You could probably tell an audience that the entire Internet is run by ants, and you can guarantee that at least one person will believe you. The trouble with the Internet is that it is so scarily enormous; no one really knows how it works and when it comes down to it, this makes us fairly gullible to information that is shared.
And it’s not only myths about the Internet itself; fake news, fake diets, fake videos, they all start online and we eat it all up questioning our own sanity as we get taken in again and again by the power of the media. To understand Internet myths, it helps to understand the size of the Internet.
The Internet is huge, so big in fact that Toner Giant recently worked out if you were to print it all out, not only would it be highly uneconomical but the paper train would reach the moon and back, a massive 107 times! You can see more on this here, but understanding just how much content is out there is a good start.
So why do we fall for everything? Someone who has given this concept a great deal of thought is writer Lyz Lenz, “My grandma believes that the President of the United States is trying to remove ‘In God We Trust’ from US currency. She has forwarded me three emails about the subject, each punctuated with a two-sentence commentary: ‘I can believe this! We live in a godless time!’” Lyz writes after looking into why fiction keeps trumping facts on the Internet. The interesting thing about this conversation Lyz has with her grandma is that even when Lyz eventually proves her wrong, her grandma’s response is, “The point is, this could happen.”
Is it fear then that makes up soak up these stories? It definitely has some relation to emotion. According to Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman who carried out some research in 2012 while studying 7,000 individual articles from The New York Times, stories that go viral are those that elicited strong emotion, both positive and negative.
It’s not all this innocent though, strong emotion isn’t always harmless, especially when it comes to health misinformation, one of the most commonly shared Internet myths. Friends and family are often the first ones to tell us not to Google our symptoms with the results usually being terrifying and life threatening when a common cold is usually the problem. However, that’s not to say the Internet is not helpful when it comes to health conditions, there is plenty of information out there such as on NHS choices.
According to The Independent, Public Health England (PHE) and the head of the Royal College of GPs have recently showed their concern over the growing amount of fake health news that is shared online with a spokesperson for PHE sating that inaccurate health news shared on social media could be “damaging and unhelpful.”
Ironically, with most of these stories, the author of the myths isn’t available to comment and it seems these mysterious news sites perhaps didn’t mean to spiral so out of control. Fortunately, there are people out there looking to dispel rumours and if you ever need your facts checking look for sites like Snopes.com that focus on the truth.