internet company logos

Narrated by Marie T. Russell

Video version

Once there was the Library of Alexandria, then the Gutenberg Press, and now the Internet. This is not to diminish the importance of other libraries throughout history or in any culture. Nor is it to diminish other publishing innovations. But suffice it to say these events were important turning points in the history of humanity.

I once wrote and was quoted, in the early days of the world wide web, that the internet was the equivalent of, or surpassed, the importance of the Gutenberg Press which democratized the written word by ushering in the spread of knowledge to the common man.

It is one thing to have access to a library or bookstore or TV. It is quite another to have much of the world's news, thoughts, musings, and academic works at the snap of my fingers or few touches on a keyboard.

The internet still works for me -- mostly because I learned in college many years ago to gather multiple books on a subject in order to look for truths and inaccuracies.  And in life, I learned to be willing to change a "fact" when confronted with new information, and always question current beliefs.

What is increasingly obvious is the dark side that is engulfing the internet and is spreading inaccuracies, falsehoods and propaganda to an unsuspecting, busy, or lazy audience. Sometimes it's just human error. However, more often than not, it is nefarious motives by countries, groups, or individuals attempting to distort perceptions.

innerself subscribe graphic

I firmly believe in the doctrine of good overcoming evil but have learned that there are some with intent to evil, some disrupting any and everything, and some going up the down staircase in a crowd. I choose to describe them as the proverbial 5 to 10% going against the grain in most anything we encounter. True, sometimes it's for the best but more often it is not. I usually describe this as the reason why we must have stop signs and traffic laws. Without them 5 to 10% of people would ram you at a cross roads from negligence, recklessness, or malfeasance. And so it is with the internet.

Circular Collective Unconscious Incompetence

The Dunning-Kruger effect is where people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.  Since we all can have a tendency to fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect on different topics, it can make us vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda unless we are diligently aware, which most are not at some point. When a nugget of truth is included in misinformation, it is even more believable while misdirecting us.

We are also great mimics of language and actions as a species. That skill can make us both quickly incompetent and competent. In the concept of circular incompetence, false input to the collective makes some individuals incompetent when they could just as well been competent if left to their own devices instead of the manipulation from others..

People with nefarious motives have learned and understood this throughout history. To control the masses, they will inject misinformation, lies, and deceptions into the community so that the incompetence travels from person to person, group to group and back again like the "telephone game", and media to media. We can see this at play in authoritarian countries today.

The Failed "Don't Be Evil" Platform

Talk show host Thom Hartmann once said that, while researching his hidden history book series, he had to sort through many multiple layers of right wing nonsense on Google. I seldom use Google search myself for much the same reason although I have other reasons as well. I dislike the ads disguised as content. While deception, it really is akin to lying. And much nonsense is the rule now for the once invaluable tool. There are still nuggets but you've got to go to the effort to sort through the BS.

What Thom Hartmann was referring to was the methodology of the authoritarian political money class to provide the equivalent of salt blocks for the unsuspecting deer being hunted. This is an analogy to spreading propaganda for gain that would make the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels smile from the grave. Or make Freud's nephew Edward Bernays, the father of PR, giggle with glee.

The right-wing idea of buying up multiple copies of an author's new book so it appears at the top of the best seller list, to mass producing websites to spread misinformation for monetary or political gain, or salting comment sections of legitimate websites with disruptions for disruptions sake is just the tip of the iceberg. The right-wing imagination knows no bounds and no scruples when trying to win at all costs.

"Don't be evil" was once used in Google's code of conduct and motto. Unfortunately, from the pressures for profits, this idea was relegated as an afterthought at the end, as "And remember… don't be evil, and if you see something that you think isn't right – speak up!". Running right wing propaganda is very profitable.

While Google search is bad enough with ads disguised as searches, often the searches themselves are filled with popular misinformation.  But worse is the nonsense dispersed rather liberally by YouTube. I use YouTube quite a bit and I have learned much from individuals willing to share their expertise and experiences, but I use my safety in numbers guideline to sort through the offerings. For instance, I will watch 10 or more videos to arrive at best practices. And I seldom use Google's recommendations.

Is Google's behavior intentional? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? What is clear is that Google is virtually unapproachable by its users and depends mostly on algorithms for much of what they do. Are they aware of the problems? Probably. Do they care? It appears not.

The Platform For Anybody To Say Nearly Anything

One only has to quickly peruse the Facebook entry on Wikipedia to determine that ethics may not be their strong suit. Originally started, at Harvard, as a site to vote on who was hot and who was not, it has not progressed much in ideas since then.

Simply put, Facebook is a predator. It thrives on the personal data of not only its users but also on the personal data of non-users as it trolls the internet with its Like buttons and Recommends that are embedded in most websites.

In the lead-up of the 2016 Presidential race it was instrumental in kneecapping the Clinton Campaign and promoting Trump for president. It helped promote the Brexit agenda in the UK. Much of this has been disclosed through the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Millions of people were treated to ads by probable Russian agents designed to spark tribalism and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. The internet is full of disclosures about this, now that the damage has been done. The New York Times exposed some of the shenanigans in These Are the Ads Russia Bought on Facebook in 2016 -- again, after the damage was done.

It is said that many folks get their news on Facebook. Yes, it is a time waster for sure and leaving little time for using more reliable sources. I can't think of a better detrimental example than the Covid-19 pandemic where users spread disinformation leading to the readers left bewitched, bothered and bewildered ...sick or dead.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Google and Facebook are not the only culprits by any means. Many websites big and small learn from their nonsense. Some try to self correct and some don't. But what is true is that Facebook and Google are sucking the revenue from the internet leaving any competition with ever limited options. .

It's not a new phenomena as it is as old as humanity itself. Left to their own devices, some people and organizations will  seek monopoly over their competitors to the devastation of everyone and everything around them. Nowhere is this more damaging to a civil society than politics where most seek to cement their control by simply legally bribing those with limited scruples.

Not Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is often misunderstood.  Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the US, but only from the government and not always. All speech is not free to utter. Some speech is libelous. Some speech is fraudulent. Some speech is designed to incite panic. Nothing though is more common or slickly damaging than failure to supervise one's journalism of false equivalents and leaving the threads of causal connections hanging. This concept is particularly obvious in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. How irresponsible of the media to focus on the natural chaos of withdrawal without highlighting the dishonesty that preceded and caused the need for withdrawal in the first place. So, we must ask ourselves these questions.

  1. Are we free to mislead others intentionally for personal gain?

  2. Do those with authority have a responsibility for due diligence to the truth and not lie?

  3. Are you free to abuse me? Am I free to abuse you?

  4. Am I free to deceive or encourage you to harm yourself?

Of course none of this is really new. Every era has its charlatans, con men, and methods to spread the lies.

We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction. There are many voices of counsel, but few voices of vision; there is much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose. We are distressed by our own ungoverned, undirected energies and do many things, but nothing long. It is our duty to find ourselves.

-- Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

What is new is that the old adage, "A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots" has become terrifyingly new and has never been more true than in the internet era.

So I come full circle. Like the Gutenberg Press was important in democratizing information, the internet is now instrumental in democracy itself. It is a turning point in history. But instead of strengthening democracy, the internet is weakening this grand experiment of the people governing themselves.

We do not have much time to right ourselves as we stare down the barrel of climate change. Already the suffering begins and will only intensify as time passes without adaptation, mitigation, and prevention. Given the current trajectory of species extinction we may have to be reminded of song birds by only a clock that chimes a song on the hour.

The solution to a changing climate is not something that can be done alone. It must be collective. For that, we need the proper information and the keepers of the internet are failing us.  And standing in the wings are the authoritarians ready to sell us our death by a thousand cuts of BS....for profit and power.

Related Book:

book cover of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: Tight and Loose Cultures and the Secret Signals That Direct Our Lives by Michele GelfandRule Makers, Rule Breakers: Tight and Loose Cultures and the Secret Signals That Direct Our Lives
by Michele Gelfand

“A useful and engaging take on human behavior” (Kirkus Reviews) with an approach that is consistently riveting, Rule Makers, Ruler Breakers thrusts many of the puzzling attitudes and actions we observe into sudden and surprising clarity.

Info/Order this book.

About the Author

jenningsRobert Jennings is co-publisher of with his wife Marie T Russell. He attended the University of Florida, Southern Technical Institute, and the University of Central Florida with studies in real estate, urban development, finance, architectural engineering, and elementary education. He was a member of the US Marine Corps and The US Army having commanded a field artillery battery in Germany. He worked in real estate finance, construction and development for 25 years before starting in 1996.

InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as Please support our work.

 Creative Commons 4.0

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License. Attribute the author Robert Jennings, Link back to the article This article originally appeared on