We live in confusing times. Conflicting information is everywhere. Terms like ‘Post-Truth’ and ‘Fake News’ describe false reports and stories circulating all over the web. The problem is, these reports can be very convincing.So much so, they create great divides among us. How did we get to this point and why? And most importantly, how do we deal with this problem?
The Other World On The Internet
Real, everyday life is straightforward. You wake up each day, do more or less the same things, work, eat, sleep, and the rest. You get bored so you start a chat either in person or online, open a book or switch on the TV. Like billions of others, you go online to read the news and here is where things start to get hazy. You learn of a different world to your own. A world full of extreme acts of depravity and superhuman acts of kindness, no normality whatsoever.
Social Media Savages
People engage in heated exchanges over these stories. Close friends and family clash over who is right and wrong. Everything is lies except what we want to believe and if anyone challenges that, we will rip them to shreds. No time for mercy, compassion, tolerance, forget that. Maybe the easy consumption of news on social media has turned us into savages. Parallels can be made with the nightmarish vision of early dystopian fiction and the world we live in today. Or perhaps this is nothing new. It’s simply the propaganda of the modern era following on from centuries of the same old thing going back to ancient Egypt or even further back in time.
I leaned toward the open display case in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum and gazed at what in all likelihood is the body of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, the extraordinary woman who ruled Egypt from 1479 to 1458 B.C. and is famous today less for her reign during the golden age of Egypt’s 18th dynasty than for having the audacity to portray herself as a man.
Chip Brown, National Geographic, 2009 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2009/04/hatshepsut/brown-text
It was a lot easier to pull off tricks like that tens of thousands of years ago. And maybe Pharaoh Hatshepsut had her reasons.
So What Should We Do?
So what should we do? Stop caring? Live in constant crushing doubt? We could do that but the trouble is decisions from the top affect our lives. The people we vote for, the bills our politicians submit to parliament have a direct impact on our lives and the lives of others.
The other thing that really frustrates a lot of us is the polarising nature of politics and current affairs. Is there anything besides the bullish rhetoric of ‘right wingers’ and the ‘do gooder’ ethics of ‘leftists’? Is the rift between the two ideologies so deep it cannot be crossed? Most importantly, can we trust anything either of them say? After listening to the 9/12/16 edition of the NPR Ted Radio Hour entitled ‘Just A Little Nicer’ I might have a partial solution to this problem.
The show features CNN political commentator Sally Kohn. I doubt I would agree with all of Sally’s political opinions but one thing I definitely do agree with is her concept of ‘Emotional Correctness’. In a nutshell, ‘Emotional Correctness’ is the ability to completely and utterly disagree with someone and still respect their dignity. For me that might mean having to listen to someone go into a lengthy diatribe about immigration and the alleged creeping takeover of Sharia law in the UK for example. I would have to sit, quietly listen and acknowledge their fears. Then, once they have shared those fears, I can offer some insight, a bit of perspective on why these fears might just be unfounded.
Treat Strangers Like Family
We all have a solution in front of us. Not so much to fake news, after all, it’s been around since forever and probably isn’t going away any time soon. We can change the way we react though. We have family and friends, people dear to us. At least some of those people will have completely opposing views to us. Views influenced by fake news perhaps. As soon as you get talking on that issue where you both differ, the arguments start. At the end of it though, you stick by each other despite it all. There’s no reason why we can’t deal with acquaintances in the same way. Accept people for who they are, warts and all, try to understand what scares them, try to solve their problems.
Don’t Be Afraid To Say ‘I Don’t Know’
My understanding of news went through three stages
Never read or watched the news, parroted rumours with no proof.
Watched/Read news, took it on face value too much.
Still keep up to date, learned to say ‘I don’t know’ if I really don’t know if something is true or not.
Knowing now that a lot of what passes off as ‘news’ and ‘alternative news’ can be dishonest or just fallible to error I feel no shame in just putting my hands up and admitting I don’t have the facts. An estimation maybe but not enough to be certain. Therefore it’s best not to stubbornly stick to a narrative. If I see a problem and I want to help, I should look for practical actions I can take and avoid debating online endlessly and pointlessly.
Let Them Know You Care Before You Try To Correct Their Opinions
No matter how strongly I feel about something, I’ve come to realise that fighting solves nothing. Dignified silence is better than harsh exchanges. When I start listening to people they may just listen to me. If they don’t, it’s probably better not to push them right now. Of course the best exchanges are those where we can speak openly with each other and share our thoughts and feelings. If someone says to you “Immigrants are stealing our jobs and taking over our culture” you could say “I understand your concern but are you sure this is the case?” and go on to attempt at disproving this commonly held belief with the best available evidence. Easier said than done I know, perhaps we will have to fail at this until we get it right. Just as long as we don’t give up. Maybe, just maybe if we showed our humanity towards others, fake news would lose it’s grip on their frightened minds.