Rumours surface from the murky depths of the internet
The internet is a parallel dimension inhabited by deranged monsters and marvellous heroes, all scattered like stars across cyberspace with immense stretches of banal nothingness, dull worthiness and LOL cats in between.
Like in a bad horror film, sometimes the crazies – or their ideas - creep over into real life.
At The Punch, we often witness a fascinating phenomenon.
Someone on one of these subterranean blogs will write a post. For the sake of the story, let’s say this pernicious gossipmongerer claims that prominent frontbencher Ralph Dawg has a vestigial tail – an extended coccyx, an evolutionary leftover.
Said blogger might even have a blurry video they say is of the wagging tail, and refer to the existence of documented evidence.
There’ll be just enough detail to give this rumour the semblance of reality.
And of course, like any great conspiracy theory, there’ll be hints of a cover up, of a compliant media not brave enough to out the story.
In no time at all, the cyber rumour mill goes into overdrive and wags flock to The Punch wanting to talk about the incredible vestigial tail and why it renders Mr Dawg unfit for public service.
There’s a sort of critical mass when enough people have heard enough other people talk about the tail, as though it starts to create its own truth. The tale dogs the wag.
Of course, we can’t talk about the actual gossip here. They’re untrue tails, and defamatory (or, in the parlance of the internet crazies, a coverup by the mainstream media, take your pick).
We can, however, talk about the disproportionate attention being given to ‘AWU-gate’. Questions To Answer-gate. Smear-gate.
There is an actual story here, in the twists and turns of the union slush fund, in who knew what when. It’s historical, but if it turns out that the Prime Minister did something wrong, it could shed a certain light on her character of 20 years ago.
The whole thing has been inflated by the whispers emanating from the dark, from the recesses of the blogosphere, and pumped up by the opposition’s quest for political mileage. The bullshit is accreting.
A similar process happens with the anti-vaxxers. The moonbats who believe immunising harms more than it helps. Who would have thought that, as we saw yesterday, a group of eminent scientists have to spend their time writing a book to debunk the mischievous lies they spread online?
It happens with the gun lobby, with climate change deniers, with people spreading fear to sell their own products. Just make it up, publish, and watch the hits roll in and the uninformed roll out - more stupid but more confident.
Only they’re not just online, now; they cross over into the real world, and people start to believe that something they read by a blogger with no credentials has just as much credence as something written by an expert. The medium makes all messages equally ‘true’.
This virtual truthiness happens with all manner of scurrilous and sketchy claims. Truth and evidence and the scientific process are under attack as never before. As the mainstream media becomes more enmeshed with the internet underworld, it engages more with the creatures that emerge from that murky swamp. Or they believe the stench associated with the creatures is impossible to ignore.
The internet gives everyone a voice, and that includes people who don’t care to distinguish between real and fake, people whose minds are so open their brains have fallen out, and people who are vindictive and wilful liars.
Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but the internet has fooled people into thinking they have a right to their own facts.
We – the media, society, our politicians, and those of us standing around the metaphorical watercooler – need to stay vigilant, put the creatures back where they belong, in the underworld, and do a better job of keeping commentary in the real world safe from their stench.
I think we’re gonna need a bigger fence.
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