How did you vote? Not who or what did you vote for, but how did you vote? How did you decide? What criteria did you use to cast your ballot?
With one year to go before the big one, these are questions we all need to be thinking about now. Perhaps even more important: how will we know whether we are even informed enough to vote? By late last month, political candidates for the 2020 election had already “spent more than 63 million dollars marketing themselves on Facebook and Google,” according to the New Yorker. How much is factual, how much hyperspin? (Read “lies.”)
Two Facebook ads falsely accused one 2020 candidate of doing something he hadn’t. When asked to remove the ad, Facebook refused, citing the company’s “fundamental belief in free expression” and “respect for the democratic process.” Facebook claims to be “merely a neutral platform, unmoored from the content it carries.” It believes that “mature democracies” with a free press already scrutinize political speech. Yet, Facebook runs on “proprietary algorithms that promote some content over others.” It’s not neutral. The company’s moderation policies are “idiosyncratic and inconsistent,” the New Yorker said.
Testifying before Congress in October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked whether he had a problem with Facebook’s “complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements.” His response: “I think lying is bad. If you were to run an ad that had a lie, that would be bad.” But ultimately such an ad would not be prohibited.
In contrast a week later, CEO Jack Dorsey announced Twitter would no longer run political ads promoting candidates or hot-button issues. “Political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Dorsey said. Such “reach,” he observed “has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.”
Dorsey’s refreshing candor is rare. Democracy runs on information. Tainted information impedes the process. “Democracy dies in darkness,” states The Washington Post motto. If we doubt that, we need look no further than ubiquitous cries of “fake news!”
Social media conversations are by nature democratic. But when influential voices spread propaganda, that information becomes “contagious, and the problem compounds exponentially.” Without oversight, false information spreads at an alarming rate.
How can we vote intelligently when we don’t know where to turn for truth? That confusion is exactly what political operatives capitalize on: gullibility feeding on lies served sizzling on incendiary platters of innuendo and untruth. From movie theaters to smartphones, advertising impinges on our privacy and sanity. Yet we swallow it unfiltered.
The only solution is to become filter-feeders, little critters that survive by filtering out harmful stuff as they feed. For us, that means filtering disinformation and misinformation.
Disinformation is simply a lie, intentionally false, propaganda with intent to deceive. Misinformation is false or incomplete information delivered without malice. Either is dangerous. Thoughtful voters will fine-tune their filters, sharpen their skepticism and expect malice.
We can start by being cautious with sources from either political extreme. Yet contrasting perspectives can also contribute valid insights. None of us is as smart as all of us.
Consider the tone of the message. Does the language trigger emotions? Here’s where it gets tricky. Our own emotional responses can mislead either way. Reject a “negative” idea and you might reject a valid point of view. Your “positive” response may lead you to unquestioning acceptance of spurious thinking. Beware of both. Go for substance rather than hype. The “other side” is sometimes worth listening to.
Finally, beware and prepare during the upcoming election cycle. Media will badger you relentlessly. They’ll weary you with information. Filter it thoughtfully before deciding how to vote.
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.