The Internet: Helping or Hurting?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I wake up and roll over, determined to sleep further and then wonder if things have suddenly improved overnight. Pulling myself out of bed, I grasp my phone, quickly flipping it over to see what I’ve missed throughout the night. Yes, I know grabbing your phone first thing in the morning is not the best way to start your day. I scan one alert, followed by another; a news report on closed borders, deaths, what to do if you think you have COVID 19, flattening, no planking the curve. I check my flight tracker to see how close my parents are to home and start to worry about all of the people on the plane and my 73 year old mothers respiratory issues.  Suddenly, I feel like I might be a little feverish, is my throat sore? What if I’m infected and I infected someone unknowingly? My mind plays over images of the last few days as I recall things I may have touched, where I was and who I saw.  As the rope around my chest begins to tighten, I remind myself to breathe. Swallowing a few gulps of air, I relax my shoulders and begin to inhale and exhale deeply.

Over the past few weeks,  the world has changed. Changed due to a virus;  a virus named COVID-19. It sneaks into places unaware and lies quietly, but actively on innocent looking surfaces awaiting its next victim. A cough sends out thousands of tiny little warriors just looking for a new home, a new body to invade. This microscopic, invisible virus has managed to turn the entire world on its head. Businesses, schools and all aspects of social life has been abruptly halted, leaving many unemployed, lonely, scared, bored and trapped in their homes, their only connection to the outside world through what they see or find online.

If isolated people worldwide have only one contact to the outside world, via the internet, the issue of what is found online becomes vitally important. What may be found online? How do we know what if what we see online is true? This week’s reading by Rheingold (2012) connects directly to the current state of the world, as knowing how to find what you are looking for online as well as how to decide if what you are reading is indeed fact or fiction may be vitally important as it may influence the direction people take in response to the COVID-19 virus.  Could the information found and shared on the internet impact the spread and management of the virus?  Could it impact how people mange themselves during this crisis? Does one article stating that you need to stock up on supplies for two months cause pandemonium at stores? Does a facebook post telling people that they need to stay home impact an individuals movements?  Does a video plea from Italy change someones decision? Does a statement that the virus is no big deal and that more people die from the seasonal flu impact someones choice to go out or stay home? Does information stating that you won’t get sick if you drink lots of water,  or drink bleach (hopefully no one is drinking bleach!), or don’t eat ice-cream influence decisions and change thoughts about the virus?

Does access to the internet help, or hurt?

It could be argued that these may all influence an individuals decisions. As an educator, understanding the in’s and out’s of the internet and how to determine if something is fact or fiction and teaching this to my students can help them to make informed decisions. Teaching students tools to navigate the web, teaching them how the web works and how it filters information is important for decision making,  building knowledge and broadening perspectives.

Rheingold’s (2012) book chapter, Crap detection 101: How to find what you need to know and how to decide if it’s true, offers some strategies to use with students to help them to sort through all of the information they see on the internet. The ideas presented connect in multiple ways to the BC digital literacies framework and were reminiscent of work I have had students complete: the CRAPP test students complete when conducting research and the effective searching strategies tasks that students carry out; however there were also a few new ideas and tools that I have not used.

For example:

    1. (I found it fascinating that their slogan is “Find, Reach and Convert your Audience” ) can be used to see how much traffic a site receives.
    2. Using “In the context of web context: How to check out any web page” can give students and teachers further tools to use when reviewing information found online.
    3. Plugging your URL into networktools.
    4. Looking at Global Voices to gain a variety of world views.

One of the big ideas I pulled from this chapter was to always be skeptical, to always question and to always look for opposing ideas.

Students can learn to be skeptical, students can learn to conduct effective research and can be taught many of the tools mentioned, but what if they are not even being given all of the information in the first place?  What if all of the information they receive is filtered based on their preferences as determined by an algorithm. The video below, outlines the reality of this as well as the issues that may arise as a result. The search results I see as an educator may be drastically different than the results a 16 or 17 year old will see. The social media feeds I am exposed to would also be different than those my students see and different from those others in the world would see. This explains why the the fake news circulating on social media did not show up on my social media feed and why I had to do a search for “corona virus”+ “fake news” to discover it.


Within our group project, teaching students all of these tools prior to them conducting any research is important. Teaching them to look for opposing points of view is important. Showing students how algorithms work and how the internet has the potential to, rather than create further discourse and understanding of world views, create further support for a singular personal world view is also vitally important, not only for effective research but also to, as Pariser (2011) says, “preserve democracy”.

So does the internet help or hurt? The answer is not definitive as it has the capability to do both. However, overall, I think most would agree that it is more helpful than hurtful. The more we teach students the working of the internet and how to navigate the information found, how to destroy filter bubbles and how to question, the more helpful it can become.   In this current crisis the internet is a powerful tool that can be used for information, entertainment and arguably, more importantly, for communication; communication with friends and family, communication for work purposes, communication for education.  The internet will be, and is already being used as a tool by many to communicate with their students as we move to the continuation of learning through online methods.  As such, it is important that we as educators understand how the internet works, that we teach students these tools, that we continue to question what we read and see and, that we continue to share and explore opposing views.



Rheingold, H. (2012). Chapter 2 Crap Detection 101: How to Find What you Need to Know, and Decide if It’s True. In Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. (pp. 77-111). Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press.

Pariser, E. [TED]. (2011, March). Beware online “filter bubbles”. [Video] Retrieved from URL



1 thought on “The Internet: Helping or Hurting?

  • Wonderful introduction that highlights the concern we face on a daily basis during this lock down (which is highly preferable to those who choose to be ignorant of it).
    I fully agree that students should learn to find & consider opposing ideas as it would help them defend their stance on a topic or perhaps provide inspiration to consider new ideas, such as how open online learning is actually exclusive in it’s design (and not the ‘scientific basis’ of how bleach cures Covid-19).

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