Just the Facts, Ma’am
It’s been far too long since I’ve written. Truth be told, I have not had the heart to write. On one hand, writing seems pointless. On the other, a message that would help young people be more immune to fear mongering is desperately needed. And today, in light of that, I actually started working on book two. It felt great!
One of the many things people have been talking about since the election is the proliferation of fake news and its effect on the vote. I knew for years that networks like Fox skewed the news to their viewpoint, but up until recently I had been unaware that people were actually sitting out there creating false stories just to rake in clicks and advertising dollars. It makes me sick to think someone is using their writing talent this way.
For ages I’ve been one of those annoying people who sometimes comments publicly, and sometimes sends private email message, to people who post false stories. Usually the posts weren’t political, but were something that Snopes had long ago debunked, like “Watch the wing of this plane fall off, and the guy lands anyway!” Any time I saw something questionable on Facebook, I did a quick search on Snopes.com to verify it. It just became habit and it constantly amazed me that people didn’t do it themselves. Sometimes they’d even post, “I don’t know if this is true or not, but look at this!” It took seconds to check, and yet few people did it.
That trend continued during this election. People were passing around stories that with just a few quick searches could have easily been proved false. Yet they never did it, and these stories burrowed into people’s psyches and changed the outcome of the election. For instance, if you think an FBI agent involved with the Clinton email scandal was found dead in a murder/suicide, you have fallen for a fake story. If you think that in 2013, Clinton told Goldman Sachs bigwigs: “I would like to see people like Donald Trump run for office. They’re honest, and can’t be bought”, then you have fallen for a fake story.
Checking the validity of a story is so easy. For years the place I always went to research political stories was Politifact.com. It was known as a non-partisan fact checking site and I found it extremely reliable. Imagine my surprise when I heard a Trump supporter claim it was a liberal propaganda site, and that if you wanted the truth, you had to go deep into underground news. That’s where you got reliable facts.
So, rather than assume this was a right-wing nut job, I did a little research. I looked up Politifact.com to see who actually runs the site. It’s owned by the Tampa Bay Times. Aha! It’s that biased liberal media! So that Trump supporter was right!!! Or was he? Who runs the Times and Politifact? A man by the name of Paul Tash, who has an extensive journalistic background covering national politics. A little more digging on Paul Tash’s political affiliation shows that according to voter records he has been a registered Republican since 1984. Hmmm. Unless this man knew in 1984 that someday he would be in charge of a independent fact-checking organization and wanted to go into hiding more than 30 years ago so as to sway the country to his point of view, I think it’s safe to say that Politifact is not a liberal propaganda site.
A few quick searches and I knew the truth. Why was that so hard for the Trump supporter to do?
The truth is, when the facts didn’t support a Trump supporter’s world view, they went in search of sources that did – deep underground. It didn’t matter that those facts were fake. They felt good. They felt truthy. Politifact listed Trump’s statements as only being true 5% of the time, while Clinton was listed as the most truthful of the candidates. That fact didn’t sit well with me when I was supporting Bernie, but I accepted it. But since it didn’t line up with a Trumpy’s world view that The Donald told it like it is, while Hillary was crooked, therefore Politifact must be a liberal propaganda machine.
I found a few fake stories aimed at liberal as well. Several friends posted the meme from a 1998 People interview, where Donald Trump supposedly said: “if I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” I wanted to believe that. Oh, I wanted to believe it so bad. But a quick search on that one proved it to be false, so I didn’t post or share it. Fake news story writers have admitted in interviews that they didn’t get much traction with liberal fake stories, because within a few comments somebody would debunk it.
That’s not to say there will be political peace and harmony if we start believing the same facts. Facts are just facts, and they can be interpreted differently. For instance, it’s a fact that red states generally take more money from the federal government than they pay to it, and blue states generally pay more into the federal government than they take from it. Democrats would say that’s because their states are run better. Republicans might say that’s because they have less natural resources and more poverty in their states.
You can interpret those facts through whatever set of lenses you want so it wouldn’t be smooth sailing, but at least we’d be starting with the same set of facts. Right now it’s pretty much impossible for Democrats and Republicans to have a rational conversation. We live in two completely different worlds made up of two completely different set of facts.
Please, whenever you see a story online, take a moment or two to evaluate it. What site did it come from? Look into who’s behind that site. Search the internet to see if other sources are also reporting the story. Make sure they’re not just repeating the first story. Compare how it’s being reported if you do find two sources. Are there facts listed in the story/meme that can be checked independently. Look up the name of the author. What qualifications do they have to cover the story? Use Snopes. Use Politifact. Use your brain. Admit when you might have something wrong. We only make good decisions when we are informed. Don’t be a part of the problem.
As the old saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own set of facts. Until that gets fixed, this country is in trouble.
I am hopeful that future posts will focus more on the process of getting published.by