There was a day and age when you could turn on the television and know that whatever you saw was absolutely 100 percent true — Walter Cronkite’s news, Oral Roberts’ warnings that God was gonna take him if you didn’t send enough cash, Georgia Championship Wrestling matches, and, most terrifyingly, that some weirdo named Mr. Whipple was going to accost you if you squeezed toilet paper at the grocery store.
To this day, you still won’t find me squeezing toilet paper at the store.
Today, though, we have 347 channels. In many ways, that can be a good thing. But when it comes to finding news and information, it’s horrible. Folks today no longer go looking for the truth but for validation of preconceived notions. If you don’t like the facts you hear, you go looking for more information somewhere else. If you do like the facts you hear, well, that proves what I was thinking!
The internet and social media platforms, however, have ushered in a whole new ballgame for the gullible. It now goes far beyond propaganda into downright falsehoods spread either for political gain or just to tweak the masses.
For example, here are just a few posts I’ve seen recently on Facebook and the Tickety Tock (click thumbnails to see larger images):
All of these posts have at least two things in common. One, they are completely untrue. And, two, thousands upon thousands of people commented and liked them while clearly believing them to be true.
Gullibility may be more rampant than ever before. It doesn’t help that Facebook — which sometimes will not approve some of the perfectly legit ads I take out for wonderful nonprofit work — will allow some of these posters to proliferate the landscape of baloney so long as they play the game. Heck, the Mayim Bialik example was not even a post but an ad that Facebook was perfectly OK with accepting money to run.
Among the many ads I’ve had rejected was a quote from Calvin Coolidge. It was rejected for being about “politics” even though it had nothing to do with politics. It took three appeals before I was finally able to convince them that Calvin Coolidge was not running for office … at least, not this cycle.
By the way, in case you’re wondering what kinds of promotions Facebook has deemed unacceptable content, here are a few of the posts I’ve boosted for The Fuller Center for Housing, only to have some knee-jerk bot or human at Facebook strike them down as blatantly offensive (click thumbnails for larger images):
But Facebook’s being run by cash-hungry morons is just part of the problem. And I’m not for censorship in general. I definitely support the art of satire, which is something The Onion does effectively. However, these false posts mentioned earlier aren’t even humorous. It’s just baloney for baloney’s sake. And folks gobble it up. As much as I like a baloney sandwich, that just ain’t right.
As artificial intelligence and deep fakes now join the toolboxes of the propagandists and the habitual liars, false information is going to spread further and deeper — boring directly into the mind of folks like your Crazy Uncle Jim Bob, who thinks Fox News has gotten way too liberal.
I’m perhaps an overly skeptical human being. I’ve sat through many work meetings over the last 30 years where folks got all excited about some new program or technology. My job was to raise my hand and remind them the last 213 times I was right to say, “Um, not so fast.”
In the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer newsroom, we had a sign that read, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” In other words, verify everything, no matter how true it appears.
No one has time to verify and fact-check everything. But we’ve got to have enough sense to see one of these fake posts and think, “There’s gotta be more to this story.”
Indeed, there usually is more to the story. Or the story is complete baloney. Google a little. Try some fact-check sites like Snopes and PolitiFact. This really isn’t that difficult.
Be more skeptical and less gullible. You may like a post you see or story you hear, such as that Joe Biden will be drinking Bud Light while pole dancing as a drag queen named Jo-Jo Bi-den during Jason Aldean’s Super Bowl halftime show with a pregnant Oliver Anthony. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent true.
Don’t like it, don’t share it and don’t believe it … no matter how much you want to.