The Power of Misinformation

I read earlier today that, despite the legal uproar, at least one poll puts support of Trump’s Travel Ban at 55%. That’s one poll and may not be the most accurate reflection of support, but even if it’s relatively close it is surprising. Why? Because it indicates that more people believe that this ban serves a useful purpose than people who do not. I’m sure there are some (maybe many) who like the ban because it targets Muslim countries, but I doubt that those overtly bigoted people make up the majority of support. I’m guessing many, if not most, support the ban because they feel it helps keep us safe.

I find that surprising because there is absolutely no data to support that conclusion.

I realize that it can be difficult to discern what is true out of all of the information available. The volume of data available at our fingertips now is both a blessing and a curse, especially since the internet does not discriminate between fact and faction. It takes some effort to do the research necessary not just to find information but to also evaluate the sources. Many people allow themselves to be sucked into intellectual echo chambers, where their currently held views are constantly reinforced. Others look for historically  generally reliable sources and hope for the best. A lot of us have long expected that, while politicians spin events to their favor whenever possible, most will not stand in front of us and spew pure fiction.

This no longer holds true.

misinformation

It becomes less surprising that people support policies that have absolutely no benefit whatsoever (like a travel ban or a wall) when we pay attention to how prodigiously dishonest our President and his key advisors and spokespeople are. Many people expect that when the President of the US speaks he is at least attempting to be truthful. Even if he applies political spin, he at least starts form a factual occurrence or assertion. Not so anymore.

We now have an administration that will go on the air and just invent things, and then will stand by their fantasies without irony or apology. Perhaps some examples are in order. here are a few:

Trump consistently misstates the murder rate to support his assertion that our country is in decline and that violent crime is rampant. It isn’t; the violent crime rate is at a near all-time low, despite a recent increase in certain areas. Saying it once may be a mistake, but continuing to say it is a lie.

Trump claimed without evidence that the media routinely fails to report terrorist incidents. This is patently untrue, and the White House’s list of 78 attacks that they claim went unreported really drive this point home, as fact checkers quickly pointed out that all but one had received wide media coverage. The one attack that was not covered could not be independently verified to have occurred at all.

In that same vein, Kellyanne Conway recently spoke of the Bowling Green Massacre that never happened as an example of terrorism committed by immigrants not being covered by the media (a common theme, it seems). The fact that this is pure fantasy should have put a damper on the impact of the statement. Perhaps the level of support for the ban is indication that many people did not realize the massacre was make-believe. Conway tried to walk the comment back as a slip, but apparently this isn’t the first time she has pushed this untruth.

Trump and his team have made the ridiculous and wholly unsubstantiated claim that there was widespread voter fraud, to the tune of 3 to 5 million votes, depriving Trump of the popular vote win.

And, just for fun, Trump’s and Sean Spicer’s bizarre insistence that Trump’s inauguration crowd was “the largest.” (He does have a fascination with size…) It wasn’t the largest by any measure, and it isn’t a data point worth lying about. But they did anyway.

These are just a handful of the more recent fabrications. The list of bald-faced lies continues to get longer as we move forward into Trump’s presidency. And while there are people working to counteract the falsehoods, Trump has directed a great deal of his energy at discrediting the media, both during his campaign and now , during his tenure as President. This is dangerous, as the free press is one of the few check the people have against governmental overreach. If Trump successfully discredits the media then people will be more likely to accept his “alternative facts” as reality.

This is how we get people to accept orders that target minority groups while providing no improvement to public safety or national security.

So what can people do? Don’t write folks off as willfully ignorant or stupid for believing some of these things. Engage them, ask if they would be willing to change their minds if the facts did not support what they have been told. Show them the facts, and use sources that hold up to scrutiny.(Don’t argue with someone ultra-right with ultra-left sources.)

The fact is that some people cannot be reached; don’t presume this is the case. Everyone is worthy of some of your time and energy, at least once, and you might be surprised by the people that come around if given access to a new point of view.

Good luck!

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Power of Misinformation

  1. Great article, Conan! I find it both disturbing and fascinating that the leader of the free world can pull facts out of his you know what to support his arguments, and that a majority of the voting populace will believe these so called ‘facts’! It’s amazing that one man can guide the ideologies of so many people just by creating facts out of thin air. I think your examples in this article are great; I’ve written a few articles myself about the violence/terrorism in America and how much of a threat these actually are, and they aren’t much of a threat at all, which is all the more interesting as Trump used these areas as a backbone for his presidential campaign. It generally upsets me that we live in an age of generally unlimited information, yet so many people choose to follow the words of one man rather than seek the truth.

    I could go on about this stuff for days, lol. Anyways, great article. your previous articles are doing well on my site, I hope they’re bringing in some extra traffic to your blog. If you want to send me your latest pieces I can post them as soon as tomorrow!

    Cheers,
    David

    The Global Millennial.

    Liked by 1 person

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