This story is part of How we know what we know: An investigative series.
How do I know what I know?
I’ll start with my own experiences. Currently, I am 22 years old. I grew up as the internet was starting to take off and was there for the rise of YouTube, FaceBook and Instagram.
My parents saw how technology was connecting people, and while it was an exciting transition, they knew that everything comes with a price. They stressed the importance of “stranger danger” and keeping online friendships strictly online. No exchanging information, addresses, phone numbers, etc. They knew that some people would try to use this newfound communication tool for their own malicious schemes.
As a result, I have traversed the digital landscape my whole life as a skeptic.
As the saying goes, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
Make no mistake, being a skeptic comes with risks. I’ve fallen down a few rabbit holes, given credence to some conspiracy theories and spread messages that were later debunked. Nobody is perfect, and that includes the media. And it is my previous mistakes of believing things that weren’t true that led me to ask questions and try to see things as objectively as possible.
Through the years, I’ve learned to see things from different viewpoints, to put myself in others’ mindsets and to try to understand their way of thinking. Of course, I have my own personal beliefs, but I want to know why someone else thinks differently. What evidence do they have for seeing something different than I do? I let their voice be heard and go back and forth with each opposing viewpoint until I can infer my own opinion based on the knowledge I’ve acquired from both sides.
I use this mindset when reading the news today. In today’s era of broadcast news where every segment features a panel of people giving their opinion, I believe it’s important to at least hear the other side out. The Hunter Biden stories turned out to have some credence. Once thought of as a conspiracy theory, the U.S. Energy Department concluded that COVID-19 likely originated from a Wuhan lab leak. So while the media may be right more often than not, does that mean we can’t have a discussion and ask each other questions?
It is as intellectually lazy to believe everything you see as it is to deny everything you see. Why should someone automatically know that the earth isn’t flat, yet I tell them in the next breath that the entire universe was once the size of a marble? Both of those statements sound equally preposterous, except one has real, scientific evidence to back it and the other does not. So when you want to inquire about something, you start to ask questions. You probe deeper than the layer of information that comes to you. Not just believe everything or reject everything outright.
In an education system that actively discourages asking “why?” in favor of “memorize this for the quiz on Friday,” we are actively training kids to either accept everything as is or reject everything, not to ask questions and be curious. How can we preach teaching the next generation media literacy when the education system programs them to accept the material as is and not probe any deeper?
Today, disinformation is purposefully spread to cause mayhem. It is becoming increasingly difficult to have the mindset I have. You see so much misleading news coverage that you can’t help but suspect just about everything is false. But now more than ever, it is important to stay objective and at least let the other side present evidence. Throughout human history, the truth has always come to light, and that will not change now.