Let’s Clean Up the Toxic Internet

5 min read


[responsivevoice_button rate=”1″ pitch=”1.2″ volume=”0.8″ voice=”US English Female” buttontext=”Story in Audio”]

Let’s Clean Up the Toxic Internet

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

Sometimes the online cesspool makes me want to scream my head off. Like right now.

The success of the video, part of a documentary called “Plandemic,” has crystallized everything terrible about the internet. People pushing a baseless conspiracy used extreme online savvy to unleash a misinformation goulash, the internet companies couldn’t do enough to prevent its spread, and we ate it up.

Even those who didn’t believe the pseudoscience in the video may have inadvertently been helping spread its false ideas. When we share information in our social circles — even to tell people how wrong we think it is — it spreads even more, said Ben Decker, a disinformation researcher who works with The Times.

Decker also said the internet companies needed to work together to slow misinformation that is coordinated across multiple online hangouts. Facebook and YouTube did delete the original “Plandemic” scene — after millions of people saw it. And versions keep popping up.

To their credit, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others have tried to fight the spread of misinformation related to the coronavirus by directing people to reliable sources like the World Health Organization.

Bogus information is only going to get worse in this pandemic as some people sow distrust of medical experts and any potential coronavirus vaccines. This is dangerous, and we can stop them by understanding the mechanics of bad information, and by not fanning the flames.

Social media sites are a major contributor to the spread of misinformation, because anyone can post something that looks like a legitimate news article but is actually from a bogus source.

Many fake news articles, fortunately, can be easy to spot. Here are some telltale signs:

  • A shady URL: Fake news sites sometimes use legitimate brand names, but their domain names may end with “.com.co,” “.ma” or “.co.” ABCNews.com.co, now a defunct site, was a famous example.

  • Unverifiable information: If an article’s information were legitimately outrageous, plenty of other news outlets would have written about it, too. When in doubt, do a Google search to check if trustworthy publications have reported the same information.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

You May Also Like