It is ultimately up to us to separate facts from misinformation

first_imgUnfortunately, in some alarming ways, today it is looking like this trust might have been misplaced.There is a chorus seeking to shift all the blame for misinformation to social media.  At least, that’s where Congressional hearings on the subject have been pointing.Certainly, it is important that we understand how these tools have been so effectively turned on us.A self-governing society relies on information, the veracity or falsity of which will determine the direction in which that society will course.If it’s ultimately based on lies … well … as it’s often put, “garbage in, garbage out.”Media can be used to seek deeper and more meaningful truths.It also can be just as effectively marshaled to deceitful, self-serving ends. We apparently have become so enamored with our new digital tools that we have forgotten that that’s all they are — disinterested instruments.  Many are thoughtlessly ceding their responsibility for vetting the news they read to algorithms they had no role in designing or any perception about how they work.This makes a decision to trust them in the first place ill-considered, lazy and premature at best. That error is only compounded when we denigrate and then choose to abandon more traditional forms of media that, while short of perfect, have mostly on balance served us well for a long time.Therefore, is it solely Facebook’s fault if the news feed they provide turns out to be replete with propaganda? Shouldn’t we demand more than just “convenience features” as the price for our trust?Does it sound at all rational for any thinking person to rely on the sketchy 140 or 280 characters of Twitter posts and then expect to gain deeper insight into anything?This may seem too simple a truth to write down, but determined efforts to deceive us are nothing new. For Russia during the Cold War, shortwave radio was the tool of choice.A friendly sounding voice, arguments that on the surface seem to ring true in some respects and an appeal to the senses, emotion or prejudice over reason characterize the work of propagandists of all stripes. We actually have prominent industries that, when at their worst, can fit that description to a “T”.  However advertising, marketing and promotion also are merely tools. Like the internet and social media, they are not inherently good or bad. Rather, it is the purposes to which they are put and the manner in which they are deployed that determine the ethics and morality of their use.  Since they do carry considerable risk for deception, we could ban or place harsh restrictions on them.  Many societies do. However, if there is any reason to cite this nation as “exceptional,” it has to be for its open-minded treatment of public expression. The First Amendment can be viewed as an act of faith. In allowing free speech, the potential for deception is accepted as worth the risk because there is trust that a free-thinking people will seek out the truth unreservedly in service to the greater overall individual and social benefit that will result. Categories: Editorial, OpinionThere is a fundamental factor missing from our conversations about Russia’s apparent efforts to affect the course of our elections through misdirection, “fake news” and the employment of social media to engender, promote and intensify social and political divisions among Americans. That factor is us — you and me. Aren’t we answerable for any of this? We can even use it to fool ourselves—which is what we are doing when we retreat into our own pseudo-intellectual tribes.The information we choose to accept or reject should not be predicated on blind adherence to an ideological creed or dogma. Rather, facts should be the basis on which an ideological or worldview framework is formed and then reformed.  Where the misinformation comes from, though, is less important than the individual responsibility we take, and the effort we put into, in identifying and rejecting it.As individuals, we still have more than enough resources and opportunity to accomplish that. But why don’t we seem to have the resolve?  If we shirk that responsibility, perform it poorly, or errantly rely on non-productive kneejerk ideological arguments, guess who will have to live with the consequences?John Figliozzi is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.More from The Daily Gazette:EDITORIAL: Beware of voter intimidationFoss: Should main downtown branch of the Schenectady County Public Library reopen?EDITORIAL: Thruway tax unfair to working motoristsEDITORIAL: Find a way to get family members into nursing homesEDITORIAL: Urgent: Today is the last day to complete the censuslast_img