Can you even believe me?
The other night I sat at the dinner table, attempting to elude the endless questions about my day from my inquisitive parents, when my father abruptly changed the subject. “So global warming isn’t actually happening,” he boldly proclaimed. “The Wall Street Journal had an article about it today; many scientists signed a document saying that it wasn’t happening.”
I couldn’t and still can’t believe my father’s conviction about the truth in his claim. How could he believe this article to be completely accurate, while ignoring the thousands of other scientists who advocated on behalf of the same issue? It didn’t even have to do with my or his views about global warming at that point, just my disbelief at his willingness to succumb to the media’s pressure.
Yet my father is not alone. As a society, we cast our predetermined opinions on everything that we encounter and only find credibility in people and news sources which share our viewpoints. This polarization leads us to ignore other aspects of the same situation and often distorts our image of the truth.
No matter the issue, there are always two sides. A Brookings Institution article may extol the federal government’s new welfare system, while a CATO Institute article with similar facts could condemn the situation. These institutions write for specific audiences and thus spin facts in a direction so as to please these viewers, as do all other websites and news sources. As consumers of such media, our job becomes winnowing this information into objective facts that can then be critically analyzed and used to form our own opinions.
Or this is how it would be in a Utopian society. Instead, most people base their opinions on the most popular Google search and blindly believe the information on any random website they find. While whyilovecats.com might seem to be a completely legitimate website to some mindless Internet searchers, the website probably won’t be praising dogs any time soon. Nor should its poll stating ‘95% of people like cats more than dogs’ be trusted without any fact-checking. So if you are writing a paper on ‘Are dogs or cats the better pet?’ this probably shouldn’t be your only source.
Now, this may seem like an extreme example (I mean who are we kidding, there’s actually a website called whyilovecats.com?) but we do often blindly trust the Internet without any basis. I know many classmates, myself included, who have searched the answer to an AP United States History homework question and jumped for joy when that exact question had been asked and answered on Wikianswer. But how do we know that “freelancer17” is giving us all of the information we need, or even the correct information? We don’t.
After we have found information from our nondescript Google searches, we form opinions based on this ‘truthful’ knowledge. If we ever want more information on said topic later, we will click on links that seem to converge with our beliefs on the topic. For example, if I agree with President Obama’s latest health care policy and want to learn more, I am much more likely to click on the Google search option titled ‘The 5 Important Benefits of Obama’s New Health Care Plan’ rather than another titled ‘Why Obama’s Leading Us in the Wrong Direction With Health Care.’
Our inherent tendency to find our information from sites that proclaim our viewpoints comes from our desire to be right. We are afraid to see the other side of the coin oftentimes because we don’t want to learn too much, to have the other side make sense. To be wrong about something. Or even worse, to change our opinion. How scandalous.
Following on this path, we ignore others with differing opinions because of our self-consciousness about our opinions. Our fear of being wrong and ignorance to the other side of a situation can lead us to avoid the ideas of thousands because they contradict our undeveloped opinions. But when we ignore others, we never learn and become stuck in a closed mindset.
So change your homepage from CNN to FOX News, or try clicking on those ‘ridiculous’ articles once in a while. It’s likely that their opinion makes as much logical sense as yours does.