politics and human suffering on display, it’s philosophy. It’s ideas about truth and about what it means to say that something is true.”
What we CAN infer about the algorithms is this — some part of the algorithm is suggesting content that is related to content that you’ve already been consuming. These publicly owned companies are obligated to grow in order to keep stock-holders happy — so obviously they must keep users on the platform.
The Information Tunnel
It’s easy to get sucked into the information tunnel of videos, articles, tweets, facebook and instagram posts that all reaffirm a viewpoint that you strongly stand behind. This is the danger, and this can only make someone more biased.
How To Dig Yourself Out of the Information Tunnel
For every piece of information that affirms your current position, you’re going to have to go out of your way to search for information that might falsify what you argue to be true — since the algorithms surely aren’t going to do that for you. This is essentially a scientific approach and the algorithms fundamentally work against it.
The Golden Rule
Don’t believe everything that you see on the internet.
This old saying seems to have aged poorly. It should probably even be upgraded to — “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet: investigate everything you see on the internet.”
Originally published at https://austinhoward.tech on June 24, 2020.