by Hans Eisenbeis
Many thoughtful people have argued that the Internet has not brought us together, it has separated us. Separated us into passionate, backslapping cliques where we only read articles that agree with our opinions, only interact with people who share our beliefs, and only watch media that comports with our worldview. This, they say, is the “filter bubble” effect, and a recipe for the kind of extreme polarization we have today — especially in politics, where “bipartisanship” has become a dirty word.
Another nefarious (and related) consequence of the digital revolution is the supposed death of original thinking. Collegiate plagiarism has risen dramatically, according to some observers, because students rely so heavily on the Internet to do their research, and the end result is often cut-and-paste, find-and-replace scholarship that violates traditional views of originality. In fact, this has become such a common issue that at least one college, Penn, offers a composition course called Uncreative Writing that explores the finer points of plagiarism (NPR.org, 15 September 2012).
Still, as we head into the last week of an exhausting presidential campaign season in the US, we find some reason for hope. Not in recent memory has there been a campaign in which the facts have been so hotly contested, and the beauty of a fact is that it’s inarguably true. You either have it right or you don’t. The Internet has made it possible for every citizen to be a fact checker and to check the originality of any other person’s words.
And that ultimately holds everyone — not to mention every brand — to a higher standard of accountability, no matter which filter bubble they call home.