We’ve all fallen down an internet wormhole at some point: You start off on a main thoroughfare like Facebook or Google, quickly get distracted by, say, knife websites, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour reading one person’s intricately autobiographical knife reviews. This is the nature of the way we consume the internet, and, if not a good thing, it is certainly not a bad thing. Right?
A New York Times article paints a different picture, buzzing through the emerging evidence that this very behavior is what’s leading to our current, “post-fact” American politics. Where it was once thought that a democratized means of publishing and reporting would lead to a greater variety of viewpoints—that we would find ourselves casually challenged by new ideas and worldviews—that was also during the halcyon days of Web 2.0. We now know the internet is, in fact, doing the exact opposite. We look for things that confirm our beliefs, whether they’re true or not, and we find outlets increasingly willing to deliver those fictions.
A BuzzFeed review of “hyper-partisan” Facebook pages, for example, found that some 20 percent of left-leaning posts were mostly false, compared to 38 percent of right-leaning ones. The result of seeing these outright lies picked up and treated as true is a fundamental disagreement on reality: Eighty-one percent of the respondents to a Pew Research Center study say that partisans disagree about “basic facts,” as if that were a thing that could be disagreed upon. While BuzzFeed cites some of the largest partisan sites, with their multiple millions of likes, these are all part of larger meme economies. You’re always only a couple steps away from lunacy (which is to say, Alex Jones).
The whole portrait of our hellish digital dystopia—which goes into much greater detail about how we dug ourselves into it—is available here.