Internet Fight Club: It Doesn’t Work and We Need to Stop

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

~Maya Angelou

Unless we’re talking about the #BossBitchFightClub, an entertaining video perfect for the cabin fever many of us are experiencing, generally fighting with other people on the Internet just doesn’t work out for us. So, why is it hard to just keep scrolling?

Holocaust deniers. Flat Earthers. Climate change deniers. Welcome to the Internet, where ignorance reigns supreme. There are real conspiracies out there, and one of them is the conspiracy to commit idiocy on the Internet.

I want to keep scrolling and mind my own business. Truly, I do. But a global pandemic has made scrolling by nearly impossible — especially when there’s an awareness that spreading false information can have a cost in actual human lives. To see people who should know better call it a hoax because the facts don’t suit their personal narrative is appalling.

What’s interesting is that the people most likely to spread conspiracy theories seem to be the ones saying we shouldn’t ever, for any reason, question the Bible. Or, conversely, the people most likely to believe in the healing power of crystals or essential oils despite a lack of scientific validity. But no one is ready for that conversation.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with faith. Or legitimate inquiry, for that matter. I believe that faith has a valuable place in our lives, and I equally believe we should question everything. But there’s a flaw in many of the conspiracy theories floating around the Internet, particularly in regards to Covid-19. When we’re more likely to believe anonymous users on the Internet with questionable credentials over the education and experience of experts, there’s a real problem.

But it’s not just with the pandemic. Many of us have the same reaction when we see posts that fly in the face of social injustice. The racist and misogynistic posts. The Karens flat-out denying privilege. When we see something so outrageous, we want to stop, drop, and roll out some truth.

My near-inability to keep scrolling probably comes from the fact that I used to be married to someone who constantly questioned my own extensive education and expertise in favor of an opinion he preferred on the Internet. When I suggested marriage counseling, he proceeded to mansplain to me what a marriage counselor would likely say about our relationship.

Please note that I was, at that time, a licensed counselor myself with a post-graduate degree. But Bob on YouTube had a differing opinion on the problems in our relationship, and even though we didn’t know Bob’s credentials, my ex found it easier to believe Bob than to trust my actual expertise.

We never made it to counseling. After all, Bob had told him everything he ever needed to know. And I realized, finally, that my own voice and experience were never going to be seen as valid. Fast-forward years later to when he quotes his new wife to me as an expert on everything. But I’m the one not ready to have that conversation.

When we’re more likely to believe anonymous users on the Internet with questionable credentials over the education and experience of experts, there’s a real problem.

The truth is that we should believe the experts. Not blindly. Not unquestioningly. But I am not an expert in public health or global pandemics. So, when the ones who are give us reasonable precautions to take, I pay attention. As new information becomes available, I make adjustments. It’s the same with social justice: as we become more educated about the issues, it ought to change our perspective. It makes no sense to dismiss what we’re reading or hearing because it doesn’t suit a personal narrative or fit in with our plans.

This is where fact-checking becomes the most powerful tool of individual inquiry. Fake news is a real problem, and right now, every other post on the Internet is pushing a personal agenda. So, how do we know what’s real and what’s not? How do we effectively question authority without ignoring knowledge and expertise?

  1. Check the source. Seriously — look at the name of the website sometimes. If the word “conservative” or “liberal” is in the actual website name, that’s the first red flag that we have a biased source. Is the source we’re looking at known for factual, careful journalism or a flagrant disregard for facts?
  2. Get a second opinion. If we read one source and question it, we should seek out other sources — making sure that we avoid biased sites in favor of reputable sources that are peer-reviewed and actually understand the scientific method. In the case of social justice, it actually helps to have conversations with people who experience the injustice.
  3. Subtract our personal agenda. I’ll be honest: I would much prefer to believe liberal news media. That’s just a fact. I’m left-leaning, and I don’t deny that. But when I read a news headline that I want to believe, I question it. I need to know the facts before I draw any conclusions. Also, when I read a headline that doesn’t suit my personal preference, I investigate that further, too. I don’t base what I think on what I want to think. I try my best to base it on actual facts. I don’t head to Fox News or CNN for my facts about pandemics. I’m more likely to head out in search of a source that actually fact checks their work.
  4. Exercise common sense. I am not in a health category that makes me susceptible to dying of Covid-19. It’s not impossible. I’ve been perfectly healthy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an underlying condition I’m not aware of. But mostly, if I am exposed, I have a very good chance of recovering. That doesn’t mean I want to get an illness that sounds terrible and has questionable treatment. Nor do I want to be sick and single-handedly take care of my two children. But even though I am not afraid of dying from Covid-19, I can take common-sense precautions to avoid getting sick — or inadvertently spreading it to someone else who might be vulnerable. Using common-sense means practicing safety, not panicking. It means observing what the experts are saying rather than putting my faith in politicians with questionable ethics.
  5. Understand the scientific method. It seems like most people get the first step right when they ask a question. But then they skip right to the end where they start sharing the results of the answer they came up with based on opinion or a questionable source. You can read an elementary explanation of the scientific method here, but it’s absolutely essential to understand it if you want to be a human who questions everything.

I’m trying to find a place in my heart to keep scrolling. Most of the time I do when I don’t exercise my right to use the Unfollow or Block buttons. I don’t generally go around thinking people are dumb. Most of the time, I exercise a lot of compassion for other humans and their strong and sometimes misguided opinions. I used to be one of them — believing questionable things because someone with an agenda taught me I should.

But I don’t drink the Kool-Aid any more.

I can credit my education with its classes on research and statistics for giving me a basic understanding of what makes something valid versus bullshit. I think we should question everything. We need to ask the questions and look for the facts — especially when we want to believe something. Our very desire to believe (or dis-believe) is exactly what trips us up when it comes to fact-finding. If we only gravitate toward what we’re choosing to believe over what is real, we’ll never get to the truth. We’ll only ever see exactly what we want to believe.

Our very desire to believe (or dis-believe) is exactly what trips us up when it comes to fact-finding.

I wish Covid-19 was a hoax. It has impacted my life, too. But it’s not. And no amount of wanting to believe it’s not that bad will ever change the facts. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and it’s hard to keep scrolling when people are spouting bullshit that may influence someone else to risk their own health or the health of others.

At other times, the misinformation could impact the choices people make, the attitudes they hold, and how they vote. So, it matters. It’s not just Janet on the Internet having an opinion. It’s why it’s just so damn hard to keep scrolling. Our words matter. Don’t we have the responsibility to speak up when we see lies being spread?

But I do need to stop strongly implying (or outright stating) that people spouting conspiracy theories in flagrant disregard of the facts are dumb. It isn’t kind, even if it feels true. And it doesn’t change anything. Agreeing to disagree may be the best course of action rather than endless arguing that goes nowhere.

It’s not like anyone who values opinion over facts will really care about the truth I drop in the comments section — no matter how well-researched it is or where it comes from. I’m not changing anyone’s minds. I’m simply screaming into a void that’s off-spinning more theories that better suit their narrative. Internet Fight Club rarely gets us anywhere.

When I used to be one of ths, I was too indoctrinated to believe the truth. Looking back, I’m embarrassed at the nonsense I spouted — before I knew any better. Now that I know better, I can afford to be kinder when I see other people spouting misguided opinions while sipping the Kool-Aid and disregarding actual scientific inquiry.

Time is precious, and I’m wasting mine. I will go live my life happily using the technology, scientific and medical advancement, and knowledge that previous generations didn’t have access to when they went through similar global catastrophes. I will champion truth over what I’d rather believe.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure out a way to choose kindness and make peace with scrolling on.

Previously Published on Medium

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