Former president Jimmy Carter once said “the government is only as good as its people.” A government can also be as bad as its people — or only as dumb as the idiots who elect it to power.
Regardless of your opinion on Donald Trump, one thing is clear: independent fact checkers noted that what he said on record is either a flat out lie or half truth 71% of the time. Politifact also noted in its analysis that almost 50% of what he says are considered to be outright lies. On top of that, there are numerous instances of Trump denying having said something in spite of video evidence to the contrary. The man bold-face lies so often and so frequently that holding him accountable has proven impossible; to his supporters even irrelevant.
The problem with America is that in an endless pursuit of profit, we have outsourced facts to those who sought to make them subjective. Instead of hiring and patronizing experts to inform us on various matters, we have flocked to echo chambers and fake news purveyors who have a vested interest in lying to achieve a certain outcome.
Facebook played a huge role in misinformation this past election cycle. As it sought to get into the news business, it never employed a filter to root out fake stories or misleading information. A site like The Converative Tribune held just as much weight as The New York Times. Whereas the Timea employs vigorous standards in terms of its story research and editing practices, politically biased sites like the Tribune and its numerous Leftist equivalents do not. Everything is editorialized on those sites in order to achieve virality. Even the facts come second to virality in order to maximize profit in ad revenue. The more outrageous and ridiculous the more likely the story would trend; and also more likely that it would be false.
Just this past week on his show, John Oliver noted this trend of misinformation on Facebook and found that 38% of stories on conservative leaning Facebook pages are outright false, along with 19% of stories on left-leaning pages. Just today the BBC interviewed an editor at a fake news site that used Facebook to make its stories go viral. He told the BBC “people read a headline and then don’t even bother to check the content before they share it.” That’s alarming when studies also suggest that just under half of all Americans get their news from Facebook!
While Facebook and Google now tell the mainstream press they plan to crack down on biased and fake news sites that don’t employ good practices, it’s too late. We already elected a man who lies 71% of the time. Your conservative aunt and uncles, like mine, have already been radicalized by lies on Facebook. The sites may shut down, but they already made their millions in ad revenue.
What’s worse is that legitimate news sites have tried to compete with them using similar headline tactics, like entertainment trade Variety with the headline “John Oliver Encourages Violence Against Trump.” It doesn’t matter that it simply isn’t true, and is a very unethical play on words, millions reading it who are partial to Trump will believe he did because as the fake-news editor above noted “people read a headline and don’t even bother to check the content…” The Hill today employed a similar tactic, suggesting that “Half of Trump Protestors in Oregon Didn’t Vote.” Despite the low sample size and poor research methodology, millions will read this as truth. The source shows that less than 25% of a 112-person sample size actually didn’t vote. People don’t check the source! The Hill got its clicks and Trump supporters to share – job done, facts be damned!
America has become a fact-free society. It’s perfectly fine for us to disagree on what direction to take our country in, but we still need to accept the facts. How do you begin to discuss solutions to climate change when 50% of our population refuses to even believe climate change is real? How do you debunk fake stories and inaccurate Facebook memes when conservative relatives and friends say “Snopes, ProPublica & Politifact have a liberal bias”?
Basically anything which contradicts their worldview is a liberal bias. They would rather hold conservative pundits like the abhorrent White Nationalist from Breitbart, Steven Bannon (now a White House advisor), in higher regard than 99% of climate scientists and trained journalists. It’s time to support good journalism, subscribe to the NY Times or Washington Post. Donate to Pro Publica (a non-profit fact checker of the press). Report bad news pages on Facebook and don’t interact with garbage posts on the site. Their algorithm mainly pushes things interacted with — don’t help trash to trend.
We may be a fact-free society right now, but it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s up to us to make sure our government, our press and our entertainment is as good as its people. Right now, the people are failing in their responsibility.