Since the advent of the last election in the United States (c. May 2015), the increase of false or fake news has grown astronomically. I am not blaming the election, however. This event might have catalyzed an already brewing reaction on social media. You know what I mean. You see the articles every day that friends and family share, where you just scratch your head and wonder how they could be so daft as to believer that bit of tripe. It’s been happening for longer than a year and we’ve prepared memes to face it that are years old already.
During the elections, spreadsheets were created to keep supporters on the right trajectory, because fake news was being used to dissipate support or at least confuse it enough to make in ineffectual. It largely had the opposite affect until about the end of June, when it was clear that no matter what people were saying in polls or online, Sanders wasn’t going to take the primary. Supporters began blaming Sanders and declaring him a fraud. There were also those quite certain that fraud was committed (I’m still of this mind, just to be clear). It’s really easy to blame voter suppression and voter fraud, because that is the obvious answer. But, what if the groups were so inundated with liars, that we had no real grasp of where the movement actually was in numbers? And, thus, the effort to confuse and dissipate had won? That became evident in the months after the primary closed. Devout supporters turned into rabid dogs who couldn’t wait to deride a man without a mark against him up until that point.
Yet, those same folks have moved from frothing with rage and disappointment to sharing that fake news they had been warned against for months prior. Go into Jill Stein Groups on Facebook and you’ll see this. It’s one of the reasons I found it difficult to throw my support behind the Green candidate. Granted, this group is full of the same people that feel that immunizations are causing autism, a thoroughly debunked fake study from years ago. The man who dared to put out this fake news has been fined, put in jail and his study thrown out. There is no scientific evidence existing that supports the fake study. Yet, the opinion persists. It was one of the cornerstones of demeaning Stein supporters by both right wing and left wing voters.
Why do such things persist despite tons of evidence that debunk and disprove them? Well, critical thinking isn’t a subject really taught in grade or high school. Nor is accepting new information that challenges one’s opinion. Until a student gets into a subject that uses critical thinking to do their work, such as historical research, sciences, and journalism, there is very little of these perceptive tools used in facing day to day life. Certainly, also, there is the fact that people don’t apply the same amount of discernment in their day to day life that they would on the job. They do, anyhow, have quite an entitlement when it comes to their opinions.
When faced with questions, the same people who share the tin-foil hat articles get quickly upset. It becomes evident they have nothing to back up this article from ITruthDaily.com (made up site). They’re embarrassed at being caught sharing something so questionable, angry that they’re questioned. They further double down because they want it to be correct. This isn’t unreasonable on their part. A lot goes on in a person’s life, and as they become more aware of the actions and actors that are making it more difficult, or trapping them in difficult situations, they also become more sensitive to the pain of it. They don’t see themselves as misinformed. They’re not stupid, but they are susceptible to this sort of manipulation. Look, people end up in abusive relationships who you’d never see think could be abused. The problem is these sites know what buttons to hit, so, when a seeming answer arrives, and their readers share with others, the damage is done. Those readers become frustrated by friends and family discounting them, thinking that no one is listening, or are dismissing them. How could we ignore the bindings that are trapping us as a society in this constant haves vs. the have nots battle for survival? They’re ripe for the information they’re handed. They want to hear it. Hearing it said by another person (whether by writing or in speeches, etc) strums a chord.
Cognitive dissonance is the term for this moment of discomfort. What is: the person is simultaneously concerned that we’re ignoring a big clue, which endangers them and their future, while also realizing that they aren’t as up to speed as they were flattering themselves to be. This happens to the best of people, as I already stated. It’s what helps us all to grow and avoid stagnation, but it can be painful. However, when we refuse to take that discomfort and its source as rational and providing necessary information to examine ourselves, we do stagnate.
The conversation about fake news continues on my page day to day. Sometimes I gently remind someone about the source they’re looking at. That it has been highlighted as a bad source on many other people’s lists too. That just because it’s on the internet with seeming citations (or in most cases, none at all), doesn’t make it a reliable resource of information. Anyone can set up a website. Anyone can disseminate whatever information they wish to disseminate on that site. YouTube is loaded with conspiracy videos created by everyday people, with no credentials and even less proof for their claims. There are pages upon pages of information about the great Illuminati Conspiracy out there, on alien tribes/civilizations that live among us pretending to be people, how demons literally are also pretending to be people, and so on. We can agree, I would hope, that these pages are nutter pages, and that we giggle at them, gasp in astonishment that others spend so much time on such nonsense, and that it’s fake. Instead, the tide is turning in the other direction. People are reaching out to these places as actual proof.
Much like the faithful clinging to the Shroud of Turin as the real burial cloth of Christ, there are growing numbers of individuals who believe that whatever article they find that echoes their sentiments is a good point to support their stance. Behind this are years allowing everyone to have their opinions unchallenged. Going along to get along builds a state in which anything at all can be real, because we just don’t want to make waves to prove this other person wrong. Going along to get along is dangerous. Opinions cannot stand in the face of facts. It simply cannot be acceptable to normalize this behavior any longer.
Going along to get along is how the United States got in the position it is in today. So, let’s stop sharing the fake news, and brushing off the opinions of others that are flat out wrong and upsetting. Speak up. There are tenets for vetting information, and I suggest that, if we are to all be effective citizens in the coming years, continue to wake up to the reality we have and work to change it for the better, that we learn them and use them.
Don’t accept fake news. Call it out when you see it. This is a very huge problem that is hurting our future more than anything else. We can survive a dickish idiot in the oval office, we’ve done it before. We cannot survive the dumbing down of our people.
Resources you should be using:
- FactCheck.Org (how to vet an article)
- 7 Steps to Better Fact-Checking
- How To Fact Check
- How to Self Check The News and Get The Facts
The fact of the matter is, you’re going to need to do more than see something you like the sound of and hit share. You’ll need to read the piece, click the links they use to corroborate their information, and look at the source itself. Bias is bias, whether it’s your preferred kind or not. That means there is a slant on the perspective of the writing. That doesn’t make it right. It just makes the flavor more tasty to you, which makes you think it’s right. You’re also going to need to set your sense of things aside and really examine the values through and trough. I’d recommend this first. There is, after all, a reason why people with high levels of education think the way that they do. Remember, though, that the most intelligent among us can have a bias or even a plan behind why they write what they do. If you’re in agreement with that position and the outcome it is intended to make, that might be a resource you find supports your argument, but it still doesn’t make it right. You’re going to need facts.
No one said that being an engaged citizen was going to be easy. They just said it will be worth it.
What else is there? Living under the yoke of someone who misinforms you.