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Pitfalls of the Blogosphere

Art by Amanda Googe.

The Internet has democratized information. Websites have effectively eradicated the barriers to access that once prevented individuals from obtaining the information that is readily accessible today. In theory, Google is available to anyone, rich or poor, who can access a computer and type a query into a search bar.

This has had a twofold effect: In many instances, the accessibility of the Internet has improved the quality of information available to the average individual. Wikipedia has made available to Internet surfers what was once at the sole disposal of those who had the privilege of owning encyclopedias and the means to update them every year. However, in making information that was once relegated to libraries strewn across academia accessible to the world, the Internet has also had the effect of privileging platforms that feed misinformation to the undiscriminating reader.

This is most evident in the blogosphere — a community of self-styled thinkers comprised of middle school students and renowned academics alike in which you can find articles written by leaders of industry just two clicks away from those of high school students. This is a strange and recent phenomenon. Capitalizing on peoples’ desire to record their thoughts, websites like the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and Gawker have created spaces for anyone with a laptop and a variety of personal experiences to share their thoughts all while lending them a degree of credibility.

This can be a very powerful tool for creating good. With millions of readers, a blogger for one of these sites can help spread information about issues rarely discussed and offer perspectives often maligned by mainstream news sources. From a purely democratic stance, the Internet has not only offered greater accessibility for the consumption of information, it has also created means for individuals, without the credentials once needed to be “taken seriously,” to contribute to a body of information.  One example is Noel Sheppard of, who broke a story on a conspiracy by scientists to falsify climate change data, kicking off a maelstrom within political and scientific circles alike.

However, lowering these barriers has not been wholly salutary. By making it easier for the average person to disseminate information, the Internet has conferred unwarranted credibility upon many writers. This has created a uniquely epistemic issue — the crowd of misinformation dilutes the vast increase in the quality of correct information found in the same venue. As a student blogger, Kate Malby, following a debate on the merit of blogs, noted that “most voices just get lost in the ether. As has been said before in this debate, the Internet is littered with the virtual corpses of blogs that nobody read.”

By making it easier for the average person to disseminate information, the Internet has conferred unwarranted credibility upon many writers. This issue is perhaps best illustrated by this author’s personal experience.  Over two years ago, as a high school student armed with passion, curiosity and a Huffington Post blogging account, I came across a video now infamous for its reductionist nature: Invisible Children’s Joseph Kony campaign — an incredibly well engineered and implemented initiative. Without the knowledge to critically evaluate the video, I wrote an impassioned article about the immediately popular topic. But when I woke up the next morning, I found that the Joseph Kony situation was not nearly as clear-cut as Invisible Children had reported. I realized I had been part of a problem, unintentionally perpetuating misinformation through a platform that had the power to engender an impact.

This experience was an important lesson in the power of Internet blogging platforms to disseminate information and inform the framework in which important issues are discussed.  Platforms like the Huffington Post enable with a platform for citizens to create change in the world. But the Internet is also indifferent to intention, especially when that intention may be accidentally misinformed.

This is not to say that the Internet precipitated the introduction of misinformation to popular bodies of knowledge. Misinformation is as old as knowledge itself. But, an increasing body of easily accessible information requires greater skill in evaluating that information — a skill that has not necessarily developed at the same rate as the Internet’s ability to spread information. The easiest way to develop these skills is through general schooling to develop of a critical way of thought. Unfortunately, the acquisition of such skills is often guarded by an increasingly rigorous college application processes, and mostly the rising cost of tuition and the decreasing quality of public education. In order to truly make information accessible in a meaningful way we must also make the tools used to critically consume information accessible. This task may very well comprise the next great challenge for the educators of the future digital generations, whose lessons in research are no longer confined to the shelves stocked by the benign school librarian.

But with these tools, democratic platforms like blog aggregates stand only to benefit. The vitality of misinformation endures only as long as we may permit it. Devoid of these pitfalls, however, the Internet is perhaps humanity’s most empowering and enlightening construction to date: a feat that cannot be endangered by those who capitalize on its democratic nature.

About the Author

Noah Fitzgerel '17 is Content Director of the Brown Political Review.