Misinformation: Why facts are now irrelevant
Here’s some unsurprising yet depressing news, said Catherine Rampell in WashingtonPost.com. “Many Americans beli eve a lot of dumb, crazy, destructive, provably wrong stuff.” Recent polls have found that nearly half of Donald Trump voters still believe the “bizarre theory” that Hillary Clinton helped run a child sex slave ring in a Washington, D.C., pizza joint, and 52 percent are certain Trump won the popular vote. (He lost by 3 million votes.) Liberals aren’t much better. About half of Clinton supporters “believe that Russia tampered with vote tallies to help elect Trump”—which is simply not true—while many still think, against all credible evidence, that vaccines cause autism. Sadly, it seems that “the facts of political life are now subject to partisan interpretation,” said Juan Williams in TheHill.com. One survey found that 67 percent of Trump voters say unemployment grew during President Obama’s term in office, even though it shrank from 7.8 percent to 4.6 percent. For a democratic system “based on the consent of voters who are fully informed,” the epidemic of willful ignorance is deeply troubling.
Misinformation is spreading for a reason, said Brian Resnik in Vox.com. As politics has become more divisive and partisan, our political views have become increasingly “tied up in our personal identities.” We now see our political allegiance as a defining part of ourselves, like nationality, or skin color, or religion. And when someone criticizes or questions our political beliefs, it’s perceived as a threat—“an attack on the self” that needs to be warded off, regardless of the facts. This phenomenon isn’t limited to low- information voters, said Faye Flam in BloombergView.com. Even highly educated people tend to believe stories that bolster their pre-existing beliefs—and those who know a lot about politics are more likely to know whether a story “makes liberals or conservatives look bad.”
The irony is that the internet was supposed to democratize information, enabling “curious citizens’’ to become better informed about complex issues, said Jonathan Mahler in The New York Times. Instead, it’s made it possible for people to hide out in “closed information loops.’’ The internet’s lack of a filter has made all beliefs appear equally valid, since you can always find online “evidence” and opinion to back up even the most nonsensical notions, with no agreed-upon authority to differentiate fact from fiction. We truly have entered “a post-truth era.”
■ Only 18% of Americans said “things for the country got better in 2016,” 33% said “things got worse,” and 47% said they were “unchanged from 2015.” Yet primarily because of hopes th e economy is on the upswing, 55% say they “believe things will be better for them in 2017,” a 12% improvement over last year.
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