Thursday, August 11, 2011

You can't handle the truth.

I've received a few online messages in the past few days from well-meaning friends passing on information they got online, either via Facebook or email. In both cases, the information was either completely false or mostly so. One was a fake Amber alert – and everyone, bless their hearts, wants to help find kidnapped children. Unfortunately, few people stopped to check it out on the Amber alert website [] or on one of the other websites [] that tries to verify email and internet rumors. That anyone would create a fake Amber alert is unthinkable; that we have to verify urgent Amber alerts is just sad.

In this era of intense national politics, I’ve been disappointed to see how many people on all sides of the various arguments are just repeating what they’ve heard about the details of proposed legislation, what some politician has avowed or disavowed, or where the president was born and what his religious affiliation really is.

Information comes at us from a seemingly infinite range of sources, online and off. Some people trust Fox News, some trust talk radio, others trust the NY Times and NPR, and still others look to Jon Stewart. We whack each other over the head with whatever we’ve decided to believe, wielding “the truth” like a weapon. When those ”truths” collide—as they so often do--there’s no winning, and no clear way forward to sort it all out. People don’t want to take the time to find out for themselves. It’s all too easy to be exposed to misinformation, and way too hard to get the unvarnished facts. And even when people on opposite sides of an issue look at the same data, their interpretations of it can vary widely.

So the question is: what to do? I try to do some research on political issues on my own, looking at data from the Congressional Budget Office and tracking down truths/half-truths/pants-on-fire lies at Politifact online. But in the end, there's just too much information, too much to read, assess, interpret, and digest. Way too much.