Saturday, April 06, 2013

Everybody's Got One

A couple of months ago, two of Daughter-Only's music-crazed friends were raving to one another about a band they both love. When A.M. announced that the band was indisputably the best in history and anyone who thought otherwise was just wrong, S.A., pretending to be the voice of reason,said, "They have just as much right to their own opinion as you have to the correct answer."

It was a clever quip and when A.M. shared it with me, I chuckled appreciatively before launching into a mini-rant about how our societal inability to differentiate between facts and opinions is ruining our country and maybe even the world. A.M. mostly ignored my hysterics because he has spent enough time around Masked Mom headquarters to have grown accustomed, if not entirely immune, to my outbursts about the falling of the sky and my upcoming trip to go and tell the king.

When a teenage boy mistakes (or pretends to) his adolescent fanaticism for an objective fact, it's expected and maybe even endearing. But when so many adults imagine opinions, innuendo and rumors to be equal (or even superior) to facts and common sense, it can be demoralizing and maybe even dangerous.

It's not news that the internet is a fertile environment for the spread of not news--fictional "facts" passed from person to person, often gaining velocity and toxicity as they go. Most days, Facebook is less a social network than it is a clearinghouse of crap.

In late February, a Facebook friend of mine posted a particularly disturbing example of internet journalism: the "breaking news" that a provision of Obamacare mandates that all Americans be implanted with RFID microchips by March 23, 2013. Apparently, these chips would not only collect (and transmit) personal health information, but also link directly to your bank account. My friend shared this story with the comment, "Whoever approved this should be fired."

On the face of it, the story struck me as outlandish and paranoid. Even if the concept were believable, the timing was not remotely feasible. Here it was, the end of February with the March 23 deadline fast approaching and no one I knew (and, I think it's safe to assume, no one my friend knew) had yet been implanted, which meant our unwieldy and inefficient government was somehow going to implant 300 million-plus individuals with RFID microchips in a few short weeks.

Speaking of time, the amount of time it took me to research and thoroughly debunk the microchip story was less than five minutes. (Snopes.com and factcheck.org are good starting places.) I sent some links to my friend in a private message and, to her credit, the post disappeared from her timeline within minutes.

I was left wondering--and not for the first time--what criteria people use when choosing to share this sort of thing. Clearly, credibility is not an issue, much less truthfulness. For many people, how believable a story is seems to coincide exactly with how well it reinforces their own preconceived notions and opinions.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like opinions as much as the next girl--some of my best friends have opinions. What's more, many of my best friends have opinions that differ significantly from my own on some pretty major issues. To an amateur student of human nature such as myself, other people's opinions can be fascinating and even revealing.

Whatever else opinions may be, though, they are not facts. Ideally, our opinions are built of facts rather than our "facts" being built of opinions.

F is for Facts


17 comments:

  1. I have the same issue with news media sound bites or out of context quips.
    These ploys are used to sway the uninformed public.
    It’s bad enough the whole truths are not being told, but by the time this nonsense gets spread around, the original thought has been distorted, like playing a game of telephone.

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    1. Exactly. It's probably impossible to find an unbiased news organization, but I think the key is to be skeptical and seek out original video, etc whenever possible.

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  2. Off to post about that Microchip now!!

    I always add the Snopes" site in the comment section on people's crazy FB posts. Makes me fee superior. Because really. What else do I got?

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    1. I let a lot (A LOT) of them go, but then there are the ones that are so friggin' ridiculous I can't sit still. Usually, I send the Snopes links in a private message, but if the post is particularly crazy (or dangerous), I will post it right on the post. I swear feeling superior to crazy FB people could be a full-time job.

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    2. I do the same thing, Marianne. Surprisingly, it's not always appreciated. What gives with that?

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  3. I was going to do a "f is for facts" post but there were too many opinions!

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  4. Amen!! "Clearinghouse of crap"--I love it! It always astounds me how people fall for this stuff and post it on Facebook or e-mail it around without checking out if it's true. Complete rubbish.

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    1. Most of it is so obviously false that I have to assume the person saw the headline, agreed with the slant of it and forwarded it without actually reading the rest let alone checking it with an objective source. It's crazy-making.

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  5. People like to share what moves their political agenda. Fact or fiction does not matter.

    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

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    1. Amen. Which scares the crap out of me.

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  6. LOL! That's AWESOME! I think it's funny when people are so easily duped because they don't bother to check the details, but man am I grateful to live in a country where freedom of speech, even stupid speech, is allowed. :)

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    1. I agree 100%, Crystal. It's hard not to worry about the tone of some of this stuff and the effect it might have on the national mood, but I am grateful on a daily basis for our freedom of speech and believe that all speech should be protected--even the loopy stuff. :)

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  7. I always chuckle when someone posts on facebook about the month having 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays, and how that only happens every 823 years. Supposedly, this means good fortune if you repost it.
    Even if the fact were true, why posting about it on facebook brings good fortune, I'll never know.

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    1. Aw, Jewels, Facebook is magical, didn't you get that meme? ;)

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  8. Maybe the government embedded microchips in their brains are making them post those things. You don't know. You and your silly "facts".

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    1. "Fact" is a four-letter word that starts with "F." Perhaps that explains why so many people shy away from it? ;)

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