We have built a culture based on lies.

Oh, we can sugar coat it, call it a society of misinformation, but that’s disingenuous.

Our trademark skill involves clicking “share” on social media. We’re good at it. If it resonates, we perpetuate the content, often sans a thorough fact-check, or even a cursory one.

Technology has made it easy to spread the manure. And it matters not if the excrement comes from a donkey or an elephant, we shovel it into someone else’s inbox.

We do it in person, too. We argue points with family and friends and anybody we can engage, acting like we know what we’re talking about. More times than not, we don’t. We’re repeating what we’ve heard others say or what we’ve read from like-minded -- but unvetted -- sources.

Empowering soapbox pontificators by believing their every word is slippery business. It makes us vulnerable to disinformation campaigns that have long-term consequences.

A recent U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report warned of repeat attempts by Russian antagonists to seed false narratives ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, just like they did in 2016, when they exploited Americans, creating an atmosphere of distrust and revving up the rancor.

“The freedom of expression at the root of our democratic society became an opportunity for Russian influence to hide in plain sight,” the committee wrote.

It’s up to us, the American people, to be more shrewd in our news consumption. We can’t afford to be gullible when it comes to narratives surrounding elections or racial justice, education or health care, including pandemic outcomes.

In his 2016 book, “Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era,” noted neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin cautions of four ways misinformation can be hidden right before our eyes:

Lies are affixed to truths, making them less apparent.

Websites pose under misleading names, pulling in the unsuspecting and feeding them distortions.

Data is provided without context.

Claims are based on false sources, knowing many people won’t take time to verify them.

Journalists aren’t immune to believing false narratives, but they are taught to not accept talking points at face value, to look for alternative viewpoints and supportive or contradictory information. Reporters know to dig deeper to uncover truths below the surface.

But not all media outlets are created equal. And some pass their commentary and entertainment off as news.

Search for reliable news sources that challenge your assertions and provide context that reflects scrutiny of information.

We must be savvy shoppers when it comes to buying in to what others are peddling.

 

This editorial originally appeared in The News and Tribune (Jefferson, Indiana), a sister paper of the Weatherford Democrat.

Recommended for you