Considerable debate has taken place over the countless avenues and sources of information that can be found online. From the dissemination of fake news, to academic institutions transitioning a number of resources online, it’s an incredibly broad discussion – multiple discussions, in fact. But it all boils down to one question – can the increasingly digitised world facilitate learning?
I am very much in the middle of this, seeing the benefits and the pitfalls of both sides. For one, the bounty of information that I have acquired via online research and casual reading cannot be understated – it is just a goldmine. It is also incredibly easy to verify and look up information, with the internet literally accessible in your pocket. But you always need to question the sources you come across, and the people who are trying to convey their own knowledge.
That, of course, is true everywhere – even in universities it should be encouraged that you question things and explore them for yourselves. Online, however, it is more difficult. While (most) universities are credible learning institutions, individuals or groups online can quite easily imitate that same credibility. PragerU is one example of this. By calling themselves a ‘University’ they give themselves a false perception of prestige, so when people fed with misinformation see this outlet saying what they believe to be true (confirmation bias) they then believe that the source is credible.
PragerU is quite infamous for its historical inaccuracies, omission of facts, and manufactured graphics (like made up bar graphs somehow ‘proving’ their nonsense). From the ‘educated’ sounding presenters to the very much clickbait titles – “Charlottesville Hoax”, “Left Vs. Fact”, and one retaliating against being called out for not being a real university come to mind – their intent is not to inform (even if the presenters think that’s what they’re doing).
Dennis Prager, the founder of the ‘university’ believes that if you watch all of their five-minute videos, you will gain knowledge and wisdom. The problem there is that knowledge isn’t what they are presenting. Many of the sources they quote are either not credible or warped beyond redemption, a lot of the stuff they talk about falls closer to the realm of opinion over reality, and the idea that five minutes is long enough to be able to convey ideas with all of the relevant and necessary context is laughable.
You can’t look at a short video by a fake university talking about how evil Marx was and think you know all there is to know about the man. Even I, who has read a little Marx and some stuff about him, will not claim to actually know all that much about him. But even that rather small amount of knowledge and understanding is enough to debunk a majority of what people like Prager like to peddle. Again, it’s not knowledge – their goal isn’t to educate an audience but to give confirmation bias to those who haven’t researched the topics properly.
A similar accusation could be made towards me too – how do I know the sources I trust are legitimate? How do I know that the information that I write and upload here is true? For starters, I don’t claim to be infallible. I have had my opinions changed on some topics, learned new information about certain people or events, etc.
For example, I wrote a piece about Lenin and the Russian Revolution earlier this year, just some thoughts and conclusions from a book I read about him. That book wasn’t a bad source, and I wouldn’t necessarily change what I wrote at all, but since then I’ve learned a little more about Lenin from listening to people like Noam Chomsky. If I were to write a piece about him now, I would probably be a tad more critical of Lenin and his role in commandeering the Revolution. Of course, an even better move would be for me to actually take the time to read Lenin’s own works.
So no, I don’t even claim that all of my sources are 100% infallible either. The difference is, however, the sources I look for are at least credible and I corroborate and expand upon that information with further reading. What organisations and people like Fox, PragerU, InfoWars, Paul Joseph Watson, Stephan Molyneux, etc. are betting on is that their audience doesn’t carry out this further research. In books – even questionable ones – there are sources you can check. Many of the above-mentioned online outlets either provide no sources, misrepresent and cherry pick legitimate ones, or use their own work as corroboration.
I wrote a similar piece to this a while ago, specifically about YouTube, but it applies everywhere. The websites you go to for information or news can be valuable – I assume most people these days use the Internet as the biggest, if not only, source of information. Is this bad? In my view, yes, but it is viable if enough critical thought is applied. The capacity for absorbing information online is limitless. The capacity to actually learn substantial and worthwhile knowledge is up to the amount of work an individual is willing to put towards it.
Sadly, not many people appear to have the will to put in the work, which only increases the irony of such people claiming to have done their research and accusing others of not doing enough.
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