Editorial – Look It Up

Remember when you were told not to make a face or it would stay like that permanently? Given the nature of the internet, that saying may have more truth than most people realize—especially if some friend happens to snap a picture of you while you’re making that face. The notion that what’s on the internet is permanent is starting to affect our society in profound, and sometimes opposing, ways.

One the one hand it can be hard to disassociate yourself from something that happened in your past, even if it wasn’t your doing, such as false accusations of a crime. Being exonerated these days is no guarantee that a potential employer won’t find the story of the exoneration but not the proof of your eventual innocence, and getting the false story removed can be difficult. Even if you’re the victim of a crime, as one company here in Canada was when one of its former distributors started manufacturing and selling its product under their own branding. The offending company has been ordered to stop, but simply moved out of the country and the internet makes it simple for people to continue purchasing their products, even here in Canada.

On the other hand, sometimes information that we think will reliably be available is not. Recently, the government of India started blocking users from accessing certain government sites in the Internet Archive, (The Wayback Machine, as it’s more commonly known). No information as to why has been given, but in these days of fake news, the notion that a government could simply declare certain pieces of historical public information to be inaccessible is disturbing. The idea that we bear responsibility for the words we say and ideas we put forward falls apart if we cannot rely on being able to access what those words were.

Scientists dealt with this with the election of Mr. Trump, with many being concerned that government data, particularly with regard to climate measurements, would be dumped and it created an international effort to back-up and save all the data that was available. Fortunately, this time, we had some warning. And these types of things happen in Canada as well. It is almost standard procedure now that the moment a political campaign is complete, the campaign documents, the promises the politician made, are all whisked away from public view.

But why is any of this a big deal? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that there wasn’t an internet to speak of. Nobody could look up anything on a website then, and we seemed to get along just fine. However, the internet has changed that too. The ease of publishing means its incredibly easy for false information to be propagated. This in turn means that unless we can find the information from the original source, we can’t trust it. Before, pushing false information was hard. It had to go through the gatekeepers of the media or academia, who knew that they were all competing to provide the most valuable information since they all had limited space and opportunity to present information to us. That’s changed. With limitless electronic space, and 24 hour a day access to us, whether through television or the internet, the value of the message isn’t as important as simply ensuring we engage with the message. We no longer need to know. We can just look it up. But that’s a dangerous place to be when you realize that what we look up can be controlled by people and companies who have no idea who we are.

Luckily for you, here at The Voice Magazine, we do care, which is why things like this week’s interview with grad student Dani Paulich, the second part of our look at what AUSU’s involvement with CASA brings us, or Jason Sullivan’s exploration of the value of an AU education (with an image for essay writing you might never forget), are all archived on our site. (Okay, maybe that segue was a bit forced. At least I tried.) Enjoy the read!

P.S. If you didn’t already know, The Voice Magazine has a Facebook page and a twitter feed if you’re into that kind of thing!