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BILL CRAWFORD: Informed citizens guard against truth managers

 

BILL CRAWFORD

BILL CRAWFORD

With insidious truth managers dominating social media, the Internet, the blogosphere, talk radio, and cable news, how can the average citizen uncover reality?

Remember, insidious truth managers (an intentionally redundant phrase) are those willing to deliberately tailor “truth” to further their own ends.

With the inundation of information we get from so many sources today, it gets harder and harder to uncover reality. But it’s not impossible. Here are some suggestions.

First, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Remember this line delivered so well by Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men?” Citing a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a Scientific American article maintained that many people cannot, or will not, handle the truth:

“Psychologists call this reaction belief perseverance: maintaining your original opinions in the face of overwhelming data that contradicts your beliefs. Everyone does it, but we are especially vulnerable when invalidated beliefs form a key part of how we narrate our lives. Researchers have found that stereotypes, religious faiths and even our self-concept are especially vulnerable to belief perseverance.”

A scholarly study of social media entitled “The spreading of misinformation online” had similar findings, saying people mainly share information that confirms their prejudices.

So, to uncover the truth, citizens first have to be willing to accept the truth. Various sources say the key to this is a healthy dose of skepticism… doubt the truth of something unless or until you know its accuracy.

Blogger Brittany Jones in “3 tools for finding truth in a world full of garbage,” starts with “Be a skeptic.” Her other recommendations are “Consider the source” and “Do your research.”

Good suggestions, but where does the average citizen look for search research?

Blogger Thorin Klosowski in “How to Spot Truth in the Sea of Lies, Rumors, and Myths on the Internet” offers four websites for fact checking (mostly oriented to politics and national issues): politicfact.com; factcheck.org; snopes.com; truthorfiction.com.

He also offers three questions to ask to help uncover the truth: “Is it safe to try this? Is the statement coming from a reputable source? Does the person writing (saying) this have anything to gain from their statement?”

Pay attention, in particular, to the last question. When money and influence are involved, the truth is, too often, not.

A final suggestion to consider is, don’t rely on one source or perspective for your information. For example, don’t just rely on sources like Fox News or MSNBC that provide one-sided political perspectives.

In contrast, good newspapers provide multiple perspectives. One day you get Ann Coulter or George Will on national issues, on another Eugene Robinson or Paul Krugman. You get Bill Minor or Charlie Mitchell one day on state issues, on another Sid Salter or Brian Perry.

Considering perspectives you don’t naturally agree with can help you overcome your innate belief perseverance.

Insidious truth managers will rule the day unless average citizens make the effort to become sufficiently informed to see through their deceit.

» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com).

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