When I started blogging/journalling back in 2004, we were in the midst of Kerry vs. Bush. Facebook was still pretty much restricted to college campuses, and the hot place to be was Livejournal. I don’t remember much political discussion online then. Certainly, we didn’t have the explosion of pundit and commentary sites, we didn’t have the heavy satire sites and such. We still got most of our news from less partisan sources (I won’t go so far as to say non-partisan) such as broadcast and print media. But there was still a heavy amount of criticism of George Bush, and all the memes about village idiots and such started circulating. I’m sure you could find all the icons from that era and you would see the large amount making fun of Bush (and I’m sure there were equal ones making fun of Kerry, but I didn’t see those).
By the 2008 election, Livejournal’s star was starting to fade and Facebook’s rise, but I still remember loads of political discussions on LJ. Many of my political icons come from that era — especially during the primaries where it was Obama vs. Clinton. In my admitted progressive circles, there was lots of criticism of John McCain (especially when he chose Sarah Palin). Online news sites and prediction sites were starting up, but I don’t remember the large number of partisan sites and pages.
With the 2012 election, the shift to FB had begun in earnest, and online journalism sites were rampant. This was the battle of Romney vs Obama (and Obama had no serious primary opposition). Memes — as in the stylized photos with the large bordered text — were beginning to circulate. Romney certainly made sufficient gaffes to feed them.
It is now 2016, and social media has become the influencer of elections, not the reporting outlet. Parody news sites are rampant, as are partisan meme generators. In fact, memes have been the source of news for many people, believing any text they see on a meme. It has gotten really really bad folks. People have turned off their critical thinking; they are sheeple, willing to do or think anything the Internet says. This becomes a vicious circle, and the echo chamber that FB is has increased the partisan nature of discourse.
Reading my FB feeds brought this all back to me. I see posts about the situation at Standing Rock, about people should post their location as Standing Rock to confuse the police. I see memes going around expressing political opinions, and loads of sharing from hyper-partisan, non-journalistic sites. As I’m up early due to a headache, seeing this leads me to post the following reminders:
- Facebook is not the world. Police do not have the time to monitor everyone’s FB feed to determine who is where and who to arrest. Showing your location as someplace in solidarity with an action does not benefit those you are supporting. Similarly, liking or sharing positions pieces is only benefitting the “likes” of someone you don’t know. It is often a trick to entice you.
- Just because text goes around on top of an image doesn’t make it true. Anyone can claim something is a quote or a statement, pop it on an image, and people will believe it. Don’t keep circulating those, no matter how enticing. Confirm (or double confirm) anything you read, focusing on confirmation from well-known broadcast and print media, and especially international and multiple sources.
- Recognize satire sites. If it is from The Onion, Andy Borowitz at the New Yorker, or a number of other sites, it is likely not true. Very likely.
- Recognize partisan sites. Many of the sites that pose as news these days — e.g., Occupy Democrats, Partisan Report, Red State Blue State — spread news in a hyperpartisan manner. Don’t repeat what they say, you only make it worse. This article has a good summary of such sites from the progressive side; On the conservative site, such sites include Breitbart News, Wall Street Journal (oh, how the mighty have fallen), NY Post, and I’m sure there are more. Again, always double or triple confirm what you read.
- Remember that if you see it on the Internet, there is no guarantee that it is true. People can make up anything and easily make it look real. Confirm everything before you reshare or react.
- Facts are non-partisan. Do not believe the innuendo regarding the fact checking sites. Snopes, FactCheck.org, and such are not partisan mouthpieces — they call out all sides for incorrect use of facts.
We have just about a week to go in this election. As you see all the mud being slung, ask yourself the following questions:
- For those that like Trump, if his past and behavior were on the part of any other candidate, would you still support that candidate? For example, if it was a white, male Democrat such as Gary Hart, John Kerry, or Ted Kennedy, would you be calling for them to drop out of the race? Trump is not special; your hatred of Clinton should not blind you to the foibles of the man that disqualify him. Consider Bill Cosby: he’s had a lot of the same accusations and has fallen from grace; Trump has had similar accusations, and yet has grown in support. Double standard, anyone?
- Similarly, if all the behaviors that make you hate Clinton were attributed to a Republican candidate, would you accept them? Would you be demanding the emails from George Bush, Mitt Romney, or John Cain? Would defunding embassy security have disqualified Bush for a second term? Recognize that the FB echo chamber has made this worse, and that your hatred is inflamed because she is Clinton, or because she is, well, “she”.
- Are you reacting to manufactured news, or news slated so as to play to your biases and hatreds? If so, just say no. This is true from both sides.
Hopefully, this has given you something to think about, as we start the last week of the campaign.