The Internet Creates a Misinformed Electorate
Inaccuracies, lies, and innuendoes racing throughout the cyberworld give voters a false sense of knowledge about political candidates. Pro or con?
Pro: Too Much Info, Too Few Facts
While there is credible information on the Internet that helps voters learn more about candidates and issues, there is a shady side as well.
Opinion masquerading as information is frequently accepted as fact by individuals who have neither the training nor the inclination to skeptically evaluate the reporting they encounter. The “Birther” controversy counts as just one example of how misinformation can be spread virally and never completely put to rest, no matter how thorough a debunking it receives. Consider that:
- Candidates can embellish, exaggerate, and even lie online, and unless someone credible checks each fact for accuracy, that misinformation remains.
- Subtlety, innuendo, and “information” from PACs and corporate lobbyists cleverly mislead readers of sites and ads.
- Statements can be, and have been, taken out of context and spread as the whole truth.
- Once intentionally false information appears online, it’s almost impossible to correct.
- Because most established media organizations have eliminated their fact checkers and research librarians, errors or partly reported facts slip past overworked editors and become part of the “truth.” This is a growing problem because a large percentage of the electorate gets its news from the Internet.
- Many voters tend to accept as fact any nicely wrapped presentation supporting what they already believe or feel inclined to believe.
Until voters become fully aware of the extent of the problem and begin taking advantage of such tools as Politifact, the purveyors of misinformation will continue to influence unduly the outcome of legislation and elections.
Con: More Info Sources, More Enlightenment
The Internet is blamed for all of society’s ills, so why not a misinformed electorate?
Thirty-six percent of the American population consults Wikipedia, a new and assumedly unreliable source given that it is (horror of horrors) user-generated and user-edited, clearly adding to the problem of misinformation. Except, folks at the respected journal Nature wondered about Wikipedia’s reliability back in 2005 and concluded that its accuracy approximates that of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Well, even if it isn’t unreliable, the Internet has accelerated the decline of print newspaper subscriptions to record lows, creating a misinformation noose around the neck of the electorate, right? Except 113 million Americans read their newspapers online.
Well, at least there are the partisanship and outright lies that go unchecked by any editor and allowed to ricochet around the Web unchallenged. Except, the Internet also serves as a great tool for political candidates’ debunking teams to disseminate corrections. Further, organizations such as Politifact and factcheck.org use the Internet to provide assessment of political statements by candidates of all stripes.
At the end of the day, the Internet delivers more viewpoints and freedom of information. The idea that discussion and debate—rather than the automatic acceptance of information blessed from on high—is the best way to arrive at the truth has been controversial since Plato, and often all this information has left people without a referee. But when has that ever not been the case? From the Spanish-American War to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, people have gotten bad information prior to the Internet. But thanks to the Internet, the electorate now has the tools to look into things from a much broader set of perspectives.
And guess what? We’re using them.