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Remember when somebody in high school circulated an ugly rumor about you? Arrgh! I skipped that experience because I attended three different high schools in separate cities so I wasn’t well known, but I made up for the omission later when I was one of the only single females on a small high school faculty. Luckily for me, the rumor someone on the faculty initiated (I was a lesbian) should have cancelled out the rumor some jealous students invented (I was sleeping with senior boys). Neither was true, but I’m sure there are people out there today who still cling to one tall tale or the other, if they remember me at all. Even ridiculous rumors can have long lives. The question is why?
Rumors were—and are—the original form of fake news—probably as old as humanity itself. Consider the tabloid stories that read something like this: “Beyoncé Delivers Alien’s Three-headed Baby!” (My apologies to Beyoncé.) Fantastic lies sell. I like to think people read “news” like that for entertainment, because—in my mind—anyone who would believe such nonsense is lucky to be able to read at all. However, on Facebook I see stories that aren’t that far from those alien “disclosures”—stories that sound like this: “Meryl Streep Has Baby with her Nineteen-year-old Pool Boy and Shocks her Fans.” Really. I’ll admit I can’t figure out why people enjoy information that’s obviously false. I assume they don’t stop to think about it.
Fake news has taken on a larger footprint these days when anyone can post a story on Facebook (or elsewhere) that looks legitimate and includes an unflattering photo of the victim (easy to obtain)—sending it zinging to countless readers. The sad thing is, readers rarely stop to wonder if a particular story makes sense—with or without fact-checking. (I subscribed to the NEW YORK TIMES online so I have information that doesn’t come from either TV or the Internet.) When I read the infamous and nearly tragic pizza story in someone’s post, I never for a minute thought it could be true. But critical thinking isn’t a common skill in some circles.
To look harder at the pizza parlor story, first get real about Hillary Clinton. Regardless of whether you hate her or not, you would have to agree that she cannot be a stupid woman with her background. She has years of experience with publicity and has learned how to filter what she says and does in public to avoid pointless conflicts. So why would an intelligent, sophisticated woman be flat-out dumb enough to indulge or condone child pornography from a family pizza parlor—even if she were secretly perverted enough to want to be involved? She wouldn’t. Period. Yet how many people believed the story? More than the shooter, certainly.
Rumors or fake news are created to serve a personal agenda—something someone wants to accomplish—to discredit someone they dislike, to gain influence, to attract attention, or maybe to divert attention from an action they want to do when no one is looking. (My lesbian story began when I didn’t date the single men on the faculty—in particular, a teacher who was secretly seeing his student and needed a cover.)
The people who swallow the lie may share it, which gives them an investment in wanting it to be true so they don’t look gullible. Once you say something in public, taking it back is a thousand times more difficult. And if you have the impression lots of other people you like believe the same thing, whether it makes sense or not is no longer important to you. So, even when you hear evidence that you fell for a con job, you don’t accept it. You and your buds hang on.
Embracing a lie says something ugly about the person who invented it as it insults the person who accepts it without question. It degrades the social environment and teaches that truth doesn’t matter. It’s NOT harmless. Fake news can produce tragic, hurtful results.
Thanks for your hard work Susan! Honesty and truthfulness is crucial to a good moral base, truthfulness in all areas of life. Mankind is drifting so far from this base that honesty is becoming vastly devalued.
I think we honor one another when we share only the truth, Reba. Naturally, each of us has a particular viewpoint, but a willingness to consider unbiased information is necessary to fair opinion.