This past week I posted the following status on my personal facebook site: “The amount of people who share misinformation on facebook because they think it is true is absolutely astounding. How about doing a Google search to see if it’s a lie?” This was in response to a posting that is being shared around about the new facebook “graph app,” Graph Search actually. Facebook has posted information on how the graph search works and how to control your privacy settings, but it is too late. The conspiracy theorists are already at work telling a different and somewhat untrue story. This reminded me of a commentary I posted last year at this time:
Interesting, but not true
In an age with mass communication and so many ways of getting the news, I fear we are becoming less informed and in many cases misinformed. “Why is that?” you may ask. Most of us get the news on our home page, whether it is Comcast, MSN, Yahoo or many others you can list. If you are ambitious, you can have your web browser open several news sites at once. Add on CNN, BBC, France 24, Huffington Post for the left and National Journal for the right. Many of the big city newspapers also have web site news. If you do not catch the news on television or your car radio, you can read it on your desktop, laptop, smart phone, iphone, ipad and probably other devices that I can not even imagine. It is almost impossible to escape the news of the day, and yet I find many people so uneducated about politics, I fear many will go to the polls this fall with little information about the candidates, or worse, the wrong information.
How can this be? With so many ways of getting the news, surely we should be more educated, but we are not. The reason for this incredible phenomenon is social media. Everyone now can put up postings for his/her friends to read. It does not have to be true. Your first amendment rights let you say what you want, as long as it is not down right slanderous. Even then you might get away with it because the internet is the wild West and you can not possibly police the whole thing.
This past week I saw a posting on my facebook page showing what was reported to be the words of Abraham Lincoln. These words praised business owners and the rich to such an extent that I became suspicious. It turns out Lincoln never said those things. They were written by a Presbyterian minister decades after Lincoln was dead. The minister was a director of the Citizens’ Industrial Alliance, a pro employer group. Of course, some one thought these phony words attributed to Lincoln would be just the thing to support Romney for President and slam President Obama. My first inclination when I see things that just too neatly fit today’s campaigns is to go to Snopes.com. I immediately found the true story there. By the time I posted the rebuttal, this piece of falsehood had so many “shares” there is no telling how many people have seen it and shared it again. So I guess we are to conclude Lincoln supports Romney for President.
Another interesting tidbit showed cartoon caricatures of Romney and Obama with lists great things done by Romney and bad things by Obama. Since there were no sources or statistics, I posted the comment, “Do you have any examples? No? I didn’t think so.” No one put up a rebuttal to my comments. My You Tube home page suggested a video which was little more than a Romney commercial. It played phrases from Obama’s speeches and used them to show how Obama vilifies business owners and that is not right! The problem is the phrases are so short there is no telling what Obama was actually talking about. Phrases without the sentences or maybe the paragraphs they were in can be spun in just about any direction.
What are we to do about this disturbing trend? We can all be newscasters and write whatever we feel. Who is to stop us? If someone lies about a candidate, so what? No one is going to sue a little guy for “sharing” a facebook posting or You Tube video. If we can share something around a lot, which is possible, we can get a lot of people to believe the wrong things. If we can get a group of people to spend a day putting up crap on facebook, myspace, Stumble Upon, ChimeIn, Word Press, reddit, Pintrest, tumblr, Twitter and countless others, we can spin politics in every way except the truth. By the way, I do not wish to suggest it is just Romney supporters doing this. It happens on both sides.
Last week I mentioned an article in the National Journal where a columnist had noted that if we have the worst Congress ever then it follows “that we are the worst American electorate–ever.” Perhaps he’s right.