November 21, 2006

Think twice

The Internet is a powerful tool; there is no doubt about that. It distributes information quickly and provokes discussion on a worldwide level. Blogs, YouTube, and social networking websites have revolutionized the rapidity and efficiency of information dissemination. For example, a handful of blogs and a lone YouTube video were instrumental in the Democrats’ capture of the Senate.

The tools of the Internet are now being felt in full force on campuses across the country. Just this week, a video of UCLA security officials tasering a student who failed to show his ID upon entry into the library brought the issue of police brutality home to everyone.

But with all the good that accompanies the quick communication enabled by the Internet comes a cost, namely in the reliability and quality of that information. Print media relies on verifiable sources, but your average blog or Facebook group does not. Recent Facebook groups were formed to protest the ostensible cancellation of the “drunk van” service—and this turned out to be a false alarm. More recently, Facebook groups protesting the U of C’s switch to the Common Application have misled students to believe that the switch would include a loss of the original application’s unique essay questions—even linking to a Maroon article that quoted precisely the opposite information from the administration. Groups like these have only been growing in impassioned members, and given their popularity, it’s unfortunate that they lack comprehensive research on the facts and the conclusions to which they jump.

At the U of C, one of the first things we learn in the Core—ironically, another University institution that inspires passionate discussion from the student body—is that we must not take any argument at face value, but ask questions and do our research before making a case or assuming anything blindly. In the age of the Internet—when cesspools of lies can easily collect on seemingly official websites like Wikipedia and Facebook and in blogs—it is especially crucial for us to maintain that healthy level of skepticism in intellectual discourse that we are all taught to carry with us from day one have at the U of C. The Internet is great, so long as we remember to check our facts.