I remember discovering the worlds of YouTube, vloggers, and social media influencers all the way back in middle school. At the time, the internet seemed harmless. To me, it was a space for people like influencers to have fun and a space for viewers like me to be entertained.
Little did I know that there was so much more going on beyond the façade of those happy-go-lucky skit and challenge videos that had stormed the web.
Look in the right places—so anywhere—on the internet and you’ll eventually come across something political or culturally insensitive, offensive and disturbing, and so on.
But beyond that, there are algorithms and systems put in place in platforms like YouTube to influence our behaviours and we may not realize it. Briddle (2017) covers this in his article ‘Something is wrong on the internet,’ and he makes some great (and startling) observations.
Something’s wrong on the internet
For one thing, YouTube channels and other internet platforms alike have mastered the art of catching people’s attention with the strangest content you could think of.
Briddle (2017) highlights his findings with children’s content and online shopping, but we can also think about content we see in our own feeds. Throw some big keywords together and you can find yourself disturbing print tees, strange video tropes, unsettling user-made edits, and more.
Thanks to newer short-length content video platforms like TikTok, these types of content circulate much faster and encourage new trends.
It’s now a matter of digital literacy
With all of this potential and existing content on the internet, it is important for users like me to be aware of what’s out there. Thus, we need to be critical of the content we consume. But how do we do this…?
As Caulfield (2016) explains, there is the traditional way of approaching this, which is asking a few standard questions such as: Who runs this website? What is their knowledge on the topics at hand? Are they an expert? What influences could they have on their content?
However, there is much more to information and digital literacy than those standard questions. At a glance, could you identify which news outlets were most reliable and credible if you were given an assortment of article snippets to view? Could you tell which outlet stands where on the political spectrum? Which facts were most careful?
These are just make up a sample of what we should keep our eyes out for, but again there is so much more to it.
Cross-reference information, fact-check using reliable sources, and take advantage of technology to help you identify misinformation. We’re on our way toward a more information-literate society, but it will take time.
Bridle, J. (2017, November 6). Something is wrong on the internet. Medium. https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-internet-c39c471271d2
Caulfield, M. (2016, December 19). Yes, digital literacy. But which one? Hapgood. https://hapgood.us/2016/12/19/yes-digital-literacy-but-which-one/