How to catch out liars. That used to be a problem for teachers and parents, for squabbling couples and irritating colleagues. If there ever was a golden age of media accountability it’s now little more than a dim memory, a forgotten ideal.
The explosion of information that the mass adoption of the internet created brought something with it. One of those accidents that are integral to the creation of anything new. Just as the invention of the airplane gave us the airplane crash, the democratization of information brought with it the specter of disinformation.
The government-sponsored newsreels, the viciously redacted letters, and the opulent propaganda portraits; these were supplanted not by the clarity of corroboration but rather by an overwhelming number of sources. They gave us something to avert our gaze from. They helped us to avoid dissonant truths.
The Lies That Bind
The concept of dissonance is derived from music theory where it is described as a lack of harmony among musical notes. Music is a function of nature, it’s not so much man-made as it is co-opted. Some notes harmonize, others do not.
Yet, dissonance is not restricted to music. It can also refer to a lack of agreement or harmony between people or things.
It’s a powerful thing, that cacophony of opinion. One more than equal to the task of overwhelming the ego’s self-defense mechanisms. When confronted with dissonant information we scuttle away and lurk under the shade of the rock that is the first stage of Kübler-Ross’ model of grief.
That’s denial, in case you were wondering.
And with the reaffirmation of our initial belief just one click away, we only need move on to stage two if we really want to.
Few of us do.
Lord Of The Lies
Take Pizzagate for example.
The owner of Washington, D.C.-based pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong has seen his business linked to some absurdly fictitious accounts. As the New York Times reported, certain websites pretending to be news outlets have alleged that Hillary Clinton uses the restaurant’s back rooms in order to kidnap and molest children. The absurdity of the claim. The complete absence of hard evidence. That such tales were politically motivated. None of this deterred them one bit.
The results were depressingly predictable: death threats, intimidation. Internet-fueled hysteria.
Oh yes, and bullets.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina was arrested after he walked into Comet Ping Pong carrying an assault rifle. He fired several shots before surrendering to the police.
Twitter lit up, with conspiracy theorists intent on completely missing the point.
Our main concern after the Comet Pizza gunman incident should be the harassment and abuse of other #PizzaGate researchers.
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) December 5, 2016
— Brittany Pettibone (@BrittPettibone) December 5, 2016
Some insisted that there was no direct connection between the gunman and the pizzagate story before attempting to co-opt the concept of fake news for themselves.
Except, you know, what he actually said. Come on, don't go this far just to coward out now. Own up to this shit. Embrace it.
— Will Greenwald will still be spooky next month (@AggroWill) December 5, 2016
Let’s just go over that again. A real news story, forged from the embers of a fake news story, was labeled fake by the very same idiots who believe that Hillary Clinton is a child-rape enabler.
This isn’t just another face-palm moment at the expense of the “alt-right.” No, this is an actual perversion of democracy, an attack on the fundamental tenants of the First Amendment. Free speech works best when people listen to multiple opinions. Listening to one voice is something more akin to indoctrination. It makes for some seriously poor judgment calls.
Because the fact that the man was indeed a pizzagate investigator really wasn’t in question. As was reported by multiple news vendors, Welch freely admitted that he was motivated by the fabrication.
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) December 5, 2016
James Alefantis, the much-harassed owner of Comet Ping Pong, issued a statement shortly afterward. He said:
“What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”
There is a not so fine line between media slant and outright lies. It’s one thing to seek only that news that you find agreeable. Quite another to believe anything you read just because it fits your view of the world. Anyone can pick up a musical instrument and make a noise. But to make music you have to follow rules; firing off a middle C and the C sharp above at the same time is more likely to attract cats than win you a Grammy. That’s just the way it is; you can’t fake a melody.
Real news is no different. It has to be checked, verified, and, considered. Journalism requires integrity and devotion to the craft coupled with a willingness to empathize with multiple views.
Yes, anyone can sit in front of a computer and write lies about their enemies. They just can’t do it without consequences.
Because it’s shit like that gets Trump elected.
It’s shit like this that gets people killed.
Featured Image via screenshot from Snopes