By Tim Douglass, Publisher of the Pope County Tribune
Disinformation is real. And it is more dangerous than ever.
It’s a form of fraud and its prevalent in our society these days.
Disinformation and hoaxes that are the real “fake news” are accelerating and affecting the way individuals interpret a lot of things, especially politics and objective news reports. Much of it is driven by foreign actors, citizen blogs and the proliferation of talk radio and cable news and biased websites.
It’s been a long haul to get to this place, and it didn’t just happen. Since the proliferation of the internet, the lenses blurred and waters muddied. Modern politicians have been blaming the news media for their problems for decades, but it’s actually taking hold today. We the people are more contentious and more divided than ever. Many of us cannot tell the difference between opinion and news reporting. And those who can, sometimes choose not to differentiate in an effort to confuse.
Take a simple fact reported last week: “A U.S. drone strike recently killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man who played a key role in the planning of the 9/11 attacks on America.”
Now, with 24-hour cable news, the viewing public gets that tidbid and then commentators take us an an opinionated ride “inside that drone strike.” Then we sit through interviews from politicians who play to their base by telling them what to think about the strike. And still, after that, we have to endure pundits, posing as TV journalists, telling us that one thing or another was wrong with the strike…or right with the strike. Of course, then there’s talk radio, usually led by bloviators who may be popular personalities, but certainly aren’t journalists. Many are pretenders, others are upfront about being pretenders and tell us that politically they “lean to left” or “lean to right.” Most of them go much further than “leaning.”
Suddenly that unbiased news report takes on a completely different meaning. Those on the left are told the strike proved America can still protect our interests in Afghanistan without having troops there. For those on the right, it reinforced what was seen as the bungled exit from Afghanistan and revealed that al Qaeda is alive in well in that country.
Meanwhile, by design, Americans take sides.
The barrage hurled at news events from just about everywhere goes on every day.
If something is good news for one party in the U.S., it has to be bad news for the other. If it’s bad news for one party, it’s good news for the other. The news, first reported by responsible, unbiased news sources like the Associated Press, is twisted until the public loses touch with the facts and becomes confused by opposing opinions.
And that’s the goal.
Divide. Lies are okay, especially if we agree with them. Deception is fine, especially if the deceivers–foreign or domestic–are on our political side.
Polarizing the nation and spreading disinformation and misinformation is a tactic designed to erode public trust in government, elections, responsible news outlets and, more importantly, American democracy.
If left unchecked, it will do more than erode. It will destroy. More and more of us will choose not to vote, believing our vote doesn’t matter–a self-imposed disenfranchisement. More of us will blame government for anything and everything we can. If that isn’t enough, we’ll blame those who bring us the actual news about that government. And, if that doesn’t satisfy us, we’ll blame political parties and scream election fraud.
Finally, like most autocracies or dictatorships in the world, we’ll let our political leaders control the news, believing only the news that comes from our side.
Once we get to that point, we might as well allow the country to do away with elections altogether, especially if there’s a chance the other side might win.
Meanwhile, we’ll take the easy way out. We’ll watch “news” or view websites filled with opinions that we agree with. There will be no need for us to think or consider the other side. Besides, for every opinion contrary to our own beliefs, we can find a website or two that will reinforce our own beliefs. And somehow, we will continue to believe that American democracy survive.
We will then target half the country as our enemies, because anyone who disagrees with us or our side must be the enemy, not a fellow American. And, we’ll go on thinking American democracy is just fine.
Until it isn’t.