The Internet is one of the best and worst places to get information. It tends to be an odd mash-up of opinions, biases, and prejudices—of epic proportions. It can be our best friend or our worst enemy. And yes, it can definitely fuel the fire when it comes to googling our fears.
We have such easy access to information. All we have to do is reach in our pockets or even ponder out loud to Siri, Bixby, Alexa, or any other android, and we immediately have answers. While this, at face value, is a wonderful thing, it can also have serious implications on how we perceive information.
Googling often comes from a place of fear.
Have you ever thought about your googling habits? If you’re like me, then most of the time, you search for something when you have a problem or concern. In turn, your results will probably make your worry more, validating every terrifying thought in the back of your head. It might look something like this:
Me to Google: Could a sore throat be a sign of a tumor?
Google: Yes. It’s probably a tumor.
Me to Google: My child has a bruise on their arm. What could it be?
Google: Likely leukemia.
Me to Google: Why am I so thirsty all the time?
Google: 5 Reasons You’re Diabetic and Didn’t Know It—Reason #4 Will Shock You!
The Internet provides copious amounts of information. Attempting to ingest the sheer volume of information we now have access to would be like trying to drink from a fire hydrant—except half of the water is muddy and poisonous.
It’s not that the world is actually a terrifying place. It’s just that nothing entices our brains like fear, and to be honest, that’s how much of web and ad-driven media work. The whole point is to get you to click.
How much of our fear is true or justified?
When we go to the Internet to help us deal with a concern we may have, what we search for doesn't allay. Instead, the Internet works like fertile soil: Our worries seem to take root and grow.
As we search and start googling, it becomes a challenge to figure out what is and isn’t truthful. And that's despite the fact that studies show that a lot of information online is fake. Less than 60% of the information out there is even coming from humans, meaning most is bot traffic, designed and programmed to get us to click.
Even as we try to get better information and develop media literacy, it’s a challenge. When we google because we're scared, then we’re almost always going to find many, many reasons to justify our fear.
Why is it so hard to find real facts?
Last year my daughter got the flu, and the doctor prescribed Tamiflu. At the time, I knew very little about this drug. A doctor prescribed it, so I bought it, gave it to her, and had full confidence that I had done what any good dad would do. However, I was not prepared for the horrors that awaited me.
Within mere minutes of posting something on social media, concerned family and friends started texting me.
Make sure you don’t give her Tamiflu!
I read online that there was a kid who became depressed and jumped out a window while taking Tamiflu!
Did you know that in Japan a child hallucinated and walked in front of a truck after taking Tamiflu?
That stuff is dangerous! Make sure you research the facts before you give it to her.
Of course my wife and I started ferociously googling and searching Tamiflu horror stories online, which we found. What we read would have scared any parent away from giving their child Tamiflu, any vaccines, or even ibuprofen. Even drinking tap water seemed dangerous after that search.
We ended up going down an Internet rabbit hole that amplified our fears. We had to wonder why our doctor would prescribe something that could lead to side effects including depression, hallucinations, psychosis, and more.
And here lies one of the biggest problems in our modern age: When you look for reasons to find fear you will surely find them. In fact, you can probably find support for any view you’re entertaining just with the click of a mouse. In part, this is because of the way we search for content: We tend to ask leading questions. But it’s also an issue of web algorithms, too. You are going to get served the most clickable items, even if it’s false information or dramatized media stories.
It’s hard to be rational, especially when you fear for your child. Thankfully in our case, we were able to ignore the terrifying clickbait headlines and sensationalized Tamiflu coverage. Our daughter fully recovered after just a few days, having experienced none of the side effects.
When we live by truth, not fear, we make better decisions.
Parenting comes with fear; it just does.
The educator and journalist Elizabeth Stone wrote: “Making the decision to have a child—it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
This really resonates with me. As parents, we naturally fear everything as it relates to our kids. When our baby crawls, we fear power outlets. Then when they become toddlers, we fear table corners. When our child rides a bike, we fear child abductions.
The Internet is happy to tell us all the reasons we’re right to be afraid. It's even kind enough to throw in an ad for a product that will make us feel safe. How thoughtful!
Yes, on some levels, danger does exist. But by default, the media and the web sensationalize our fears and quash actual facts.
We’re humans, so we’re definitely going to have moments of paranoia and fear. But we shouldn't let anything amplify this. That means if you’re worried about your child being abducted, don’t google child abduction stories. Search the statistics instead. You’ll find that missing child scenarios are incredibly rare and that 99.8% of children reported missing in the US each year are eventually found alive. (Most are runaways, too.)
In moments of fear, turn off the news, stop googling your fears, and remember the world is not a scary place. Sure, there are some dangers, but the wonders and beauty of this world outweigh them by a thousandfold.
Take a deep breath. Remember to look up the actual facts. Then let your kids play outside. Hold your doctor’s opinion higher than Facebook’s. Hold facts above your fears. I’ll be doing the same thing!