This Internet thing was supposed to help inform people — universal access to inexhaustive information.
But, that’s not quite what’s happened or happening.
So far, more than half a dozen lawsuits have been filed alleging that Obama is not a “natural born” citizen. One plaintiff, an Army reservist from Georgia, argued in court that he couldn’t be sent to fight in Afghanistan because the military lacked a Commander-in-Chief. In a poll released over the summer, twenty-eight per cent of the Republicans surveyed said that they did not think Obama was born in the U.S., and thirty per cent said that they were unsure, meaning that fully half took birther ideas seriously enough to doubt the legitimacy of their government. When a video of the woman in red was posted on YouTube, it quickly went viral; within a few weeks, it had received some eight hundred thousand hits.
That such a wacky idea should be so persistent is, to put it mildly, disquieting. Here we are, quadrillions of bytes deep into the Information Age. And yet information, it seems, has never mattered less.
According to Cass R. Sunstein, the situation was to be anticipated.
The Things People Say — Rumors in an age of unreason by Elizabeth Kolbert documents the built in biases we have for information gathering, belief development and social reinforcement.
“The acquisition of knowledge is, as Sunstein points out, a social process: it is shaped by language, by custom, and, since the Enlightenment, by certain widely accepted standards of evidence and rationality.”
Except the Internet makes it more possible than ever to filter the information we receive and compound “group polarization.”