Earlier this week, I saw some really sad news on Facebook. Legendary actress, singer, and civil rights activist Lena Horne had died, and of course I immediately shared the obituary. Within seconds, someone noted that Horne had been dead for half a decade.
Dammit, they got me again!. I think everyone who uses Facebook has had this experience at least once, even sophisticated, well-informed users. Mostly it’s harmless. But when it’s not –2016 presidential election anyone?– it can be disastrous.
So I was a little alarmed this morning to see no fewer than three examples of misinformation being spread by people I know, all of who I generally hold as sober-minded folks who aren’t prone to hysterics.
The meme above notes, correctly, that President Donald Trump did in fact grant “Deutsche Bank a waiver from punishment allowing it to continue to manage pension funds and individual retirement accounts for another three years.” He also extended the waiver to four other banks. And that sounds pretty bad, and it probably is, considering Trump owes DB billions. It’s also hypocritical.
But this happened nearly a year and a half ago, and on top of that it’s simply a continuation of Obama-era policy. I’m the last one to defend Donald Trump, who deserves to be in jail, but I fail to see the urgency in calling out the continuation of a policy that dates back to 2015. What’s the point — unless what you’re really trying to do is amplify a population’s distrust of government, which is a longtime Russian strategy.
Here’s another one, put up by Americans for Bernie Sanders.
I lived in Philadelphia for 16 years, a place where Joe Biden looms large among Democrats. And while I have some issues with him, crossing a picket line seemed out of character, especially on the heels of standing with striking grocery store workers in April.
So I did a little research. The first article that came up was from The People’s World, a for-real communist newspaper that dates back to 1924. They spoke to some of the people who were there, and who were angry with Biden. But…
“We were there to protest, not picket,” said NUHW spokesman Matt Artz. “The gates of the driveway opened, and Biden’s car went in.”
You can disagree with Biden’s decision to meet with Kaiser’s Cynthia Talles, but you don’t get distort the context. A pineapple isn’t a car, and a protest isn’t a picket.
Then I did a little research on Guy Ben-Aharon, who’s a pretty interesting playwright living in Boston, to see what he witnessed. I scrolled and scrolled through his Twitter feed — and he seems to have been visiting Manhattan the day of the protest.
So apologies to you Guy Ben-Aharon if I’m getting it wrong, but it sounds like you weren’t there and/or didn’t talk to anybody who was.
But Ben-Aharon’s not to blame: like anyone else, he was likely just re-tweeting something he read. Who knows where he got his information? For all I know, he might have been reacting to something he saw on Facebook from a group like — Americans for Bernie Sanders, which is the real culprit here.
I tried to visit their website to ask why they were spreading unattributed stories, but it’s expired. I reached out on Facebook, and will update if I get a response. But evidence suggests that the group clearly harbors no qualms about posting something they didn’t fact check. On the other hand, it sure serves a purpose: hurt a Democratic presidential candidate with unions and the people who support them.
Here’s the last one.
The screencap led to the following piece of old news: Iceland threw bankers in jail after the 2007-2008 economic collapse. Most of the content of the article gets it right (I think) when lined up against other accounts of the story. But why is it being shared in 2019, when the story was first reported more than three years ago? And more curiously, why is a Russian publication using sentences like “in the U.S., we simply tapped a few wrists with small fines, that ended up being paid by their respective banks.” Who’s this “we” you’re talking about?
So I decided to look up columnist Maurice Bedard — not the most common American name, but perhaps he’s from Louisiana or upstate Vermont. Surprise! There are plenty of people by that name, but none of them have a byline. In fact, this piece about Iceland and its admirable policy is the only thing I could find by the writer. It’s odd, don’t you think, for someone who writes with such anger and passion to only have published once?
In my search, I went to the front page of Geopolitica to see if I could find any more by the mysterious Mr. Bedard. I did not find that. But I did find a whole series of columns by a gentleman named Alexandr Dugin. And who is Mr. Dugin?
You’ll note that all of these memes and articles take a similar tactic. They take a story that’s either in the periphery of the news or is recent enough that you kinda-sorta remember it, and frame it using incendiary language and inflammatory images designed to appeal to your limbic system and not your brain. Kinda like when I shared the fact that Lena Horne had been dead for five years.
Now, am I saying using these memes to connect some dots? I am not. What I am doing is demonstrating that there’s a lot of bullshit out there, and a massive need for all of us to ask ourselves “does that add up” before deciding if it’s true, and worth sharing with hundreds of our friends, who may then share it with hundreds of THEIR friends.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” someone once said. It could not be truer today: as Americans we need to hone our critical thinking and reasoning skills. We need to fact check ourselves constantly.