"Thou Shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"
Social media exists. It exists so pervasively that still having a two-word label for it feels overly cumbersome, like hearing someone say they just received an "Electronic Mail" or that their phone has "Short Message Service" features. Like it or not, it is here to stay and touches our lives more days than not.
An idea that I have an almost cultish devotion to is that our lives are enriched when we either increase "signal" and learn new truths, or when we fend off falsehoods and reduce the "noise" in our daily communications. This ratio of knowledge to bullshit defines much of our ability to function as adults and to improve our lives, our communities, and the lives of those around us. If you have more than three people in your Facebook feed you might see where this is going.
I am using the above as an example. It implies that during the evacuation operations in Benghazi, while the Consulate in that town was being overrun, that US Navy Seals requested additional military assets of some kind and that those assets were denied specifically because of executive decisions, perhaps involving the personal demands of the President of the United States. The further implications is that the President is somehow engaged in covert cooperation with Islamic Militants in Libya, if not throughout the world, and that he chose to protect those individuals over the lives of Americans.
This is, of course, a verifiable 100% falsehood, silly, and an indicator of a weakness either in the intellect or integrity of every individual who has ever made this assertion. Some versions of this lie are more elaborate than others. Here is one - from TheDailySheeple that goes on to allege General Carter Ham was arrested for mobilizing Special Operations Forces in violation of a stand-down order (Of course this never happened).
These lies - and I am focusing more on the right wing falsehoods at this moment - are truly multi-media. The highest level of involvement comes from agitation and statements by those in authority such as Senator Darrel Issa of California or Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. These individuals don't handle the most blatant of falsehoods, they merely abuse their authority to imply there are scandals to be found and continue to keep poking a prodding and maintaining a rationale for this issue to be discussed by the next level.
The next level is, of course, the Right Wing News collectives. This includes Fox News and other News Corporation outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, openly conservative media such as National Review, and talk radio programming such as Rush Limbaugh and the many Fox Hosts who also have radio broadcasts. These "journalists" will take this to the next level and ask leading questions and make unsourced assertions, but generally try to steer clear of the explicitly stating the conclusions they wish their viewers to come to. That brings us to the final level...
The final level is a network of online groups who utilize everyday folks to spread the most blatant parts of these lies by way of social media. These groups are usually funded by way of a fraudulent filing as 501(c) status with the IRS and claim they exist as being "educational" when in reality they are 100% political in their orientation and only want the 501(c) status for a tax write-off and so their donors can remain secret. So, FYI, your tax dollars are subsidizing this nonsense.
Examples of such groups include Special Operations Speaks, which is funded by the donors behind the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and which exists to promote falsehoods aimed at our President, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and any other non-Republican who they wish to debase. Another is True The Vote which is funded by a handful of wealthy Republicans from the Houston area and exists to spread the falsehood that pervasive voter fraud exists and onerous Voter Restriction laws are needed to combat it in ways that just happen to impact Democratic Voters (Working Class, Students, Minorities) more than Republicans. Another is GlobalClimateScam which exists to spread the falsehood that there is an international conspiracy involving thousands of scientists to invent and promote notions of climate change. They are maintainted by "The Minnesota Majority" another 501(c) with secret donors who are racist as all hell, and who also have maintained sites such as the old wewantvoterid.com and the more recent more focus-group sounding ProtectMyVote.com.
So F'ing Diverse it BLOWS YOUR MIND!
We even have a lady in a wheelchair now!
These sites ALL have "Like Us On Facebook!" and "Share" links and newsfeeds where they generate and share Memes and articles that all have the purpose of promoting one or more of the falsehoods that they are paid to promote (The existence of pervasive voter fraud, the idea the Climate Change is a "scam", the idea the our President or leadership in collaborating with Al Qaeda, and so on). The spread of these lies is finally facilitated by social media users who are too ignorant, trusting, apathetic or filled with emotion regarding some issue to perform even the most basic checks for the truth of what they are sharing. Without these facilitators, the liars would have a harder time promoting and deceiving millions with their blatant lies. These groups succeed by using the trust you have earned with the people you know to inject lies into their minds.
My current issue with this - the constant bombardment of lies, half-truths, lies, manipulations, and more lies aimed at your friends, associates and loved ones day in and day out for as long as they stay in contact with you - is that most of the people doing this profess to be Christian...and Christians are not supposed to lie. It's in the 10 Commandments,"Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:16) and repeated again and again throughout scripture. (Leviticus 19:11, Proverbs 14:5, Proverbs 19:5, Proverbs 19:9 and so on all the way up to Revelations 21:8 "...all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.")
Even without the religious implications, both from a Judeo-Christian standpoint and from other faiths, being party to a constant stream of lies is a failing by just about any moral standard... and it is done to us (or by us) every time we check our Facebook feeds and is facilitated by people who should know better.
If we didn't share lies without checking them out, or if we didn't just roll our eyes and think "Oh, Grandma!" when hateful lies were given a platform, then these groups would not be as successful changing mass behavior or influencing public policy. We would have a better national dialogue if it were not polluted by these interest-serving lies that infect our collective consciousness. What does it say when the highest praise one of the groups can receive for their efforts is that they have "gone viral"? The metaphor for disinformation is infectious disease. It spreads from cell to cell and weakens or kills the host. It is a truly harmful "noise" that blocks the "signals" we need to be focusing on.
So, the action step I have taken so very long to come around to is this: Every time someone who should know better posts/forwards/shares a blatant falsehood, don't just let it slide. Either debunk it (and point to where) or just tag it as such. I like #BearFalseWitness, as most of the carriers of viral disinformation I am friends with are professed Christians. I have given old folks here a hard time, but one of the most prolific promoters of viral bullshit on my F-list is barely an adult - it happens with all kinds and all ages. While the right-wing disinformation machine is the most streamlined and prolific, other groups promote their share of falsehoods too. We can, and should, do better.
I am going to leave you with a link to a recent bit from The Onion that related and made me laugh. The premise is what if one of these disinformation groups "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" was exactly what their name implied - a group seeking truth? Satire is best when it uses absurdity to point out falsehoods we have just learned to live with:
It's 2014. Please, let us take an extra few seconds and decide to promote fewer lies this year.