Don’t believe everything you read on the internet (Here’s why)

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Did you know if it wasn’t for 5g, COVID-19 wouldn’t have spread at all?

And what about Trump winning the 2020 American elections? 

Just kidding!

The Internet has become the Bhagavad Gita, the Kuran and the Bible of our generation.

From elections to diseases, every single conceivable topic is surrounded by a ton of myths. And the Internet is no strange avenue to myths.

Did you know the amount of data we use each day is about 2.5 quintillion bytes? (FYI, that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeros)

All of these factors tell us one thing – We’re consuming a lot of information. But have ever thought about how true the information is?

There’s no assurance for that. And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Nothing sums this up better than Abraham Lincoln’s quote on the internet

Abraham Lincoln internet quote
FYI, Abraham Lincoln didn’t exist when the internet was around.

6 Reasons not to believe everything you read online

  1. Most content is shallow

A large portion of the internet is unresearched. If you’re skeptical about this, type in “How to lose weight” and let the results pour in. 

From noobs to elite fitness athletes, everybody has a suggestion. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll find some of this info contradicts each other. 

One guy tells you to starve and have just one meal a day, while the other tells you to eat three meals a day in lesser proportions. 

Short news articles are great examples. There’s even an app(I don’t wish to name it) that provides you with news clips within 60 words. 

For instance, here’s a headline of an article: Tinder launches new music video showing how young India dates.

Don't believe everything you read on the internet
How informative is this 60-word news?

I have got a few questions. Can you explain the term “redefining dating”? Is it as useful as it claims to be? If yes, where’s the proof? And no I can’t accept a few testimonials as proof.

Clicking “the read more on tinder” leads me to the Tinder homepage. Where I can sign up and use their services. 

The purpose of this “informative-60-second-article” was never to help you understand the trends of dating amidst the pandemic, but to get more and more users to sign up for Tinder. 

I may sound pessimistic and cynical but think about it. When was the last time did you question the truthfulness of the content you consumed? Probably never!

These unresearched shallow pieces of content often leave you overwhelmed and misinformed. So, run away from them.

2. It’s not for you

Just because some random guy on the Internet told you that waking at 4 am changed his life doesn’t mean it’s gonna change yours. Let’s consider a scenario

You wake up at 6 in the morning and sleep by 10.45 pm. You work out in the evenings, spend your time with friends and family till you sleep. 

But our internet dude wakes up at 4 am and sleeps by 9 pm. Sometimes even by 8. He spends time with his friends and family in the evenings and works out in the mornings.

Let’s analyze. Both of you get 7 – 8 hours of sleep, spend time with friends and family and have time for your personal goals. So,

What’s the point of waking as early as 4 am? To brag on social media? Is waking it worth the sacrifice?

I know I’m oversimplifying, but things aren’t as black and white as they seem.

Waking at 4 am isn’t a guaranteed pass for success. 

This applies to a huge spectrum of opinions – From fashion to fitness – you’ve to find what suits you.  

Not that it’s bad advice, it’s simply not for you. 

Even what I write isn’t the gospel truth. Most content isn’t.

Don't believe everything you read on the internet
I need to wake up at 4am to change my life? This couldn’t get worse anymore.

3. What you read online isn’t 100% real

This can be classified into two sub-categories,

  1. Intentional wrong information
  2. Unintentional wrong information

The first one is something, we’re all familiar with. How to lose 20 pounds in a month using our “magical” program, how a 20-year-old food-delivery boy became a millionaire overnight using a trading app, “insider-secrets” of becoming a youtube celebrity in 30 days.

The intention of these claims is always almost to get their hands into your pockets. 

You too can get six packs like me. Just pay $600 for six packs and $800 for eight packs.

And these guys are the most convincing. This is an example of how it looks like,

“Struggling to make ends meet? Looking for a side-hustle? Want to earn more money? Look no further, here at X we teach you the “insider secrets” of becoming successful in Y. And we don’t believe people who try to get rich fast. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’re guaranteed to succeed.”

Then they go on to say – “… And this course cost $1000 bucks”. 

It’s so convincing you fall for it. (I almost lost $500 once.) If you do buy it, it’s some simple course which you can get for $30 bucks or less on Coursera or Udemy. Maybe even free on youtube.

So the general rule of thumb – If something seems too good to be true, run away from it.

The second category isn’t something we’re aware of. We consume information online from writers, influencers and online personalities. But do we know how far it’s true?

Take this article for example. Though I’ve put in countless hours into fact-checking everything I write there’s some sort of discrepancy which you can find if you dig deeper. And this is unavoidable. Nothing is 100% true. Content creators are humans too and humans make mistakes.

So what do we do? Take what is useful and discard the rest.

4. Beware of absurd communities

What’s the internet? (I know even a 2-year-old can answer this, but bear with me)

The internet is a place of trillions of content pieces grouped into micro-niches/ sub-cultures surrounded by a like-minded community around each one of them.

In much simpler terms, it’s a place of like-minded online communities. You can find a community ranging from Birth to Death and everything in-between. But certain online communities are absurd.

For example, consider the flat-earthers. Even after decades of research to prove that the shape of Earth is spherical/ irregular ellipsoidal, these people believe that the earth is flat.

Not because they’re inherently bad people, but their ignorance earns them a bad reputation. There are plenty of other online communities far weirder and scarier you don’t want to join. As a safety rule, hop on a motorcycle and get as far as possible from these groups.

flat-earth
This is how the earth looks from space.

5. There’s a high probability that something is going to be left

What you read online may not be the first piece of info about a topic/ event. It could be something that’s passed on over and over. And what happens to info that’s passed several times?

It gets diluted, sometimes so diluted that it’s nothing similar to the truth. Let’s assume an example,

“Hey Dinesh, did you know that our college won the cricket tournament? It seems the cricketers played decently well. But it’s Akash who led the team to victory with an impressive batting performance of 84 runs in just 23 balls” I said to Dinesh.

Now Dinesh passes this info to Ravi “ Ravi, Our college won the cricket tournament and Akash with his great batting performance scored 90 runs off 24 balls with which he led the team to victory. The rest of the team didn’t play so well”.

Ravi tells this to Harish, then Mani, Riyas… the string goes on. Finally, the news reaches back to me from Aswin something like this

“Hey Siva, did you know our college won the cricket tournament and it’s Akash who single-handedly played well and won the game despite the poor performance of the rest of the team.”

Can you spot the difference?

I never implied any of the players were bad but after several transactions of the information, it gets diluted. 

You can argue that the information on the internet is written info and there are lesser chances of it getting missed. But I wonder how deeply the content on the internet is researched.

As human beings, we tend to remember only the important details of the things we experience and not the entire event as it is. 

As for the rest of it, we fill the gaps with information that we believe to be true and not the actual event. In cognitive psychology, scientists call this False memory.

Now how is this related to the internet? Ask yourself if a single sentence spread through word of mouth has this level of misinformation, what about articles and videos? 

None of this is to imply that all people on the internet are snake oil salesmen. It’s just that nothing is 100% true.

6. Reason No.6

There’s no reason 6. I just made that one up. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, remember?

How should you consume online content?

If the internet is an unequal mixture of truth and garbage, how do you separate the facts from the junk? I have got a few suggestions.

1. Look into both sides of an argument

Just a week back I believed something I read on Twitter, only to find something entirely contradicting it. Check out this tweet by mark Manson.

A brief background of who he is – A bestselling author of multiple books and has psychologists in his writing arsenal to back up his claims. 

I was baffled by the profoundness of these lines only to be stopped by this in the comments.

Chris rock on friendships as a solution for loneliness
Chris Rock said this during an interview . Tweet source

So what’s true?

Can you live without friends or your spouse? Which is worse? I believe both of them aid in living a life filled with beautiful memories. 

But hypothetically speaking, if I were put in a position to choose between my friends and spouse, with a gun to the back of my head, what would I do?

I would kick the gunslinger’s ass and scare the shit out of him. 

Jokes apart, I honestly don’t know. Only after reading Chris Rock’s comment on the idea, it might be hard living without a spouse. I believe friends and family are compliments of each other. There are things you couldn’t share with your spouse and vice-versa.

Hell, what do I know? I am just a random kid blabbering on the internet. 

But investor Naval Ravikant in his podcast suggests examining everything. 

Investor Naval Ravikant’s Thoughts on advice

Even Mark himself admitted openly in his newsletter that his ideas are simply thoughts to entertain and he might even be wrong. So it’s always better to decide after looking into both the sides of the opinion.

2. Learn the difference between a fact and an opinion

Sunrises in the east – Fact

Social Media is bad for relationships and causes anxiety – Opinion

Facts aren’t debatable. There’s no changing them. But opinions are. 

So why should you learn to differentiate between a fact and opinion?

Only when you differentiate both of them, the better you understand things you read online.

Both opinions and facts are useful in their ways.

Facts:

  1. Very utilitarian in learning/memorizing new concepts. Delhi is the capital of India, the letter A comes before letter C in alphabets, A sheep, duck and a rooster were the first passengers in a hot air balloon. These are facts.
  2. Useful in researches and scientific studies.
  3. Useful in measurable things – How many loads can a truck carry? How much weight can a brick withstand?

Opinions:

  1. Useful in immeasurable subjective concepts – Happiness, Productivity
  2. Useful for understanding the world we live in. Instead of having a single opinion you now have trillions of them, some contrasting and some similar to yours.

So understanding the difference between a fact and an opinion is useful so that you don’t waste your time arguing over facts and blindly believing opinions.

3. Ask a lot of questions 

Asking questions is one way to seek the truth. Here’s an example

Say you read something like this – “24-year-old guy becomes a millionaire in 6 months after buying this course”. Let’s assume the price of the course is $700. The following would be some questions,

  1. Can you become a millionaire in 6 months legally? If yes, are there examples to back up this claim?
  2. If the course is so valuable, what’s in it? Are there any pages describing the course’s content?
  3. Can I get this info for free or at a reduced price on Youtube or online learning platforms like Udemy or Coursera? If yes, why is this guy charging so much?
  4. If this guy is offering me a course to become a millionaire, where’s the profit in this for the seller?
  5. Why would a guy sell courses on making other people millionaire if he can be one? If he is one, why does a millionaire sell courses instead of investing in businesses?
  6. If he says, he wishes to make poor people millionaires, because he used to be a poor guy in the past, why is he charging so much when he can understand my financial situation?

This does not apply for courses or purchases that seem like a scam, even you can ask questions on simple information too. For example – “How to reduce 10 kgs in 60 days”.

  1. Is this healthy?
  2. Is it natural?
  3. Does it take any toll on my body?
  4. What sort of impact does this have on my body?
  5. What are the alternatives?

You can always come up with information that helps you separate the hoax from the truth.

dog asking question
Excuse me! When can I get my food?

The more clickbaity and irresistible a title is the higher its chance of being fake.

Consuming mindfully helps you get past fake information, make informed decisions and base your judgements properly.

Lean into different sources of information, like Quora, Reddit, books, research papers etc… Get to know people’s opinions, but the final decision must be yours to make.

Intentions of online content creators

If there’s only one takeaway from this article it’s this – Nobody gives you anything for free. Carve this fact deep inside your skull because it’s gonna save you from a lot of trouble.

I write articles and weekly newsletters for free to

  1. Improve my writing skills
  2. Share my thoughts with a huge audience across the world.
  3. Use my work to build my resume as a content writer.
  4. And finally, make some money with Sapien thoughts. (And by some money I mean a point where Sapien thoughts could feed itself. I.e., the money I make from Sapien thoughts is sufficient enough run it)

Now, this model is sustainable in the long run. I am benefitted, you are benefitted, it is a win-win situation. This is the point every content creator desires to reach.

I am telling you this to help you understand that not all online content is the same. There is no shortage of snake oil salesmen on the internet. So whenever you consume something online and if you are suspicious of something ask these questions,

  1. Is this a win-win situation?
  2. Is there a chance of me being exploited?

Short video platforms and news are the best examples. They hook you up with clickbait titles and 30-second clips (So that you can watch more ads) that goes on and on, only at the end of an hour, you cannot remember what you spent the past hour on. 

clickbait title
a. The lion does nothing b. The lion eats the man. But the surprise of what may happen makes this title shine.
One of the best examples of a clickbait title that provides no value to you

The power of skepticism 

Being skeptical of what you read online, cross-reference and double-check information before using it to make a huge decision. Do not fall for any “life-changer” schemes and be diligent. 

This is why I always recommend you to question your beliefs.

Because in this information age, misinformation spreads like a pandemic. It’s fast, difficult to find, hides in plain sight and harder to control if we don’t take any action.

Ask questions, look into both sides of an argument before forming an opinion. As investor Charlie Monger once said

“I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do”

Footnotes

  1. How much data is created every day in 2020? – 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced by humans every day. 463 exabytes of data will be generated each day by humans as of 2025…
  2.  False memory – A false memory is a fabricated or distorted recollection of an event. Such memories may be entirely false and imaginary. In other cases, they may contain elements of fact that have been distorted by interfering information or other memory distortions… Our memories are generally not as reliable as we think and false memories can form quite easily, even among people who typically have very good memories.

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