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 the many others you can list. If you are ambitious, you can have your web browser open to several news sites at once. Add on CNN, BBC, France 24, Huffington Post for the left and FOX or 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 nex year 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. The reason for this incredible phenomenon is social media. Everyone can now 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, despite the efforts of facebook and others.
Recently 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 Republican politicians.
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 the current Republicans. My bet is he would not.
Often I notice cartoon caricatures or photo memes listing things about candidates are office holders. Since these usually appear with no sources or statistics, I like to post the comment, “Do you have any examples? No? I didn’t think so.” Usually no one puts up a rebuttal to my comments. 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, Instagram, MIX (Stumble Upon), 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 Republican supporters doing this. It happens on both sides.
Some time ago I saw 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.