I posted something political on Facebook the other day, and almost immediately heard from one of my friends on the other side of the aisle that I need to check my sources. The information I posted was apparently dated and in her mind, from an unreliable source.
Usually I am more cautious about what I post lest I be accused of playing that old game of Gossip, now tweaked for social media. What I posted had to do with my response to the NFL, the flag, what it means to be a patriot and responsible citizen.
I don’t want to write about the politics, the racial issues, or the fact that what I posted was, even to me, biased, and out of date. Rather, I want to write about what it means to “check my sources.” Thank you, my friend, for this opportunity to reflect on my relationship with Facebook, and on how I decide what to believe and how difficult it is to find accuracy, fairness and “just the facts, mam.”
Check your sources—Okay, my first source, then, is myself, and my response to what I read. I am the sum of my learning, education, experience, religious leanings, and upbringing. When I see, read,or hear, something, it automatically runs through a built-in credibility censor. Determining if I’m going to trust, believe or support something, is connected to my awareness of how it resonates with who I am and what my core beliefs are. Something overtly biased or distorted, or frankly, unbelievable, will not easily pass first muster. I have to pause to consider the source, the content and how it is presented as I think about continuing.
Then, there is the problem with words. From fifty years ago, I hear a Social Studies teacher talking about the fallacies of marketing. “Watch out for glittering generalities”, he said. There were other techniques to woo the consumer/viewer couched in hyperbole or association with the desirable, attractive and/or sexual. Outright spin (which is a misnomer for distortion, fictionalization or even frank lying) seems more a critter of the last ten or fifteen years.
The problem with spin, glittering generalities, etc., is that they are often emotion-laden, inciting, and exciting. They are also often transparent. Consider words. Words carry weight beyond their definition. I may define someone as large, burly, gigantic, grossly obese, immense, colossal or monstrous. Each of these words means large or big, but they are shaded and subtly influence someone reading or listening to them.
For example, consider David and Goliath. Were I on David’s side, I might call Goliath monstrous, grotesque, or hideous. On the other hand, were I on Goliath’s side, I might use words such as colossal, heroic, and strong. The words paint different, emotion-loaded images. A non-biased reportage would say that Goliath was somewhere between four and six cubits—six to nine feet, permitting you to make up your own mind about how you feel about him.
Facebook is probably the last place I go for accuracy, unbiased reporting and truth. Unfortunately, it, along with other social media entities, have assumed massive importance in our culture and serve as conveyers of information. There apparently are few effective filters or standards.
What I look for, then, is word usage—the most neutral words and a presentation of facts that includes both sides of a story or argument. And, if I am wanting commentary, I look for someone who in my mind, fairly represents both sides from which he draws his conclusions and observations. I listen to his words and his voice. Sometimes, it is hard to find this kind of honesty.
And finally, I look for what resonates with my basic beliefs which I think have served me well.
Often, our most trusted media sources have caved to bias, spin and innuendo. Our political leaders, likewise have locked arms on either side of the aisle, reminding me of a bitter enactment of that old childhood game Red Rover, Red Rover. The goal is to break through the locked arms and bring an opponent back to your side. It just doesn’t happen anymore.