A couple of summers ago while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I enjoyed a little bit of fame. Instagram caught wind of my adventure, highlighted my journey on their blog and Facebook, and within hours I had 15,000 new best friends I’ll never meet.
The Instagram post was tiny, a less than 500 word write up, one they didn’t send me first. Or last, actually. I had no idea it was published. Editors took my words, answers in response to some questions via email, sort of pieced them together to fit their agenda (not mine) and sent it out into the world. Harmless, right?
Enter, The Trolls.
Some people read about my adventure escape from the real world and got real angry with their current life situation and took it out on me. Because that makes sense. Others labeled me a trust fund kid in my 20s or stated other ridiculously untrue “facts” about me. Still others thought the entire thing (aka my life) was a hoax. Many people judged my actions. Some people just used my happiness as an opportunity to express the hate in their own hearts. And let me tell you, it is weird watching a bunch of shit being said about you on the internet, with only you knowing the whole truth. You watch it spiral out of control, mean people feeding off meaner people in some crazy internet tornado that you have absolutely no power to stop. Even if you tried, confronted it head on, that tornado would whisk you off to Oz, and a little dog named Toto told me it’s tremendously hard to find your way back.
All of this, just over some no-name girl featured on Instagram for hiking a trail. I can’t imagine what it must be like for movie stars, public figures, people running for President.
The internet is a scary place. It has essentially made all of us (rather terrible) journalists, all of us (preeeeety biased) new sources, and has given us a platform to express opinion that nobody asked for. And each of us has the ability to share whatever we want, ain’t no fact checking gonna hold us back. Most of us do not have to abide by some journalistic code, be held to certain level of conduct, respect ethics, or be afraid to lose our jobs because of the information we share, whether it’s fact or fiction.
A long, long time ago, I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. With the massive strides the internet has made since then, I can’t help but wonder how they’ve changed their course of instruction. But I will always be grateful for being taught how to ask meaningful questions, open my mind, dig deeper, see both sides, look for supporting facts. To understand the difference between an opinion piece and actual news. I’ve lately been reminded, that’s not how everyone does it.
As consumers of information, it has become harder than ever to learn the truth. People of the internet say ridiculous things, use shock statements to get people’s attention, exaggerate the truth, create absurd “news” titles containing absolutely zero supporting facts within the article. And even if you do the proper research and eventually debunk their words, by then it’s too late. Because once someone reads that garbage, the damage is done, it’s hard to un-read it. Everything begins to blend together and people forget what’s fact, what’s false.
I know everyone has their own idea of mainstream media and the way it slants. But the answer is NOT to rely on far right or far left sites, who will only tell us exactly what we want to hear, things that support what we want to be true, regardless of fact.
Affirmation is not Information.
These sites are hardcore opinions and beliefs, and are certainly not held to the same standards as trained journalists (regardless of how wary you are of them, legit sources actually hold their people to the journalistic code of ethics). Same goes for only watching CNN or Fox News or whatever you feel the most left or right news channels are; just know that you are almost never getting the full story. And I think we owe it ourselves (and the late great U.S of A) to hear the full story.
The internet is capable of amazing things. I’ve seen it bring the world to remote lands, bring remote lands to the world. It allows me to keep in touch with friends across the globe, watch my puppies grow into sled dogs in Arctic Lapland, see my friend’s tiny baby grow into a little boy with dimples in Oaxaca, Mexico. Through the internet, I lived with Dave and Amy Freeman in the Boundary Waters for 365 days in their effort to ensure permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Wilderness from proposed sulfur-ore copper mining. Through the internet, The Freemans have been bringing their Wilderness Classroom adventures to Chicago Public Schools, outdoor adventures so many children may never experience otherwise.
The internet, if used appropriately, can help bridge the geographical gap. It can connect people from different countries, help people travel the world. It can bring the great outdoors to the inner city, the big city to the beautiful countryside. It can promote understanding for different ways of life, ways of thinking. And what an incredible thing. What a luxury to have at our fingertips. Because so many of us only know people like us. We only associate with people like us. We only know our way of life. Our mindset. Our struggles. Our fears. Whether we’re bound by time, money, or will, we’re all living in our own bubbles, whether we realize it or not.
And if The Donald proved anything, the social media branch of the internet is one powerful tool. Video killed the Radio Star, Internet killed Print, Facebook killed Real News. Like it or not, this is how so many people communicate now. This is how people get involved. This is how people get informed.
But if we only read things that agree with our mindset, if we only associate with people like us on the internet, if we extend our geographical bubble to the empty space of the internet…what bridges are we building? What understanding are we promoting? How are we growing?
Personally, I find it to my advantage to know what sort of crazy news everyone is feeding on, especially now. Because I admit, this time, I definitely made the mistake of hopping in that crazy internet tornado. Weeeee-oooo, what a ride. Mostly, I just try to understand what people are getting out of the shocking headliners I see floating around the internet, try to understand what they are seeing, what I am not. So, I read the shocking title, read the article, read the comments…and ask questions.
Some general guidelines:
For example, there’s this Facebook page liked by 5,473,441 people called American News. Their handle is @ThePatriotReview and they are the official page of AmericanNews.com. I’ve already sent them a message asking them to change their name, since my extensive research has found the name to be quite misleading.
The page regularly compares Obama to Hitler (uh, what?) and refers to Michelle Obama, arguably the most elegant, respectable, graceful first lady we ‘eva gonna get, as Moochelle. Yes, you heard that right.
Or, do you remember the time that Michelle Obama Furious After Melania Trump Outclasses Her on First Day as First Lady Um. Read it.
The site prefaces most of their articles with statements even more unpleasant than their “news” titles.
Or “Race baiting Beyonce just got a taste of her own medicine. She needs to learn to keep her mouth shut. Do you think Beyonce should learn her place?” Linked to: Beyonce Gets Rude Wakeup Call after Disgusting Stunt She Pulled At the CMAs.
And “While everyone was focused on the election, Obama did this. Simply disgusting. He is a disgrace to our country. Who is worse, Obama or Hillary?” Linked to: On the Day of the Election Obama Quietly did THIS. Oh, the THIS was reveled as, campaigned for Hillary…is that not called extreme focus on an election?
They routinely hate on Beyonce, Kanye (okay, I get that one, he can come off as a prick) and Oprah with shocking titles with no supporting content. If you are starting to see a theme, you are not alone.
And yes, sometimes I settle down with my glass(es) of wine and get to work. Yes, I know it’s petty, but…the internet. PEOPLE ARE WATCHING.
One article they posted (and members of my family shared) was entitled Michelle Obama Claims Her Life is More Difficult Than A Soldier’s. Having listened to the FLOTUS for the past eight years, I was skeptical that she would make that claim. So I read it. And after careful processing of the words, I commented:
Visit the site here. And please, tell them what you think. Because this is the kind of stuff that has to stop. That is not information. That is fuel. Gallons and gallons of fuel to fire the Hate.
I don’t know if Trump is actually a real life bigot, a racist, etc. I hope for our country that he isn’t, that he’s just playing a role. I do believe he knew exactly what to say to his target audience, to instill fear, to light the fire under those who might not have otherwise voted. He knew exactly what to say to the people who wanted to hear it. And that was smart. That got him votes. But after spending the past few weeks on Facebook and fake news sites, I am less afraid of what Trump can do than they way the minds of all of the people feeding on fake news work, and what that can grow into.
So please, friends, family, voters all over the country, people all over the world. Think about what you are reading. Digest the words. When you see articles talking about who is the best and who is the worst (with no actual stats to back that claim up), that is not fair and unbiased news. Or fact. When sites make fun of people, use a lot of exclamation points to prove a point, that’s not news, that’s opinion. Be smarter! Use your beautiful brain! I hear if you don’t use it, you lose it!! I can use exclamation points because I am a blogger!!! Choose your information wisely. Be the gatekeeper of material stored in your memory boxes.
You can tell the internet what you think. Just don’t let the internet tell you what to think.