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
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