My curmudgeonness is coming out in full force lately. Granted, a nitpicking curmudgeon wouldn’t make up a word, but it fits. I’ve been curmudgeoning my friends lately as they’ve all gone nuts.
Sure, it is election season in the middle of a pandemic, but that is no excuse for reasonable people, from all over the political spectrum, to believe nonsense and repeat it. As Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Or putting on its pants? Or was that Winston Churchill? Actually, with little fact checking, I found that the roots of this saying trace back to the 1700s. Whoever said it, it is the truth.
A friend of mine was incensed by a video of a congresswoman wanting to teach Islam in schools. The video was 30 years old. The accused congresswoman would have been a school kid. When I replied with an analysis from a fact checking site, he responded, “It’s hard to believe anything you see on the web nowadays.” Yes, yes, that is the point.
I’ve been bombarded with COVID-19 prevention strategies from dietary supplements to a daily gin and tonic. Why would someone believe their Uncle Steve, who dropped out of high school, or a pillow manufacturer, over public health doctors who have studied epidemiology for their entire lives?
A high school buddy posted a meme about voter fraud. Senator Leslie Knope in Pawnee, Indiana was caught with 8,000 ballots for Biden. Evidently, my friend never watched the sitcom “Parks and Recreation” which was set in Pawnee, Indiana starring Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, a bungling parks department employee. It was a phony person, a phony city and a totally phony crisis.
Maybe this was humor. However, the comments showed that people believed this was proof of voter fraud. They were livid that the "main stream media" was not covering this treasonous, totally phony, scandal.
Perhaps that’s because the "main stream media" try very hard to verify stories before they publish them. Ad Fontes Media is a group that “wants to make news consumers smarter and news media better.” They have developed a Media Bias Chart ranking media outlets on two dimensions: factualness and political leanings. Unsurprisingly, the National Enquirer is at the bottom of the factual measure, although central on its politics. The top for facts, and the center for politics, are trusted news organizations like the AP (Associated Press), Reuters, Bloomberg, C-Span, ABC, CBS, BBC, etc. You can see the entire chart here: www.adfontesmedia.com/interactive-media-bias-chart.
When I want to believe some outrageous story because it supports my beliefs, I need to look at the source. Then, I’ll Google the subject to see if other credible news organizations are reporting on the same story. If no one other than Guacamoley on the left or InfoWars on the right is covering this story, it’s probably garbage.
Occasionally, there will be five or six odd sources repeating a story which should increase its veracity. However, sometimes those sites have simply repeated the identical story which originated at an untrustworthy organization. Then, the lie is off and running.
Sometimes, it’s sensational headlines that are dishonest and have little relevance to the story. Many of us believe the headline without reading further. It can be entertaining to look at various headlines for the same story. Often both exaggeration and bias are patently evident.
Remember when a picture used to be worth a thousand words? Today, both photos and videos can be easily altered. Google has a “reverse image search” which will look for the same photo and photos like it. You can often find the original unedited version.
The Republican National convention aired a video of rioting. The riot, however, was from Barcelona, Spain! A liberal friend posted a video of police throwing down their handcuffs, refusing to do their job. He claimed it was from New York, but it was actually striking police officers in France.
A usually trustworthy friend posted an impressive chart with numbers of criminal indictments in various presidential administrations. However, when I looked at fact checking sites like Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, or PolitiFact.org, his chart was rated only “Half True.” Some numbers were inflated, even though the overall conclusion was valid.
My friends are getting annoyed that I am continually fact checking them. Due to the pandemic, I’ve got nothing better to do. I am appalled that even when I’ve shown them the facts, they do not at least delete the false information. Too often I hear them claim that it made their point anyway. Agghhh! You can’t make a point by lying.
Each of us has a responsibility during this election cycle. Before we share a post, comment on social media, hit the “like” button, re-tweet, or rant verbally to our friends about the latest atrocity or medical cure, take a breath and fact check. Be skeptical. If something gives you an intense emotional reaction, that is a clue to pause and double check. There is enough discord in the world without adding to it falsely. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You just can’t trust anything on the internet anymore.”