It’s the Day After

I had a great day yesterday at the Maine Highland Games. It’s not a fantasy organization but immersion in all things Scottish. It is fun and speaks to my multiple Scottish ancestors. But then that was yesterday.

This day of the week, Sunday, tends to start out as a low news day with folks posting religious messages on Facebook and a true lack of US based news. I started off the day tussling with a friend who posted a video clip from the Daily Caller. I really didn’t care what grains of truth were in that YouTube clip because I’m positive sure one of the reasons for the degradation of trust in reporting is due to this type of website. Any news source that promotes (and even creates) conspiracy theories is exercising its right to freedom of speech. I believe our duty is not allow that kind of discourse into the mainstream.

I have a number of folks as Facebook friends who are quick to post crap. Yes, utter crap. I have tried to gently tell these folks that the piece in question is either false, misleading, inflammatory or click bait. I find myself then hiding these folks so that I don’t have to see their posts but allow these folks, some of whom are treasured friends, to see my posts and be able to interact with me.

I know that as a former English teacher, reporter and writer I tend to be a bit … uh, gee, what’s the word? Strongly opinionated? Draconian? Tyrannical? But see, here’s the legitimacy – I know of what I speak.

If we pass along rumors, if we allow false, misleading information to invade our fun spaces like Facebook, then we are complicit in reducing trust in today’s media. The present president glories in doing just this for just this aim. “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. … What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” CNN July 25, 2018 (yeah, I know “liberal” but a quote is a quote even from them”)

How do we reclaim the national narrative? Is it possible to do that? I don’t have any kind of provable answer to those questions. I just know that allowing this type of “fake news” into our friends and family time on Facebook makes this worse.

Of course, historically, this is nothing new. It’s part of the mob mentality, the rumor mill. But rumor mills have consequences. For example, while in high school a friend accepted a date request from a black teenager. He was a good friend and we all really liked him, but it was 1966 in Georgia. At the time, my mother was working for the Action agency which covered much of north Georgia so she was constantly interacting with folks from other counties. Two days after the date was agreed on, mother came home saying my friend was in danger. Men from other counties were coming in talking about the date and saying the girl was pregnant with the black man’s child. Two days! In two days, the rumor mill created a situation that endangered both teens.

That’s the power of rumors or “fake news”. The Salem witch trials fall into this category. Lynchings fall into this category. Mass shooters quoting the president fall into this category.

We may have freedom of speech in this country (just be careful who you say what to) but with that freedom comes responsibility. A responsibility not addressed in civics classes, not talked about on Facebook, the rumor mill of all rumor mills.

My own husband is fond of proclaiming various bits as fact. When asked he never can remember where he read that or what proof actually exists. I tell him “precise speech”. It’s what makes things (news) real.