I recently watched a top-rated movie on a popular streaming service. Aside from interesting camera angles and a compelling story, one of the major themes in the movie was the lack of information. Of course, aside from simply being entertained, I was thinking about what real-world lessons I could draw from a work of fiction. As it happens, there were plenty, but none were more powerful and dangerous than the lack of information.
Misinformation and a lack of verifiable information are not new. The Covid-19 pandemic; the 2020 election; vaccines: Covid-19, Measles, Polio, the Flu shot, and many others have all been subject to rampant misinformation and aggressive disinformation campaigns. At times, mainstream news outlets and social media platforms; politicians; big business and the military-industrial complex all knowingly and aggressively peddle misleading and openly false information. By the time a disaster strikes, we’re ready to believe anything.
The biases and prejudices we cling to make us highly susceptible to such manipulations, but all is not lost. There are ways to fight back to reduce the risk of falling victim to the machinations of others. None of the suggestions I’m going to offer are simple; however, doing nothing is worse. Critical thinking can and does effectively counter misinformation. All it takes is a willingness to employ it.
Seeing the Forest through the Trees
There are times when we’re so passionate about, so close to an issue that we fail to recognize that we may have lost our objectivity. We can clearly see the investment others may have in an issue but not ours. In professional circles this is called a conflict of interest, and the individual is urged to recuse himself or herself immediately. This doesn’t always happen. We must question our associations and actions as often and as vigorously as we question others. Mistaking zealotry for passion is dangerous. Elected officials and those in the know don’t always behave transparently or ethically. They damage their credibility and authority in such instances; however, believing the social media rants of a conspiracy theorist is a dangerous leap in logic. Question motive and zealotry.
The question of motive is powerful, yet we rarely ask ourselves about our motives when we attach our identities to belief systems and actions that are likely to prove harmful to ourselves and others. Worse, we may not truly believe in the legitimacy of our actions or the actions of others. If this is the case, getting off the train at the first exit is critical. Of course, we don’t always act in complete alignment with our religious, political, and cultural beliefs. We sometimes go along to get along and in so doing, we compromise ourselves. Resist doing so and don’t be afraid to ask yourself how you stand to benefit from aligning yourself with causes you don’t believe in. If you’re afraid or unwilling to question your behavior, you’re on to something!
In a previous post, I spoke about removing yourself from social media and dramatically limiting your consumption of local news. This degree of hyperstimulation is anxiety-inducing and reinforces our biases without offering compelling evidence or anecdotes to the contrary. Actively seek out competing sources of information, especially from sources you’d never routinely consider. Better yet, ask questions of others and refrain from name-calling and shouting just because you don’t like what they’re saying. You’re attempting to learn more about the issue, not strengthen your position. If the fact-based information you gather logically supports your position, there you have it. If not, keep looking and modify your views accordingly.
Does It Make Sense
Ask yourself if the information you’re receiving answers the crux question of the situation. Is it truly a terrorist attack that has knocked out the internet service in your area or, is there a less sinister and more mundane explanation for the service outage. Our brains are designed to override uncertainty as a means of keeping us sane and alive. It’s not difficult to overload us with information so we fall back on our feelings and experiences as a means of making sense of the events around us. Again, ask the right questions and be alert to the prospect of information overload. Quietly process what you hear away from the influence of others. Strong personalities tend to dominate conversations and it’s easy to be swayed to a different line of thought. What purpose is served by this behavior? Is it necessary? Ask yourself are there simpler, more reasonable explanations for what’s happening.
Someone Far from Home
I like the idea of having an emergency contact outside of the affected area. For example, relatives living on the East Coast can call upon me here in the Midwest to give them weather and updated information on the situation not available to them after a hurricane has made landfall. Of course, a means of communication should be established and practiced in advance of an actual disaster. This is important because it reduces the likelihood that inaccurate information will be passed along and spread amongst and outside of family members.
I could go on about the dark side of the Internet for another five pages but that wouldn’t be helpful. When it comes to news reporting and social media, I don’t believe that the two are compatible. Traditionally, journalists seek multiple corroborating sources before running with a story. When reading news stories on the Internet, consider the source and look for the story on other sites. Look carefully at the profiles of those posting stories and research the authors of these posts. What else have they written and where else have they been published? Be selective about liking and forwarding posts. If something seems outlandish and too fantastic to be believed, it likely is. Ask for evidence.
Secrets have existed for as long as there have been people. I’m of the mind that the more elaborate and the more people in on the secret, the less likely it is to remain a secret. Vast conspiracies requiring large groups to maintain secrecy, are doomed to fail, I think. Someone at some point will say something, even in passing. Equally, the hard feelings of the disgruntled are also deadly to the continued veil of secrecy. I’m not a fan of large groups planning conspiracies and keeping them a secret. If this is the explanation put forth, be highly suspicious and ask lots of questions.
The pattern I’m hoping you’ve discerned is that you must ask lots of hard questions. Is it reasonable? Is what they’re suggesting possible and plausible? Can you find other examples where such a stratagem has been successfully executed? Keep an open mind and a high index of suspicion. The truth is out there, but it's not waiting for you to find it. You have to cut through layers of lies and subterfuge to get to it.