Writing in the internet age – Paige Roberts

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By Paige Roberts

A lot of people ask me how I came up with the idea for Virtually Perfect, and here’s the truth: the internet started pissing me off.♥

Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet. I’m just old enough to remember a time when it didn’t exist, and yet I cannot imagine my life without it. It is a glorious, wonderful invention that has allowed me to keep up with old friends, find amazing recipes the drop of a hat, answer questions to which I may or may not have ever known the answer, and laugh at ridiculous memes involving adorable animals.

However, the internet … it has some problems. One of them is that any Jane or John Doe can spout off on a particular subject without being an expert, and potentially thousands of people will read and believe what she or he says. That is not okay.

I had an experience where I started following a young woman on social media. She posted gorgeous photos of healthy recipes and promoted a vegan lifestyle (I am not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I occasionally make a vegan meal or two). This young woman was not unique — there are many like her all over social media — but she is the one I happened to come across, probably because she has a significant following on Twitter and Instagram.

But when I drilled down a bit below this surface, I discovered that this girl was only seventeen. That’s right: a bunch of people were taking health advice from a high schooler. To her credit, she admitted she wasn’t an expert and avoided dispensing specific nutritional advice. But then I read about Belle Gibson, the disgraced Australian wellness blogger who lied about having cancer and curing it with a “clean diet,” and I’d had enough.

Virtually Perfect isn’t a retelling of Belle Gibson’s story, though it was definitely influenced by it. Instead, it’s a look at what happens when anyone can become a guru on the internet.

Nowadays there is so much information at our fingertips, and it can be hard to determine what is true and what is made up. How do you put a lid on false information if hundreds or thousands of people continue to spread it? Where does the responsibility lie: with the people putting out nonsense, or with the people believing it without double-checking its veracity?

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the issue of culpability in the digital age, and I only touch on a small piece of the issue in Virtually Perfect. But hopefully it will get other people thinking about the issues. And if nothing else, writing the book let go of some of my internet frustrations so that I could get back to reading my puppy memes without too much angst.

Paige Roberts is a former journalist who has written for publications such as McSweeney’s, Culinate, and Smithsonian.com. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Virtually Perfect is out now.



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