User discretion is required

Here is a thought-provoking article in Indian Express that advises Internet users to use their own discretion instead of simply following the algorithmic contents additions that are thrown at them.

Undoubtedly the world is experiencing the greatest phase of democracy (up till now) through the advent of the Internet. To get educated, to inform yourself, to get aware, all you need is a smartphone to connect to the Internet. All the information is available at your disposal with a few taps, provided you’re receptive.

“Being receptive” is the key here.

Since anybody can publish anything on the Internet, the instances of fake and fabricated news are much greater compared to conventional media. But it isn’t like fake news and fabricated/biased opinion didn’t exist before Internet. The problems that we are facing currently are the results of an unmitigated access to publication media and information dissemination mechanisms to a select few. We used to have a very lopsided information ecosystem. Their writ ran large. The leftist intelligentsia completely controlled what we read, what we watched and what we listened to.

So, fake news and fake opinion and twisting facts have always been there. The difference is, due to the Internet, since it’s easier and faster for people to express themselves, fake news and fake opinion can be immediately countered.

Interestingly, the writer says:

One of the primary reasons this is so is because we don’t know how to navigate the internet’s fast-paced and wide-laned information highways. And, as editors, we don’t have the ability to be the traffic wardens we once were.

The writer begrudges the fact that unlike the pre-Internet days, a select-few cannot now act as “wardens”. Although we have all known since time immemorial that the flow of information was always controlled by these “wardens”, actually reading such expressions is a bit unnerving. It is like hearing about someone being murdered and someone actually being murdered right in front of you.

Why does he think that the general public requires some sort of “wardens” for supervision? Why does he think that people are not capable of judging for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong for them, especially considering the fact that he thinks that the “wardens” know what’s right and what’s wrong?

A few months ago when Donald Trump became the US President, the writer of this Wired article suggested that maybe people are not ready for democracy and they’re not ready for free availability of information. Just because the politician of his choice didn’t get elected, he questions the very existence of democracy and information access. The same sort of questions are routinely raised in India after Narendra Modi (to great extent) and Yogi Adityanath (to marginal extent) used the Internet to directly communicate with their core supporter base.

Actually, it is this mentality that disturbs people. Controlling the flow of information these days is very difficult and in fact, the information flow can only be controlled for those who allow it to be controlled.

Yes, algorithmic content suggestions are bad and people shouldn’t go for them. If your Internet platform asks you to “personalize” your feeds refrain from doing so. The writer of the above Indian Express article rightly says that the more you read a particular opinion (a particular point of view), the more of the same opinion you are recommended by the algorithm. This is the reason if you are reading fake news, there’s a great chance you will go on reading fake news unless you make an extra effort to find something different, something contradictory to read or watch.

Overall I agree with the writer’s point of view, the only thing that got my attention was the quote that I have presented above, that, people need “wardens” to form an unbiased opinion. This is not so. People are intelligent enough to differentiate between different opinions and then make their own choices. Yes, aberrations can occur but public opinion and democracy are a number game and eventually everything evens out.

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