When you’re suddenly visited by the most painful back spasms you’ve had in a long while, you get cranky. And tired because you can’t sleep, and therefore even more cranky.
See where I’m going with this? I’m cranky, and some folks aren’t helping (they know who they are; they just don’t care).
I’d hoped to talk about words this week, even though the two words of the year that have been released so far are just reminders of the fact that we’re stuck in limbo at least until enough people are vaccinated for covid-19 (Cambridge chose quarantine, while Merriam-Webster went with pandemic). Alas, between the pain in my back (a heating pad is helping a little bit) and reports I’ve seen in the news, from other bloggers and on Facebook, it’s not to be. As uncivil as my back is being to me, we’re being just as uncivil if not more to each other.
And before someone pipes up, fact-checking someone isn’t uncivil … unless you preface it with something like “Good Lord, you’re an idiot.” Admittedly, I have thought that a few times, but never about actual friends. I swear.
Those of us fact-checking our friends and family online just want the truth out there rather than partisan rumors/anecdotal “proof” with little basis in fact. (Ahem, a poll worker looking at you funny is not evidence of election fraud. It might be evidence that you should have showered and changed out of those Hello Kitty pajamas before heading to your voting precinct.)
I have already advised some friends, one of them a longtime dear friend, that if they don’t want me to fact-check such things they might as well unfriend me now. There are stories out there right now that have been invented from whole cloth, some intended as humor, and some because some people don’t want to recognize objective reality.
Satire is one thing not everyone does well (Andy Borowitz being a notable exception), and the fact that so many people will accept it as gospel truth regardless of disclaimers is troubling. I still have flashbacks to taking calls from people convinced that something they read in Otus the Head Cat’s column was real despite the disclaimer that it was “humorous fabrication,” and that the column was written by a dead cat. Remember, a lot of those satire sites were created by liberals with the express purpose of trolling conservatives.
Some people really should stop letting themselves be such easy marks.
For those who think it’s nuts that fact-checkers might check something from Babylon Bee or America’s Last Line of Defense (both satire), you might be interested to know that researchers at Ohio State University have been studying misinformation, satire and social media for years, and last year released results from one six-month study. They found that members of both parties failed to recognize the Babylon Bee as satire, but that Republicans were more likely to believe the stories were true. Democrats were more likely to believe satire from The Onion was true, but not to the same extent.
I don’t recognize the Babylon Bee as satire, but that’s because I’ve yet to see anything from the site that’s well-written and/or funny.
The Ohio State researchers wrote on The Conversation: “It’s no surprise that, depending on the headline, satire might be more likely to deceive members of one political party over another. Individuals’ political worldviews consistently color their perceptions of facts. Still, Americans’ inability to agree on what is true and what is false is a problem for democracy.”
I’d say so, especially considering the growing incivility in the U.S. Before, if there was disagreement over an election outcome or anything else that affects a lot of people, there would be protests and activism. Now we get those, but we also get death threats. Election officials and their families (such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who voted for Trump) have had death threats after being labeled “an enemy of the people” simply for doing their jobs, and with the added complication of the pandemic.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Raffensperger said, “I’m a Christian. I don’t wear that on my sleeve because in the South we do that. But I think in the political arena, we have to have positive social discourse, and we need to be respectful. I think we’re called to be civil people.”
But if we were being civil, there would be no need for Raffensperger or other election officials to have round-the-clock security.
The federal Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council released a statement Nov. 12 saying there is no evidence “that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Still, that hasn’t convinced some, who continue to spread allegations of corruption. I’ve had to start tuning people out if they utter anything about Dominion, “Stop the Steal” or dead people voting because no matter how many times they’re fact-checked, they refuse to believe actual evidence. Basically, to them, fact-checkers are no more than an adult in a Peanuts holiday special.
But as the statement said, “While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too. When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.” [Emphasis mine because some people need reminding that the professionals who handle elections for a living know what they’re talking about in most instances.]
Meaning frustrated candidates, your crazy Uncle Harry or a partisan website might not be the most reliable news source, and that all those conspiracy theories you post are going to continually be fact-checked by people more in touch with reality. That, and you’ll probably be blocked at some point.
So what if reality isn’t much fun? If we can’t agree on basic facts, we have little hope of going forward, so we all must live in the same reality. Something isn’t true just because someone you admire says it is, especially if that someone has been proven to be an habitual liar.
What’s most upsetting to me is that it’s not just election officials who have been facing death threats. Public health officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and front-line medical workers, including volunteer contact-tracers, are being threatened as well thanks to all the disinformation and conspiracy theories making the rounds, and some have quit in fear.
We shouldn’t have to remind anyone that following common-sense guidelines for the health of all is not an infringement of rights, but that belligerent refusal to do so is. Yes, you have a right to be an idiot, but once that idiocy affects others, you’re infringing on their rights. You don’t want to wear a mask; the rest of us don’t want to possibly die because you infected us. And here we are, with people who are just doing their jobs actually living in fear of those who say they don’t want to live in fear, and can’t be civil and do what their ancestors did during World War II, which is make temporary sacrifices for the greater good.
It’s no wonder I’m cranky. I need chocolate, dammit. And cat videos. Lots of cat videos.