Columnist discusses approaching extreme opinions on the internet
by Sammy Bonasso, ’19
“There will be blood” is a boring arthouse movie. What’s with those 20 opening minutes without dialogue, anyway? Also, women don’t deserve suffrage because they support the welfare state, vote emotionally rather than rationally and are generally irresponsible. And lastly, the Holocaust never happened, and you should be ashamed for believing those Jew fantasy stories.
You might first note how one of these things is not like the other. Strike that—you might first note how much of a misogynistic, anti-Semitic Holocaust denier I am, and with poor taste in film at that. Luckily, I actually claim none of these opinions, all of which I paraphrased from the internet. Mostly YouTube, actually.
Growing up, our parents couldn’t access the same breadth of views we see every day; unlike us, they had no risk of being traumatized, disgusted or distracted by the Web. Knowing this, would life improve without the internet? And if so, how should we cope with the often depraved ideas found on this medium? Beyond coping, how do we know which views to adopt and which to ignore?
I can’t decide for you if you believe the internet’s benefits surpass its drawbacks. I can list just the “facts”— however polluted by my views—about it.
The good news first. For one, the internet allows us to be Renaissance men like nothing else before it. Can a book give us the sheet music for “Only the Good Die Young,” define “human paraquat” and allow us to buy clothes all in a matter of minutes? Can any movie do this apart from Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”? The internet also has revealed countless academic opportunities. It enables us to forge relationships across states, countries and continents far better and faster than anything else. You likely know all this already; I’m only refreshing you before exploring the negatives.
You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than on the internet, and I say this in fuller confidence than Obi-Wan did. Only our generation has had access for our entire lives to the Web’s scope of opinions—perhaps why I hear so many disturbing, off-color jokes from my peers in person and online.
In any matter, disturbing content changes a person’s worldview, especially a young person’s. Indeed, some of the depraved deep web tales I have encountered, however fictitious, have inspired some hopelessness in me and would impact younger kids even more.
Beyond disturbing people, the internet often misleads. I reject the ideas mentioned in my intentionally offensive, cold open lead, but my culture has taught me different for a decade and a half; I can only imagine a fifth grader accessing these viewpoints and then believing we need to repeal the 19th.
But these extremes occur rarely, and they’re valuable in that they show multiple perspectives exist for every issue, even ones we’ve thought were non-negotiable our entire lives. Emphasizing this benefit, even, above the many drawbacks can help us cope with extreme opinions.
Moreover, we willingly believe one-sided stories, but only when they’re less offensive (think Trojan Horse). Two sides exists for every stance: How should we know which to adopt?
For trivial subjects, we obviously should align with opinions that resonate with us most, such as with entertainment (unless it’s regarding “The Room,” then you must accept its masterpiece status). This goes without me saying. But doing the same for society-shaping, widely-reaching issues— namely in politics and history—would be irresponsible.
So above all, I recommend we choose sources with views supported by the most facts. Of course, quantity does not count solely—they must be credible. How you determine which facts are most objective is paradoxically … up to you. Uh oh, the simulation is breaking!
Until we derive a quantity-quality equation for the sources of an ideally unbiased article, we must use our shrewdest judgment. Who knows, by the time we master objectivity, maybe we’ll be the outmoded elders watching the youngins move to another platform.