In 1517 Martin Luther nailed the “95 Theses” on the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. He was an educated man. By the time he nailed the essay on the door, he had already achieved a combined master’s degree in arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and philosophy. His intensive studies, as well as his experience as a monk, validated the criticisms of the Catholic church, which Luther listed in his peer reviewed essay. Instead of bashing Catholic traditions, Luther formulated his Thesis to promote an academic discussion. Partially due to the invention of the printing press, which facilitated the spread of his ideas, Luther’s “95 Theses” forever changed the Catholic Church and the values of European society.
Before Luther’s ideas would have the impact they did, he first had to convince someone with access to a printing press to publish his theses, which was not without its cost. Presently, any joker with a computer can put their thoughts, feelings and ideas onto the internet free of charge and immediately have an audience. The lack of a filter, of a due process for publication, has its consequences. Take, for example, the fake news articles composed of half-truths, hoaxes and downright egregious lies concerning the presidential candidates. Nowadays, no one has to pay to publish their thoughts online, which is perhaps a more egalitarian system than in Luther’s time. However, no one has to prove theirself worthy of being read or listened to either. Internet celebrities can have huge audiences, without anyone ever reviewing their work for errors. This means that it is up to the user to discriminate between educated ideas and malarkey.
As students, we greatly benefit from the access to information that the internet provides, but the sheer amount of information available has numbed us to real news. We are bombarded with blogs, rants, ideas and advertisements from all over the world, constantly. It is common knowledge that dot-com sources can be spurious and that Wikipedia is not an acceptable bibliography source. But do these scholarly ideals change how we are affected by ranty facebook links? It could be said that the sheer quantity of information available numbs us to the rules, makes us forget what is legitimate information and what is emotionally driven and why it is important to distinguish between the two.
As college students, members of a more educated population, we must lead the way when it comes to the information we choose to read and share on the internet. CORE courses like Writing 101 aim to teach students the skills they need to recognize and reproduce a well developed idea. MSU puts effort into promoting these skills because it’s hard. It takes a whole degree to progress in the development of ideas, but it takes a lifetime to maintain the habit. Distinguishing between valid information and motivated propaganda is more than just knowing how to developing an idea, it is a dedication to thinking and understanding the world better.
When there are many different ways to access information, it is easy to ignore the guidelines for choosing valid sources of information. Numbed by the information storm in which we live, neutrality can be overlooked as boring or lacking. However, the emotionally driven rhetoric of blogs and radical news outlets must not be accepted as fact. Neutrality, or a fair portrayal of all perspectives, must be honored as the closest thing to the truth that a human could muster. Anyone can rant. But teasing out an idea, really honing in on the nuggets of truth at the center-that is the hard part. But hey, if Luther could do it in 1517, it is definitely possible in 2016.