“Success is the sum of small efforts—repeated day-in and day-out.” —Robert Collier.
Most of us make a concerted effort to take care of our bodies by eating healthy—or at least trying to. But when it comes to our consumption of information online, can we say the same thing? Are we eating our recommended dose of fruits and vegetables, or are we sitting on the couch ingesting a steady stream of harmful and potentially deadly content?
Ironically, many of us wake up in the morning and forget that our online diet puts us at risk of disease. Each time we click on a story that isn’t good for us, we are stuffing ourselves with junk. What benefit is there in reading a story that is clickbait or about some celebrity’s life choices? Ingesting that kind of nonsense isn’t healthy for anyone and does nothing to make us more informed citizens.
Don’t get me wrong, we all love and need entertainment. I mean, who doesn’t love watching a great movie or reading a good book? As humans, we are drawn to the power of stories to help us make sense of the world.
But, we must be cautious about what we choose to consume online. All of us have been victims of disinformation, especially on Facebook. We have all been guilty of curating our reality and not challenging ourselves to hear other viewpoints. It’s a lot easier to pat ourselves on the back and say, “See, the world is the way I see it,” rather than, “Hey, I might be mistaken here.”
Those who know me well know that I hold bold opinions lightly. As soon as I think I’m an expert at something, I make a point to get an entirely different perspective even when I don’t want to take the time to hear the “other side.” But, if I am continuously validating what I believe rather than challenging my thoughts, then what is the point of trying to understand others’ thoughts and feelings on a topic? And how do I know I am right?
So how do you know what you know?
Being informed takes work. And we seem to forget that the internet is solely a repository of a vast amount of information written by many different people with many different viewpoints, some good and some with bad intentions. We know that Big Tech has done a horrible job at policing and removing the avalanche of fake news that comes at us from all sides.
We tend to make assumptions that we can sift through the prodigious amount of data online and be more informed about the world. We mistakenly believe that we all have the same ability to discern what’s absolute nonsense and that “well obviously,” everyone should know the difference between QAnon garbage and the facts.
January 6 taught us that is not the case. Millions of people are buying into false narratives so profoundly that Americans tried to overthrow the government. This overconsumption of junk keeps feeding the virus that puts our democracy at risk. We can no longer make any more assumptions about our ability to find the truth on our own.
When we don’t eat right, we seek help to understand how to lead a healthier life to live long and prosper. Maybe we need an information nutritionist to help us discern the differences between fact and fiction online.
But even without a coach, we can eat our way to a healthier online diet. It will take work. We have to stop admiring the problem and roll up our sleeves and stop this disease in its tracks. At the least, we must always take the time to closely examine the source of what we read and then verify, verify, verify.