The internet is a misinformation superhighway


QAnon supporters are one group spreading crazy conspiracies online, Gene Lyons writes.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Notice how you never hear anybody talk about “the information superhighway” anymore? The creation of the internet marked a big advance in human ingenuity, yes. As a lifelong reader who feels claustrophobic in libraries, it’s been an enormous boon to my existence. I spend hours online every day.

The convenience of, say, being able to sit in Arkansas reading The Boston Globe’s coverage of the Red Sox over my morning coffee — What? They traded Christian Vazquez for two minor league pitchers? What were they thinking? — makes my days more rewarding. Last night, I looked up an old friend who’s still teaching at Wake Forest University — and getting rapturous student evaluations.

Much of the rest of my time online, however, I spend reading about politics. And politically speaking, the internet is pretty much a disaster, a spewing fountain of misinformation and delusion. Novelist Scott Turow may have put it best: “The internet has bred defiant communities of lunatics who once huddled in shamed isolation with their unsettling obsessions.”

There have always been conspiracy theorists in the United States, typically right-wing, paranoid and racist. From the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s to the Cold War-era John Birch Society, they’ve mostly been a product of loneliness, ignorance and fear of the other. The Birchers, for example, described President Dwight Eisenhower as “a dedicated, conscious agent” of the communist conspiracy. Only a traitor, you see, would have dispatched the 101st Airborne to bring about the “forced integration” of Little Rock Central High School.

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It wasn’t until California gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan characterized the Birchers as a “lunatic fringe” in the mid-’60s that the organization faded from view.

But even the Birch Society was relatively sane compared with the mad imaginings of QAnon, their online spiritual descendants. According to National Public Radio, “a December poll by NPR and Ipsos found that 17% of Americans believed that the core falsehood of QAnon — that ‘a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media’ — was true.”

Even more alarmingly, another “37% said they didn’t know whether the baseless allegation was true or not.”

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times

      

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