Who and what should we believe?
Are masks good or bad? Is Bill Gates benevolent or evil? Is there a deep state conspiracy to profit off fear? Is a shadow government pulling the strings? Or is big pharma? Can vaccines be trusted? Can scientists? Or are they intentionally hiding findings that could help us?
These are questions I’ve seen throughout my social media feeds. People, in an attempt to discover what is true, are sharing anything and everything that confirms their suspicions about *gestures widely*.
There is a lot of noise out here. A lot. Some of it is true, some of it has truth amongst opinion, some is flat out lies, and some is intentionally designed to sow discord and make us miserable. And based on my desire to stress eat an entire sleeve of Oreos, I think that part is working.
Social media has elevated every voice. This can be a good and beautiful thing, but can also quickly become problematic. Voices that are dishonest, hateful, and have less than healthy motivations have a chance to be heard and spread widely.
How do we tell the difference? How do we know who to believe? What can be trusted? And how to do we cut back on the constant chatter about what is true? I have some suggestions.
But before that we should know the damage all this noise is doing. Every debunked article we share makes us less trustworthy people. Every false narrative we push is bearing false witness. We hinder our influence in the world when we are quick to jump on each and every claim we come across.
We are becoming suspicious, fearful people who trust no one. We are being shaped by the media we consume. It forms our priorities, our worldview, and the way we love (or hate) our neighbor. This is not a healthy way to live.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t search for truth or ask hard questions. I think there are times when truth is covered up, when the popular opinion is wrong, and the lone voice is the one proclaiming what it is real. On our search for answers, though, we need to be careful, thoughtful, and consistent.
We could probably do without sharing every article or video that confirms our opinion. When we share what we think is true, rather than what we know is true, this adds to the confusion. If we don’t know the veracity of a claim, we shouldn’t share it. Even if we believe it. We shouldn’t say, “I don’t know if this is true, but…” By clicking share we are adding our weight to the argument. We can hold an opinion without proclaiming it as gospel truth to our social networks.
I’d suggest that we not believe everything we see or hear. Simply because someone made a video or podcast doesn’t make it true. Just because a website says it doesn’t make it so. Anyone can make content and upload it. You can find people on the internet who think the country of Finland doesn’t exist, Elvis is alive, and the Dallas Cowboys are a good football team. All these things are demonstrably untrue.
I’d suggest we ask for proof. Facts. Data. People should be able back up their claims, and that goes for the people sharing it as well. Before you share it, Google it. Or Ask Jeeves it. Or whatever the people are using these days. Fact check. This may mean crunching the numbers to see if they are good at math. I had a friend do this for a popular video going around recently and it turns out the math was bad, but it had already been shared by many of my friends as proof of a reality that doesn’t exist.
Look up who a person is and what things they are known for doing. If their claim is valid there should be evidence. Scientific evidence can be reproduced. Behavioral evidence repeats itself. People have histories and resumes that add to or take away from their credibility. If it can’t be verified, perhaps don’t share it?
In our rush to be right we often times share something that is wrong. I am guilty of doing this. Perhaps we should slow down. Take time to think it through and read about it. Ask the opinions of people we respect and trust to be honest. Being slow to speak (or click share) would cut down on a tremendous amount of noise in our world. We could always wait. We don’t need to be the first to champion every cause and, this one is hard for me, everyone doesn’t need to know our opinion about everything.
(I fact checked that last statement with my wife and she confirms its legitimacy)
Another thing we can do is ask questions. The more questions we ask the more we will discover what legs a claim stands on. Where do you get your information? How did you come up with these numbers? What’s your background? Do you think pineapple belongs on pizza? Questions help uncover reality. If someone won’t or can’t answer questions, they probably shouldn’t be trusted.
And we should ask questions of ourselves. Why do I believe this? Why do I want it shared? What are my motivations? Perhaps we aren’t always above board either.
We are living in troubled times. Our politics are polarized, our world is battling a pandemic, and most of us are out of our normal routines. Mix in news articles that contradict each other and we have a recipe for noise, confusion, and anxiety. We can rise above it. We can refuse to turn the volume up and can instead help turn it down.
I think it’s desperately needed for our health, for the good of our world, and for our reputations.
I’m going to try my best to think through my shares, my likes, my retweets. To filter my opinions more. To ensure what I share is real rather than imagined. I won’t get it all right, but I’d invite you to join me. We can do better than this.