The great thing about the internet is we have so much information readily available to us and that anyone can share their voice with an audience.
The worst thing about the internet is we have so much information readily available to us and that anyone can share their voice with an audience.
So it's natural that we gravitate towards voices we trust and that have established credibility. However, especially in times where everyone is super polarized and social media allows for publishing knee-jerk reactions (more so when those with a strong social media presence are expected to publish a knee-jerk reaction in time with every current event), we need to remember that there's no such thing as an infallible human being.
Some people are right a lot. When someone is right about many things, it's logical to turn to that person as a source for credible information in a confusing situation. However, the internet throws a wrench in this perfectly rational thing to do considering how easy it is for anyone -literally anyone - to throw their opinions around social media like confetti at an old school ticker-tape parade. In this post, I'd like to discuss how people can go down different roads once they've established a reputation as an "expert."
When someone starts to develop a reputation for being right about things, they can end up going one of two directions - the first is that they think "Wow, I've learned a lot about this area. When someone asks me a question about it, I can give an answer, and people seem to respect me for my knowledge about this. Great power, great responsibility and all, so I'm going to do my best to try to stay in my lane, continue to learn, be honest when I don't know the answer or turn out to be wrong, and remember how much I still don't know about the world." Those are the kind of experts who are worth following and good news is that plenty of them grace the internet with their knowledge.
But unfortunately, the internet is filled with another classification of "experts" that aren't making the best of their knowledge and who can end up doing more harm than good. Here's some issues that come up among some internet know-it-alls we can watch for:
They get to the point where they just really like being right.
While many people demonstrate humility with expertise, other people gain a lot of knowledge in one area and rather than remaining humble and teachable, they can start to really like being right. They might start to think "Wow, it's sure fun to be right about this one area, maybe I can be right about this other area..." Then maybe they are, which can be fine. There's smart people out there who can cover a wide variety of disciplines. However, well-rounded person is not the same as a person who just really likes being right all the time and insists that they are right about one thing based solely on the fact that they have been right about other things in the past.
They get out their lane and pretend to be experts in other areas.
This one is happening a lot with our wide range of 2020 current events flying about. Let's say someone has established a reputation in being right about one area, and all the sudden this person is flaunting opinions about disease statistics or sociological issues or politics and is so dang used to being right in his field, he assumes to be right about the issue he promptly and publicly addresses. However, the actual experts are like, "Uh, wait, that's totally not..." but the person skewing their data or information lacks the humility and teachable spirit to listen to the people who really do work in that lane.
They're so used to being right that they don't take correction well, if at all.
The fact of the matter is we all get stuff wrong. Even experts make mistakes in their own field. However, a true expert is a student as well as a teacher and they use mistakes as opportunities to learn and better understand their subject. When someone presents information (especially if it's information out of their lane) and then insists that they are correct without the possibility of being mistaken, and then they get defensive when someone suggests they may have missed something, that's not a sign of credibility and confidence in their knowledge, it's a sign of insecurity.
(This one is also exacerbated when the person who is often right falls into a circle of people who, for whatever reason, hesitate to question when something seems off. As Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," so when people set themselves up in authoritative positions and arrive at this point where they're usually the "rightest" person in the room, they can start to loose out on the growth that comes when honestly addressing a challenging issue someone brings in goodwill.)
They dodge honest questions.
If you've ever been to a Q&A with an expert in a field that interests you, you've probably had the experience of hearing thoughtful questions answered in a thoughtful manner. You may have even heard critical questions answered graciously. And there's the sign of the highest form of expert: "That's a great question. I don't know. Let me get back to you." When someone who just gets in the habit of being right is faced with a tough question, that's when we start seeing dodging the answer, changing the subject, skewing the answer based on the little knowledge they have, or at worst, lying or attacking the person who asked.
And then getting everything right becomes a matter of saving face.
The most dangerous thing about people who have set themselves up as authoritative about everything is that find themselves in the habit of being right, to the point where it's rather jarring when they're not right about something and desperately try to save face if they are wrong. This creates a slippery slope of "experts" who are pretty much manipulating their audiences by skewing data or spinning information because their "expert" reputation is so much more important to them than sharing accurate information. And that, friends, is the point where that "expert" is doing us more harm than good.
So in a time when there's so many important decisions to be made, beware of "experts" that stumbled past their original level of expertise and are more concerned about their own followings and reputations than helping their communities better understand the world around them. If someone can't take an honest question, insults people who question their conclusions, seems to be pressing opinions about things they don't have background in (like statistics - especially statistics - really, if the person is not a statistician or works in a field where they've applied advanced statistics, they probably are not qualified to interpret statistics on the internet.) then they probably aren't the expert you need to continue follow, even if they did some good stuff in the past. Sharing knowledge and influence can help people to grow; however, it can also be dangerous when it turns inward and fuels someone's ego more than their desire to teach and benefit others.