As the Jan. 6 Congressional Hearings proceed, and as Americans learn more about what led up to the insurrection at the Capitol, it has become obvious just how much our democracy was tested that day. It appears that much of what motivated hundreds of Americans to attack law enforcement and break into the Capitol, was disinformation that the rioters gleaned from the Internet.
For decades, the Internet had been immensely influential in our lives. Prior to its introduction there was little public debate about how it would impact American society, or how smartphones and other mobile devices would alter our culture. Few could have predicted just how influential a role the Internet and social media would play in America each day.
Their impact on our lives has been immense. Our economy, infrastructure and society are inextricably linked to the Internet. Our behavior has changed.
While the Internet has enhanced our lives in many ways – from transforming how we do business to enabling us to video chat with friends in other countries – its creators seemed to have no plan to deal with the disinformation and hate that now flow on its web pages.
Millions of Americans flock to sites filled with lies, hatred and conspiracy theories. White supremacists and other far-right-wing extremists – identified by the Department of Homeland Security in 2020 as the nation’s “most persistent and lethal threat” – have found a huge following on the web. Many of those who broke into the Capitol used the Internet to communicate their plans before Jan. 6.
In our increasingly electronic society, we need to teach our children about the many virtues of democracy and impress upon them how fascism can change a country overnight. We need to teach our kids to not accept everything as truth simply because it’s on the web, and how to research and confirm facts and historical events. We need to teach them how to astutely navigate between fact and fiction. Our democracy depends on it.