Flag Online Lies. Talk to Your Neighbor Too

danah boyd’s provocative piece “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” offers a cautionary take on current efforts to flag fake news. People like myself, who believe Facebook and Google should do more to flag obviously false news should read carefully.

boyd’s main thesis is indisputable. We live in a world of competing truth claims, the post-truth age. Simply flagging something as false will often reinforce perceptions of out-of-touch elites telling looking down their nose and telling others what to think. Indeed, the term “fake news” has already become so compromised as to become meaningless.

What’s needed, per boyd, are intentional conversations in which we honestly and openly seek to understand the perspective of people who see the world differently than us. These would be in person, look someone in the eye conversations — not tedious and immature internet spats. As President Obama said just last night in his farewell address, “If you are tired of arguing with someone on the internet, go talk to them in person.” Simply tweeting or Facebooking “your facts are wrong!” to someone else will only cause them to dig in their heels.

All true. I agree with boyd. This deep work of understanding is needed on the individual level, and those who practice it are heroes.

And yet, it is also true that facts and logic themselves are under attack. Trump*’s methods are Orwellian and authoritarian, make no mistake. His entire strategy is to cause a fog of uncertainty by lying and bullying, and then to act with impunity as principled people sort through the chaos. We must call him and his enablers out, always, even if this plays into their persecution complex. Online is where facts and logic are taking a hit, so that is where much of the action is. Use algorithms to flag falsehoods on Facebook, and talk to your neighbor too.

*: Trump received aid and comfort from Vladimir Putin, rendering his Presidency illegitimate and tainted from the start.

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