In today’s snakebitten information environment, where the realms of social media and news media are intertwined, the line between informed opinion and casual commentary often blurs. As citizens, we indeed hold the right to express our views on various matters. However, this freedom comes with a responsibility, particularly when addressing issues that require domain expertise.
Indeed, it begs the question of whether we, armed with the right to speak, always should.
“These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything,” said Tom Nichols in The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.
I once heatedly crossed swords with Tom Nichols on Twitter. He didn’t much care for my opinion about the Iraq War. I didn’t take it too personally, but it left a mark — just as his book hits the mark on the role of expertise in our society and how it is being overshadowed in favor of people who lack expertise but have instead cultivated a platform to spread their ignorance.
To simplify: the concept that freedom of speech entails freedom of reach has not materialized as the founders of social media envisioned.
The Pitfall of Misinformation
The digital age has democratized information, allowing anyone with internet access to share their thoughts with a global audience. This inclusivity, though admirable, can lead to the propagation of misinformation. When individuals without domain expertise weigh in on specialized topics, they risk spreading inaccuracies.
According to the Brookings Institution, one of the drivers of decreased confidence in the political system has been the explosion of misinformation deliberately aimed at disrupting the democratic process. This effectively confuses and often overwhelms voters.
For example, the spread of Covid-related misinformation, which started in 2020 with doubts about the virus’s existence and severity, escalated to include baseless claims about mask technologies and unproven treatments like ivermectin. The introduction of vaccines further fueled misinformation, with conspiracy theories focusing on…