How to not get sucked down a ‘digital rabbit hole’

Special Reports

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – On average, a person is on the internet for seven hours a day – that includes work and personal time.

Sometimes, however, it can take you down a dark path.

“Down the rabbit hole” was made famous in Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

But this iconic scene is more than just an animation. It illustrates how easily one can get lost on the internet.

With just the click of a button.

“It’s when you’re just browsing the web and then you see something that’s interesting, so you click on it and it leads to something else and you click on it, and it leads to something else and you click and before you know it, you’re way off base of what you were looking at in the first place,” remarks Bill Gardner, assistant professor at Marshall University.

The online content you often see is generated by algorithms, and there’s no easy way of stopping it.

“The technology is trying to guess what you’re interested in, based upon your consumption of content,” says Gardner.

It might sound great having content tailored to your interests, but browsing a single story can lead to more stories on a topic you initially had just a passing interest in.

Experts say those stories can influence us in a dangerous way if we let it.

According to local psychologists, people fall down the digital rabbit hole because of ‘confirmatory bias’, which is where an individual looks for information confirming their point of view.

“People want to believe and when they want to believe, they only seek out that confirmation bias and that to me is probably the most dangerous place we are as the internet has developed,” comments Clinical and Forensic Psychologist David Clayman.

Clayman says people will oftentimes ignore information that challenges their point of view.

Instead, they browse for content that supports their beliefs.

“And the sad thing now is we’re no longer concerned about the truths that will make things better, we’re only concerned about the truths that will affirm that we’re right, says Clayman.

Recent topics with polarizing beliefs include the COVID-19 vaccine, police brutality in our country and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Rabbit holes can also lead you to violent content like conspiracy theories.

“You can’t believe everything you see on the internet. You have to look at everything sort of a grain of salt,” says Gardner.

It is even more influential on children.

“There’s the case of the two girls from Australia, I believe it was, that actually ended up joining ISIS and moving to Syria,” he remarks.

And then there’s the Wisconsin Slender Man stabbing, where two girls lured their friend into the woods during a sleepover and stabbed her 19 times – because the fictional character ‘Slender Man’ told them to do it.

Accountability is the only solution to prevent falling down the Rabbit Hole and it really depends on you.

“In the end, we all have a personal responsibility to act responsibly on the internet and it’s not the technology that’s the monster, it’s what we do with that technology that creates bad situations,” says Gardner.

Watch the full interview with Bill Gardner below:

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