When I started working at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in 1997, our newsroom had a beautiful view of the Chattahoochee River — a view that would later be blocked by a Synovus parking garage. One day, while a few newsroom staffers were gazing out a window toward the river and wishing they had normal 9-to-5 jobs, they noticed an unusual amount of folks flocking to the river.
It seems folks had come to see the baby killer whale that had swum all the way up the river, only to get stuck near the Eagle & Phenix Dam (which was blown up a few years ago to make way for the stunning whitewater that now flows there). Sure enough, there it was bobbing up and down. It was bobbing up and down, of course, because it was inflated plastic. It turned out to be a publicity stunt, and I guess it worked.
When I see folks post and share all kinds of incorrect information on social media, even more so during this crazy election season, I’m reminded that folks have always been gullible — it’s just that gullibility seems to be the norm and accepted and excused these days.
For instance, here’s an example that I’ve seen a lot in the last few days: Hillary wore an earpiece during the first presidential debate — or an “anti-coughing device” if you run in Bigfoot-level circles of gullibility. This has been clearly debunked by sites like Snopes and PolitiFact, which cite multiple sources and images when evaluating such rumors. In the photos below, you can see a couple of images. In the bottom left is an image that right-wing propaganda outlets have used (and many gullible followers have shared) suggesting that she wore an earpiece to be fed lines during the debate. The other, more clear image shows she was not.
Before you share that inset image as real or even hint that it proves she “cheated” in the debate, please ask yourself a few questions. One, with 80 million people watching and about the same amount of folks backstage, do you really think they could have pulled off such a project without getting busted? Two, do you really think they would risk getting busted doing this if they already were confident that they would win the debate anyway? And, three, wouldn’t it be awfully hard to focus in a debate while someone is constantly in your ear? And, if none of those questions spark doubts, couldn’t you at least notice that the necklace is different and that the photo was obviously taken at another time, not at the debate? C’mon, man!
More common ones that have been shared often among my conservative friends on Facebook are the one in which someone Photoshopped a confederate flag into a photo of a young Hillary Clinton speaking in an office and a Photoshopped image of Hillary “so wrapped up in herself that she doesn’t notice the lady’s ‘I’m with stupid’ shirt.” Both are fakes and should have made the folks who share them stop for a moment and wonder if that just seems a little too unreasonable and deserve at least a little investigation.
And if you rebuke these folks with a link to a fact-check, they’ll get huffy and start saying something like, “Well, she’s still crooked and evil and the spawn of Satan” or something to that extent. Problem is, legitimate questions about pay-for-play through the Clinton Foundation or the Iran nuclear deal lose credibility when they’re wrapped up in such slices of baloney. How am I supposed to believe you when you say she’s the spawn of Satan when you won’t double-check easily checked photographs and quotes? And, anyway, how can she be the spawn of Satan when she’s only a year or two younger than Donald Trump?
Lest you say, “Yeah, but liberals do it just as much or worse!,” to quote Mr. Trump: “WRONG!” I’m one of the few white men (not an angry white man, mind you) in the state of Georgia whose Facebook friends are evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. The easily disproved posts are far more prevalent on the conservatives’ pages. However, my liberal friends do post their fair share. For instance, here’s one I’ve seen from my liberal friends:
It doesn’t seem far beyond the scope of credibility. After all, Trump has been on both sides of many issues, denied being on either side, and refuses to apologize for whichever side he might have been on then and is not anymore. It can be hard to evaluate. But, before you share, check it out. He never spoke the words in the above meme — and most certainly not to People magazine.
Liberals, meanwhile, do often have a double-standard for holding people accountable. For instance, it’s verifiable that Clinton said as secretary of state that the TPP was “the gold standard” of trade deals. She might have been saying it because she was still part of the Obama administration at the time, but in the debate she denied this and claimed she said she hoped it would be the gold standard. Untrue. There is a transcript. It’s not complicated. If the No. 1 strike against you is the perception — rightly or wrongly — that you are untrustworthy, perhaps you shouldn’t say things that the record clearly shows aren’t true. And liberals brush it off as semantics.
Yet, liberals go wild claiming Trump supported the Iraq war because of some wavering talk on Howard Stern’s radio show. When asked by Stern in 2002 if he supported the war, Trump replied: “Yeah, I guess so.” Sorry, liberals, but that’s hardly a strong endorsement of the war, and it’s certainly somewhat less egregious than Hillary’s actual recorded vote authorizing the war. Maybe y’all should let that one go. After all, Trump clearly laid out his position in 2003 to Neil Cavuto when he said, “Either you attack or you don’t attack.” I mean, you can’t state your position any more clearly than that!
So, conservatives and liberals, know that your credibility is at stake when you post baloney without checking. There’s enough real, verifiable baloney with which you can make your sammiches. Use it. Stop spreading misinformation. Stop being so gullible. Step back, think before you post and just enjoy a life infused with a little bit of reason. Let’s get back to sharing things on Facebook like what you’re having for lunch, your obligatory “Happy birthday” posts on timelines and feel-good photos like this whale exploring the canals of Venice:
Oct. 31, 2016 update: And, the gullible are at it again. Now they’re sharing this post below by the tens of thousands. It’s fake, y’all. C’mon. You may not like Snopes, but they do cite multiple, independently verifiable sources when they fact-check this stuff. Facts aren’t liberal or conservative. Check ’em!