/Misinformation: The cancer among us

Misinformation: The cancer among us

By Jim Poling Sr. 

It was a pleasant late summer day. A perfect day for some relaxing recreation, so a buddy and I hopped on ATVs and headed off to Sherborne Lake, one of the county’s most beautiful areas.
The lake’s sand beach at the end of the Sherborne access road is a relaxing place to sit, stare out over the sun-kissed water and think.

On the beach were two fellows who had just disembarked, beers in hand, from a pickup truck. We exchanged greetings and chatted about the beauty of the place.
One of the guys turned the conversation to the greatness of America and how Donald Trump had made it even greater. Americans now were enjoying tax cuts, the flood of Chinese products had been stopped and even Canada had been put in its place with a new North America trade agreement.
I felt sick to my stomach and said I had to leave because there were a lot of trees I had to see before the afternoon faded.

It wasn’t the reference to Trump that turned my stomach. Americans can elect or not elect whoever they wish. It’s their country, not mine.
What turned my stomach was that nothing the guy (a Canadian from southern Ontario) said was based on fact. It was yet another example of misinformation passed along by someone who had not bothered to get properly informed.

Organized misinformation and disinformation campaigns, plus individual lying, have hit epidemic proportions in our society.  
“Forget allergy season – it’s heightened lying season,” celebrity life coach Lauren Zander is quoted in the June issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.
She’s not kidding. Snopes, the fact-checking website, reports record-breaking traffic this year. During the period from late February to late March the site had 37 million visitors, a 43 per cent increase from the previous month.
Some of that increase can be tied to the confusion caused by the politicization of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to their health, people want clear-cut facts, which they have not been getting during this pandemic.

But Covid-19 is not the only reason why Snopes and other fact-checkers are getting more business than they can handle. Lying is becoming a major part of 21st century living.
Experts who study lying say the number of lies told by the average person has been increasing. One study early this year said the average person tells 1.65 lies per day.
In its May issue, Forbes magazine had an article by a professor whose research found that U.S. President Donald Trump told an average of 23.2 lies each day.

Serious lying has become a significant tool for politicians and their parties. That was evident in the 2016 U.S. election and the United Kingdom Brexit votes and elections around the same time.
So evident that the Oxford Dictionary chose “post-truth” as its 2016 word of the year. Post-truth is an adjective denoting the effectiveness of appeals to emotions and personal beliefs while ignoring the actual facts.

Assisting the spread of false or inaccurate information is the decline of professional news media jobs. The Canadian Media Guild has estimated that 10,000 media jobs have been lost in recent years, many of them newsroom jobs in which reporters and editors work to deliver factual stories.
The Pew Research Centre reports that in U.S. newsrooms employment dropped 23 per cent between 2008 and 2019.

Also, various research indicates that more than one-half of people get their “news” from social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Yet, most of the “news” on social media is at best unprofessional without fact checking or, at worst, pure gossip or deliberate misinformation.
The good news is that more people are becoming aware of the cancerous spread of misinformation and the danger it presents to democracies. One group of concerned folks has formed a movement promoting the Pro-Truth Pledge which asks politicians, government officials and people at large to commit to truth-oriented behaviour and to protect facts and civility in debates.

Each one of us must do what we can to stop the misinformation epidemic. We need to speak out when we see and hear politicians, government officials, advertisers – even friends – distorting the truth.  
Truth builds bonds that make a society great. Untruths break those bonds.