A few weeks ago, on his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Maher cracked wise at the expense of the internet. He remarks that, in the current circulation of information on the internet, particularly citing social media, chat rooms, and chain emails, anyone can pretty much write and post whatever dumb thing they want to, but does this really mean that “internet killed truth?”
It’s true enough that people can pretty much get away with writing whatever they want on the internet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that truth is dead. No, with the advent of the information age, the average American citizen has gained access to an infinite gallery of knowledge.
Mitchell Stephens, author of “A History of News” and professor of Mass Communication and Journalism at New York University, writes of media sensationalism dating all the way back to publications in 131 BCE. News sources have never been the most reliable. Whether it is to scare, pass blame, or some other political means, the sources that Americans use to acquire new information about the world is sometimes manipulated. That’s just a fact that we have to accept. Distrust in government and distrust in media go hand in hand, just think back to the ripples of distrust caused by the coverage of America’s involvement in Vietnam.
So, yes, people can do and say mostly whatever they want on the internet, but its not like media sources have never done that before. In regards to Mr. Maher’s point that, “at least Americans used to get their news from actual news organizations,” well, the benefit of the internet is the ability to pick what news sources and organizations we want to listen to. The internet has gifted us with the privilege to pick and choose what we want to deem “true” or “news worthy.”
If I don’t want to hear Fox News or my crazy uncle tell me that Obama is a militant Muslim or a communist, then I can now filter that out. If I want to be told that Hillary Clinton lead the attacks on the American Diplomatic Compound in Benghazi, Libya, then I can hear that.
The best part is that this isn’t exclusive to just news. Any content on the internet that I want to hear about, I can subscribe to. If an underground musician that I enjoy has put out new music, then I can follow him/her on Twitter, SoundCloud, or BandCamp! If I want to know when my favorite Youtube channels upload new videos, then I can subscribe to their Youtube Channel or like them on Facebook!
The internet cannot have killed the truth. The truth was never born. All of the information in the world is at our fingertips. We have the power to use that to formulate our own opinions and then turn those opinions into something that we care about. If I want to learn about “10 Ways to have a Beach Bod by Spring Break,” then I can. Whatever your cup of tea is, the internet provides you with the means to find it.
As consumers of content on the internet, we have the agency to decide for ourselves what is worth our time. With the exponentially increasing amount of information on the internet, it is distinctly important to pick and choose what you think is true. I’m not saying that people don’t lie on the internet, they do, but I’m smart enough to know when they are. If I’m not smart enough, then I have the means to find out if they are lying and so do you.