Beware the “Google-Fed Zombies” says David Helfand on Mass Misinformation

October 29, 2016

We human beings, thanks to the Internet, are producing 2.5 quintillion bytes of information every day. We must be really smart!

Nope! David Helfand is here to make the case that the information democratization brought by the advent of the Internet is drowning us in misinformation. Those 2.5 quintillion bytes? “All of it is not carefully edited.”

Helfand is author of the book A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age, and he’s concerned that as a society we have collectively decided that “the upper right hand corner of your browser is the equivalent of thinking.”

The vaccine denial movement is a useful case in point, where misinformation results in tangible harm. Perhaps the most powerful symbolic example of this, is that at Google’s own daycare center for employees, only 50% of kids had been vaccinated. The people of Google itself were falling for the bad information that they get by relying too heavily on Google searches.

Careful not to be taken as some anti-technology crank, he differentiates the information revolutions of printing and broadcast from the Internet. Reading a book or watching a movie, he says, is “an individual act,” passive, with no way to give feedback, and with no way to control the source of information.

Contrast that with the Internet, where we do control the course, curating our own news flow and excluding any information that doesn’t confirm with our existing worldviews. This creates what he calls “armies of the uninformed.”

If the Internet’s 2.5 quintillion bytes mostly just serves to reinforce group identity, what do we do? Helfand isn’t sure, but he suggests you might start by buying his book. How you’d give him feedback on that book, I’m not sure, especially since he says he doesn’t carry a smartphone.

“I live in this wonderful bubble of tranquility.” Sounds lovely.