I found yet another rant about how the internet gives a voice to any idiot, and how this allegedly makes us dumber. Janice Kennedy of Ottawa Citizen even suggests that the popularity of ignorant political leaders can be blamed on social media. Her premise seems to be that stupidity is contagious.
Is this true?
Granted, social media let ordinary people share their thoughts in public. Sure, people with crazy ideas do find each other on sectarian web sites. And of course such ideas can thrive and seem plausible to the feeble minded, especially when all critisism is treated as conspiracy.
Of course. But does any of this make us dumber?
Consider it a test: Did you read it? Did you believe it? Did you fail to consult other sources? Check, check, check – you flunked! I'm sorry, you're stupid.
But you didn't become stupid. The internet didn't make you that way. The fact just became apparent, and you found someone to play with. No harm done. Sure, it's easier to preserve prejudices where they’re never challenged, but that's no novelty. People have always protected their fads. Fact is, it's easier to stumble upon different opinions on the internet than in RL.
If you're a reasonable person, you're influenced by people making sense. You'll be able to distinguish knowledge from nonsense most of the time. With free access to almost any information, you can learn whenever you want to, and maybe even when you don't. This you can «blame» on the internet.
But I really don't see what the internet has to do with stupid politicians. Did Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee find their ideas on a chat forum? Are their supporters able to convert sensible people by the thousands? Of course not.
But yes, it's tragic that ignorance is celebrated, and even more so when proud fools decide to run for office. Maybe their shamelessness can be partly blamed on media (social as well as conventional), but hardly their ignorance. Besides, the interesting question isn't who or what to blame, but what to do about it. Here's my suggestion: 1) make information retrieval and source evaluation mandatory topics in school, 2) elementary knowledge tests for politicians.