Life would be impossible without trust.
Perhaps you think of yourself as a trusting person. Or maybe you’re one who finds it hard to trust people. But the truth is, every one of us believes almost everything we’re ever told.
It has to be that way. Otherwise, life would be impossible. If you meet a total stranger, and he tells you his name is Jim, you call him Jim. If the sign says, “Denver, 130 miles,” you assume that’s the distance. If your spouse claims to be feeling a little tired today, you don’t demand proof. Life in a community with other human beings is only possible if our default response is to believe what we are told unless there is some compelling reason to doubt it.
Liars, scammers, and con artists take advantage of this fact. They know we can’t doubt everything we are told, so they simply place himself in a context where there is no obvious reason to doubt them, and they fooled us. And people like that are a plague on society.
The Insanity of Deception
They are a plague not only because they swindle us out of money, but because they steal from us something even more precious—reality itself. Insanity is defined as living in a world that doesn’t exist. Seeing and hearing things that aren’t there so that the world you experience does not correspond with reality. When someone deceives you, they are injecting a little bit of insanity into your life. When you make decisions or have feelings based on beliefs that aren’t true, you are being robbed of a little bit of life itself. Believing something that turns out not to be true is like sitting in a chair and having it collapsed under you. Objects and people that prove unreliable are one of the miseries of life.
Fake News, De-Platforming, and Fact Checking
The issue of truth and falsehood has risen to the surface of public discourse over the past several years. President Obama accused his detractors of peddling “fake news.” President Trump co-opted the term and used it throughout his presidency to describe what he believed to be dishonesty in the news media. And now the tech giants have responded by de-platforming conservative voices. Both sides of the political divide have deep concerns about what they regard as dishonesty from the other side.
And such concerns are understandable. When your political opponents propagate ideas you believe are false, and you see those ideas gain a wide hearing and influence millions of people, it’s distressing. You can speak up and attempt to set the record straight, but, as the saying goes, a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.
And beyond that, even after the record is set straight, falsehoods continue to do damage. Whatever you hear first will continue to influence you, even if you come to believe that it’s inaccurate.
The Damage of False Information
An interesting experiment illustrated this fact. On his February 17, 2021 episode of The Briefing, Albert Mohler cited a study done by University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Paul Rosen in which people were asked to put sugar from a commercial sugar package into two similar brown bottles. Then people were given two labels, sugar and cyanide, and were asked to put them on the bottles. After having done that, people were reluctant to take sugar from the bottle labeled cyanide, even though they themselves had affixed the label. The researcher concluded. “This helps explain why lies and falsehoods are so corrosive. Some part of us believes them, even when we know we shouldn’t.” Being duped by falsehood is even more damaging than most of us realize.
Society Longs for an Ultimate Arbiter of Truth
For this reason, society longs for an ultimate arbiter of truth. Someplace we can go where the information will be absolutely reliable. In recent history, our culture has elevated two authorities to that position: scientists, and the news media. And since not all scientists agree on everything, allegiance is given to the handful of scientists who appear on the news media. So in fact, there’s only one authority. Whichever newspapers or news anchors a person considers reliable—that’s the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what isn’t.
At least that’s how it was up until the last several years. But when most people began seeking their news from social media, trust shifted from newspapers and broadcast news, to “fact checkers.”
Who are these fact checkers? How intelligent are they? How biased are they and in what direction? How old are they? No one knows. They are simply a group of invisible authorities that the tech giants assure us can be trusted. In fact, they must be trusted. Question them, and you lose your place at the table in the discussion of ideas.
Recently, I suggested on an online discussion that Parlor and MeWe were good alternatives to Twitter and Facebook because they didn’t have so much censorship. The response was that I am a fool to use “un-fact checked” platforms because they result in an echo chamber. It seems to me that when only certain ideas are allowed, that would be the very definition of an echo chamber, but that’s another blog. My point here is simply to show that the human craving for an ultimate, final, absolutely reliable arbiter of truth is so deep and compelling that people will put their complete trust in a group of unknown people simply because someone labeled them “fact checkers.”
The ultimate, infallible arbiter of truth is, of course, God. Our society has rejected him, but as much as they hate him, they can’t help replacing him. Even if it’s with some unknown 25-year-old fact-checker armed with Wikipedia.
Social Justice and Informational Justice
Another topic that has dominated the news in recent years has to do with social justice. Many believe they have been treated unjustly as evidenced by their ongoing poverty. Most discussions of social justice focus almost exclusively on economic issues. But there is another kind of social injustice that is even more damaging than economic injustice. Namely, lying. Forcing people into poverty is evil; forcing them into the insanity of living in a world that doesn’t correspond with reality is even worse.
The perpetrators of injustice are most frequently those in power. But the seat of power has shifted in recent years from Washington DC to Silicon Valley. The government still holds a great deal of power, but the tech giants control information, which gives them even greater power because they control the beliefs of the people who elect government officials.
Just as government officials should be held accountable for when they use their power to oppress the poor, so the tech giants should be held accountable for when they use their power to oppress the ignorant.
Such accountability is unlikely anytime soon, since one side of the political spectrum controls the White House, both houses of Congress, the dominant news media, and all of big tech.
The Solution to Disinformation
So what is the solution? There probably is no immediate remedy. But the long-term solution is a return to free speech where both sides of each issue can be heard with equal clarity. This will only happen when consumers transfer power from the current social media companies to alternative platforms that allow free speech.
And if you’re not ready to leave platforms like Facebook or YouTube or Google just yet, there is something you can do that will drastically reduce their power and income. You may have heard in the news recently that Apple is planning on creating a pop up that will ask iPhone users if they want to continue to allow Facebook to track all their Internet activity (Facebook doesn’t just track your behavior on their platform. They track all your Internet browsing.) Judging from Mark Zuckerberg’s panic over this and the numerous full-page ads Facebook has taken out in papers like the New York Times trying to turn public opinion against such a move, it’s clear Facebook is terrified to lose this information. It is a major income stream for them.
But you don’t have to wait for the Apple pop up. You can turn off Facebook’s ability to track your online activity. Just click on this link. It will take you to Facebook’s off-Facebook activity setting. When I did it, it listed over 1200 websites that shared my browsing activity with Facebook.
To turn it off, click on the “Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity” link on the right side of the page. Next, click on the Manage Future Activity link. As you go through this process, they will give you all kinds of warnings about how you will miss out on all kinds of amazing deals with various businesses. Personally, I don’t remember receiving any amazing deals at businesses because of Facebook, so I wasn’t too worried about this. It also allows you to clear your history.
I never did this in the past because I figured if I have to look at ads, they might as well be ads that pertain to things I’m interested in. But now, Facebook and Google have become so powerful in our culture, and they have used that power to create so much informational injustice, I would rather forgo seeing pertinent advertising in order to do my part at reducing their staggering power.