Home > Politics, Uncategorized > On Lying and Social Media and… Just Stop It.

On Lying and Social Media and… Just Stop It.

This wounded Marine through no fault of his own has become the literal poster child for lying for political gain. I’d bet he’d be so proud

Ok, this is a big one for me.  This speaks to so much that is wrong with society.  I’ll say it up front and then I’ll back up: Stop thinking that it’s ok to lie to make your point.  Ok, now let’s dig in.

About a year ago, I saw a preponderance of facebook statuses and received a couple e-mails about the fact that July had 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and that this would occur only every 823 years and how lucky that was or how rich that would make me.  It took me only a second to realize that something about that statement didn’t seem to make sense, and it wasn’t just the luck and the money.  So I simply copied the phrase into google and pressed search.  Immediately, I was greeted with the information that such a thing actually happens, on average, approximately every seven years. It’s actually 6 years, 5 years, 6 years, 11 years, and then repeats.  Here’s a link, if you want it. It’s from a website called snopes.com. Now, I don’t work for google or snopes. You can use any search engine you like, and I’m sure there are numerous other fact-checking sites out there–though snopes specifies in viral internet rumors. The point is that this information search was very quick and nearly effortless.

This information seemed harmless enough. Just a little chain letter with modern technology (though some chain letters are illegal forms of fraud). The point is, while I’d greatly prefer that people do a 25-second search engine fact check before they pass on useless urban legends and superstitions, I couldn’t really see the harm in mindlessly copying and pasting them. Back then I couldn’t see it. Then, it appears that many other people noticed the propensity for people to copy, paste, re-post, “like,” forward, repeat, and even believe anything that is put out there. Smart people noticed it. Smart people with bad intentions. And so they started lying to all of us…because they could.

Not long ago, I saw for the umpteenth time a facebook link about how the military pension program pales in comparison to the Congressional pension program. You’ve probably seen it. It talks about how a one-term Congressperson receives 100% of their salary for life, while the wounded Marine pictured would receive so little.  Now, there certainly is a case to be made that the military retirement program could use some work, and there are some proposals being floated around that a lot of my Army buddies are none too pleased with. And the article in the popular link seems to completely ignore that the wounded Marine would earn far more in disability than in retirement (and he earned that and more, for certain). But that’s not the issue here.

The first issue is that the information in the link, almost from top to bottom, is completely false. It is written to take advantage of the anti-Congressional sentiment in this country and the time-honored tradition of complaining about government waste to advance a cause. Congress does not get 100% salary in their retirement. And it CERTAINLY does not get anything even close to that after only one term. Here’s a link to the Congressional Research Service’s report on Retirement Benefits. Or for those who don’t want 18 pages of legalese, here’s the wikipedia page on it. What you’ll find is that there is an incredibly generous pension plan for Congress. One whose actual facts might make you want to take a second look and to work toward Congressional pension reduction.  But those facts are nowhere near what is reported in the oft-re-posted link.

The second issue here troubles me even more. Not only are there a whole host of people who will blindly repeat and believe the lies that they are told. But there is an entire subset of people who know that these are lies, don’t care, and pass the message along with all the appropriate outrage of someone who thinks these messages to be true.  I first experienced this with the aforementioned link about Congressional pensions.  I thought that it would be beneficial to inform this poor, misguided person that the link they had re-posted was, in fact, entirely fictitious.  I did so respectfully and without condescension (at least, as best as I could). I simply summarized the actual pension program briefly and went about my day. The response from the poster was that I was failing to see the “big picture.”

I immediately realized that the actual big picture, which he and so many others are failing to see is that you are knowingly lying to people to evoke an emotional reaction. The big picture is that you think that’s perfectly acceptable. The big picture is that if your point is so strong, you shouldn’t have to lie to make your case.

I have an older family member. I don’t want to call anyone out here, so we’ll just call him that: an older family member.  In the past month, I have received a couple e-mails from him. The first was about the dangers of the new Health Care bill–the Affordable Care Act. It said some pretty outrageous things. Things so outrageous, that I decided to apply my 25-second fact check. I copied and pasted the title into google and within seconds, I was greeted with a thorough background of the chain e-mail. I was informed that many of the statements were based on pieces of legislation that were not in the passed law, and that nearly all of the statements grossly misinterpreted the law. This was not an opinion piece, nor was there only one public debunking. This was a fact check. This was proof that the e-mail was a fabrication.

I was troubled that I had a relative that thought those things to be true, but I was hesitant to respond.  A week or so later, I talked to my mother to ask her if she thought that relative would be open to a response. She said that she thought he probably would.  So when I received a second e-mail, this one explaining that President Obama had “canceled” the National Day of Prayer, but that he had sponsored a Muslim prayer gathering instead, I decided to respond, as cordially as possible, with the results of my fact check. (For those scoring at home, there was not an ounce of truth to this e-mail, either, but if you’re curious, here’s the snopes entry about it). I told my older relative that I understand that he has some doubts, fears and misgivings about the religion and motives of our president, but that there is a website that you can quickly and easily check for accuracy before you pass along such a message. I figured that an older person probably doesn’t know the ins and outs of the internet that well, and so this would be a useful tool. I didn’t want my relative to be scared by these lies that, if true, could certainly scare an older person in need of health care… and who apparently doesn’t want a Muslim president (a whole different issue). I made sure to include some personal anecdotes, so as not to come off as combative.

The e-mail I received in response floored me. Shortly, my relative explained to me that he knows what snopes is–of course. And thanks for “the note.” My own relative–the one who I feared was being scared by these lies and seemed to be passing them on out of genuine fear–was perfectly aware of the 25-second fact check option. He was probably pretty aware that these were lies that he was passing on. And he didn’t seem the least bit remorseful.

I read an article for a class not long ago, about the plagiarism epidemic in colleges. The crux of the article was not that students were necessarily lazier or more deceptive, but that students had no concept that taking someone else’s words and thoughts and repeating them was wrong. The whole notion of intellectual property or the “ownership” of ideas and words is foreign to many in the “sharing” society that has cropped up thanks to social media. I see this as a highly related problem. In taking another’s words as your own without verifying them or researching them or vetting them in any way is no longer seen as an immoral act, then it becomes all too easy for unthruths to be passed around virally.

But your words are your own, and your thoughts are your own. Those words will be attached to you. You will be judged based upon them. And when you let someone else’s words and thoughts become associated with your name, you are also passing along their intent. And their intent is often not in your–or anyone else’s best interest. So when you read something with which you agree and want to share, take the time to do a 25-second fact check. Heck, you might even let it turn into a 10-or-20-minute research project. And then craft your own thoughts and share them. And for the love of society, stop lying.

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  1. June 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Who is that wounded Marine? What was the original purpose of that picture of him? I hate seeing his picture, because his wounds sadden me and he doesn’t deserve to be plastered all over the Internet. But he is.

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