Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Loose Lips May Sink Ships but Mushy Minds Can Bring Down a Country

By Bob Ferris

Many of an older bent remember the “loose lips” phrase and its implications either because we experienced it directly or are connected closely to the generation that did.  We also likely remember Walt Kelly and Pogo too in terms of meeting and knowing the enemy.  Much of this was translated into action to protect our country from threats posed by ships, soldiers, bombs and, eventually, missiles.

Unfortunately, what is assaulting the US right now is something that we cannot see and we have attached to nearly all our homes, businesses and schools.  Whatever you call this threat—misinformation, propaganda, or lies—it is flowing around our country via the internet from a number of internal and external sources.  That is a huge problem because we are vulnerable individually and we are vulnerable as a country, because we have collectively lost a few steps intellectually, logically and ethically.  Somehow, somewhere along the line our BS detectors have been removed and too many do not seem to care that they were taken.

Some of that has occurred through compromises to our educational system and some is the result of movements by those who would alter this country for their own financial, philosophical or theological gain.  Regardless of the mechanism or motivation this effort has created an unfortunate landscape where myths and opinions can root successfully and fact and reason are blown like so many unwanted tumbleweeds.  This condition has made the US susceptible to attack not by what we can see and detect but by vicious and specious electrons directed at the most gullible segments of our population.

I come to this conclusion after spending months and months dealing with internet rumors from websites spreading the most egregious miss-truths.   It pains me greatly as an American that some of the supremely ridiculous and easiest to debunk are the ones most tightly embraced.  Certainly these come from all extremes of the political spectrum, but regardless of source or bent during this election season it is extremely, extremely important to check sources and then check them again.

Now certainly the mainstream media has done a terrible job of reporting and candidate vetting during this election cycle.  Fairness and evenness have clearly been abandoned in favor of ratings.  And it does not take much in terms brainpower to understand that the needs of a network are not necessarily congruent with the needs of a diverse country of more than 300 million folks.  Selling advertisement and sound governance are not closely related.  So we have to think and be our own filters so that we do not become rumor spreaders and the instruments of own downfall.  So how do we do that?

The easiest thing to do is check your source—particularly before re-posting in the social media.  Does the website clearly state who is behind it and what their agenda is?  If they do not identify themselves you can always do a “who is” search on the URL (1,2).   If that leads to some sort of anonymous and nebulous entity you should do further checking on that story and see if others across a broad spectrum are posting it too.

The fact that others are posting it can indicate that the story is valid, but it can also indicate that you have entered some sort of “echo chamber” as well.  If you look at all the member sites associated with the so-called Liberty Alliance it is not hard to understand that if their sixty-one member sites (see below) pick up a story that they can easily make it appear broadly accepted and valid when it is not.

Look at the authors too.  Do they give their true names or are they aliases?  Are they journalists and are they concerned about their reputations?  The situation with Brian Williams and his downfall is interesting in this regard.  His network removed him because he made a false statement.  His network cares about or at least nods to credibility, but there are others that do not.  And if a website is poorly formatted and looks like it was designed by a mad-man (or woman).  Maybe it was.  And if you have doubts hesitate or wait a day before you press the send button.

Now there are a lot of emotions rolling around our great country at this point.  My sense is that much of the anger and hate is based on falsehoods.  Lies posted by those who want you to join them in their ignorance and hatred.  Stories tinged with innuendos that in the absence of the concrete or proven drive you like sheep towards a conclusion 180 degrees from the truth.

I think that most of us have had the experience of walking down the street with someone ranting something as we are trying desperately not to make eye-contact.  Websites where you cannot identify the owners, the authors are anonymous or are not run by those who need to protect their integrity are a lot like those poor souls and the information they provide should be treated as such until verified. Some of this comes from electoral exuberance, but some of it is very dark and extremely dangerous—particularly given the level of foreign electronic intervention in this election.

The foreign factor particularly from Russia and elsewhere bears attention.  A lot of my blog posts are political in nature.  Science too, but of late political.  As I like numbers I look at my site statistics and they are interesting because while a good portion of my traffic comes from the US most of late has come from Russia and the Ukraine.  These two former components of the Soviet Bloc are very, very interested in our politics and this coming election. Russia is watching us and they are laughing at our political theater as they both subtly and overtly throw sand into the gears of our political system (1,2.3,4) But they are not laughing with us but at us.  And that is a huge problem we should be smart enough to recognize.

So loose lips were a problem for our ships in our recent past, but un-vetted re-posts directed at vulnerable minds could sink literally our country in these trying times.  The Cold War may have melted with the Berlin Wall coming down but the Electronic War on America and our ideals of democracy, fairness, truth, tolerance and religious freedom is in full swing.  The most effective firewalls to that attack are a thinking populace that has the intelligence and desire to sort fact from fiction and reason from myth.

3 comments:

  1. I have unliked a whole bunch of "Liberal" pages due to the shoddy regurgitation of garbage being passed off as journalism. I have become much more careful with what I share. Thanks Bob, for articulating this. It has been on my mind a lot lately.

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  3. Glad I could help but this criticism is bi-partisan in nature and I hope that you also look at conservative sites with the same keen eyes and ask the very same questions.

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