The internet has obviously infiltrated our daily lives, but how has it rewired our brains? We live in an age where flashy headlines lure us with outrageous claims, and even the most ill-informed comments and blog posts can sway public opinions. The filmmakers behind the intriguing new documentary Democracy of the Gullible: The Internet Paradox explore how the internet has the power to creep through our cognitive biases.
One of the luxuries of a democracy is in its welcoming of doubt. But when that doubt is left unchecked through the due diligence of research and informed scholarship, outlandish and oftentimes destructive conspiracy theories can take hold. Few people bother to confirm the information they find online with reliable sources.
The film offers several examples of this conundrum. It could be as benign as recognizing shapes of animals in the clouds or as fantastical as questioning the moon landing. From the filmmaker's perspective, the more damaging end of this spectrum is represented in the resolve of the anti-vaccination and 9/11 truther populations. The internet promised open access to a world of knowledge, which many believed would only enhance the cause of democracy. The reality is something quite different as the spread of misinformation in cyberspace has done much to chip away at those democratic foundations.
The film asks a series of essential questions related to both internet use and our inherent cognitive weaknesses. Where do our biases originate? Is gullibility built into our DNA? Why do so many internet users take the path of least resistance when it comes to blind acceptance of headline clickbait? Along the way, the film's interview subjects explore the evolution of critical thinking, why the human brain deciphers consequences as conspiracies, the success that smaller fringe groups have enjoyed in recruiting new followers, and the difficulty of countering falsehoods on the internet once they've been allowed to propagate on a global scale.
Obviously, the scourge of misinformation is a plague in our modern-day society, especially as it pertains to our political dialogues and public health concerns. Democracy of the Gullible: The Internet Paradox takes a nuanced, science-based approach to exploring these troubling trends.