We seem to believe that we are discerning people. To discern means that we are able to perceive or recognize something. One would think that adequate discernment would protect us from ‘fake news’, but that does not seem to be occurring consistently in our world.
Might we not be as discerning as we give ourselves credit for being? Could it be that we are regularly hoodwinked by the deft use of seeming facts that we gloss over and assume to be accurate? I would suggest that the inability to be truly discerning people is what gives birth to ‘fake news’. How is this possible if we are as bright a people as we give ourselves credit for being?
Let us count the ways.
First, we often scan a written piece and presume that we’ve extracted the gist, but when there is an intentional misleading statement involved, we can easily miss that nuance or subtlety given the high-level glance we just gave the writing. We skip on to the next paragraph or the next article or the next e-mail message confident in the assumption we made a couple of seconds earlier.
Second, we tend to believe that everything in print is true by its very nature. How could anyone print something that is not true? Are there not editors or some kind of requirements for truthfulness before something can be published? If it is in print, it must be true. If we remember The Onion newspaper or Mad magazine we can recall the spoofs that were foisted upon us regularly and how funny those were. Except, these kinds of things are not at all funny if they are fed to us intentionally with the goal of having us believe the content.
Third, the more often we read or hear something, the more we come to accept it as being the unquestioned truth. That is simply our nature unless we happen to have been educated as an attorney or are a wordsmith dialed into such things. Some of us, too few, unfortunately, have a gift of spotting that which doesn’t quite add up. Those things almost seem to jump out at us and an alarm goes off that makes us review more closely.
Fourth, there are publications, news programs and so on that we have become accustomed to recognizing as truthful and believable and, therefore, not necessary to be scanned for deceit or ambiguity. These can get us quickly if something is slipped in by accident or intentionally. We have to remember that we are the only person we can trust in this arena. I might have been believable, and I might have accidentally permitted something untrue to make its way into a blog. If you were not watching carefully, you might simply assume that I knew what I was talking or writing about and let it pass as true.
Fifth, the more we hear or read anything that seems the same over and over again, the easier it is for us to assume the substance must be truthful, therefore our threat scanners are unknowingly disabled. Repetition is one of the most egregious forms of passing on bad information and having it believed by more and more people each time it is heard or seen.
Sixth, we tend to be of the political belief that our parents were, at least at the beginning of our adulthood, that time when we come/came of age to be able to vote. I have shared that I was a devoted follower of the AuH2O (Goldwater) effort during my first experience of a presidential campaign/election in which I could vote. I don’t recall what my parents’ inclination was but I suspect that it was not liberal if I immediately gravitated to Goldwater as my choice.
Add to all this the simple fact that there are publications posing as something they are not, just as the satirical Onion posed as something it wasn’t. Of course, the Onion was an intentional spoof that most everyone knew was just that. When we are uninformed or simply gullible, we can be more easily fooled. When we are tired of the news, we tend to become steeled to the din but some of that gets through nonetheless.
If we agree that there are more liberal ‘news’ feeders than conservative ‘news’ feeders, then we begin to be able to understand that an insidious conscious effort to misinform might work quite well. If all we saw or heard was liberal information, we’d very likely be liberal in our thinking and therefore in our voting.
How do we protect ourselves and others from this insidious subterfuge? We question and we urge others to question. We share our beliefs and are able to articulate why we believe as we do. We recognize the publications and/or broadcasts that we can trust and those we cannot trust, and we know the likely leaning beforehand. We gather information from trusted sources; if we are uncertain which those are, we ask those we know to be conservative for their advice. We use our democracy as it was intended to be used by the founding fathers.
I also intentionally read liberal theses simply to be aware of the positions taken…but I do that in very small doses in order to maintain my sanity such as that is today.