I think most of us have been there. Look at this article that I found on Facebook, says your irate grandmother. The title? New Bill Would Require Officers to Call Supervisor Before Drawing Weapons.
That story, which was shared all across Facebook and the internet, alleged that democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris was sponsoring this legislation that she supposedly says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allow officers to check their privilege.
I hope it’s obvious to all of you by now that this story and the website it was originally posted on is wholly satirical. Why, then, are our parents and grandparents so much more likely to believe and share fake news online? Are they just stupid?
I don’t think so. I think the first thing to consider is the differences in media consumption between the generations as they grew up. Our grandparents were fed a diet of largely non-partisan television news anchors who sought to deliver the news in a way that appealed to everyone. After all, there were only five or so channels. They knew then that if they tuned in, they were largely being told credible information.
Let’s contrast that with Generation Z. Nicknamed the iGen for our affinity for smartphones, most of our first experiences with independent information collection (outside of school) were with smartphones or computers. Most of us then learned fairly quickly that the internet isn’t the most trustworthy place for information. Many were taught in schools directly how to find credible information and understood, at least on a surface level, that anyone with $10 can make a website.
Add to that the change in the traditional media landscape with vast increases in networks that all try to pander to different sides, and what results is an ingraining in each of us a distrust for many who try to feed us information. We’re (understandably) cynical.
Our grandparents developed a trust for reporters, as really all of those five stations they had access to were credible. The result is that our grandparents are more likely to believe that so long as a story is delivered in a manner that at least mimics journalism, it is credible.
So that’s it! Our generation is better!
Not quite. Generation Z faces a different problem. As I said before, many of us were taught in schools how to find information. We’re very good at finding the information that we want to find, and that’s exactly the problem.
Let’s say I’m a liberal in Gen Z and I think that Trump should be impeached. Many with this belief would google “Reasons why Trump should be impeached,” and often would be delivered exactly what they asked for. The information might even be credible, but of course they are only getting one side of the story.
We’re so good at finding exactly what we want, arming ourselves with facts that may all be true, while unknowingly ignoring things that we think might challenge our views. And when we go to debate other people, often their facts are true too, but we’re both missing sides of the story that we would have if not for our incredibly pointed search queries and carefully curated webpages.
The internet is a beautiful place, and you’re sure to find something that supports your views if you search well enough.
Slowly but surely Gen Z is becoming very similar to their grandparents in that their information diet is toxic and an echo chamber. For better or for worse, we’re the best at finding information and have more access to it than any generation before us. The question now is whether or not we choose to suffocate in our bubbles.