First, A History Lesson
If you study Hitler's rise to power, in retrospect, there are a number of troubling red flags that should give us pause. Here are a few quotes that lay the groundwork for the remainder of this article.
"Yet you had Americans meeting Hitler and saying, "This guy is a clown. He's like a caricature of himself." And a lot of them went through this whole litany about how even if Hitler got into a position of power, other German politicians would somehow be able to control him. A lot of German politicians believed this themselves. ... But some of the Americans were much more prescient -- for instance, Edgar Mowrer ... kept frantically trying to warn readers and the world, "What he's saying about the Jews is serious. Don't underestimate him" (The Atlantic).
"Some journalists and diplomats took those kinds of risks and really pushed to get everything. Others held back -- after all, Germany really was a very prestigious reporting assignment. They felt constrained and didn't want to jeopardize their situation" (The Atlantic).
"In World War I, American newspapers had published a lot of stories about German atrocities -- about how they were bayoneting babies in Belgium -- and those proved to be fabrications. So I think the editors were open to some of these first reports about the Nazis, but they were wary. ...Hans Kaltenborn, a famous radio broadcaster of that era. He was of German descent, but had grown up in the United States. Right after Hitler took power, there were attacks on Americans who failed to give the Hitler salute. Kaltenborn went over with the attitude that these reports were greatly exaggerated. Then his teenage son got beaten up for exactly the same reason. The Nazis apologized profusely and said, "I hope you won't write about this." And Kaltenborn replied, "No, I don't insert anything personal in my stories." Even after this happened to his own son, he was reluctant to write about it (The Atlantic).
He didn't spell out exactly what would happen in the Holocaust, but he gave a pretty good indication of its overall thrust. When someone lobs those kinds of rhetorical bombs, it's sort of a natural human tendency to say, "Oh, that's just a figure of speech. They don't really mean it. It's just a way to whip up supporters" (The Atlantic).
Hitler, in their eyes, was not a serious man, unfit to govern, a classless buffoon. His appeal, the German elite believed, came from his outsider status, which allowed him to posture against the political system and make extravagant promises to his followers that would never be tested against reality. What’s more, Hitler’s explicit contempt for democracy made even the authoritarian German right nervous about entrusting him with power (New York Magazine).
“The 1930s marked the rise of celebrity culture, in the era of talking movies, radio and new lifestyle magazines,” Stratigakos said. “People developed a strong desire to know what the private person was like behind the public facade. Hitler’s propagandists took advantage of the new celebrity culture and even helped to shape it.” ... “Journalists seek out these behind-the-scenes stories because people demand it,” she said. “This still holds true today, and I believe that we need to be much more critical of the industries that focus on home or lifestyle news. They really do have influence” (Univ. of Buffalo).
Watch this Ted Ed video for a quick summary:
Quick, Create A Diversion!
I remember my stomach being in knots when I saw Trump as a guest on the Jimmy Fallon Show, the one where Jimmy famously messes up Trump's hair. People were rightfully upset at this seemingly bizarre display of playfully joking around with a demagogue. The next morning I saw a tweet from someone I respect saying something along the lines of, "If only people were this upset when Chris Brown was on the Fallon Show."
This is a false equivalency. Chris Brown was not running for president. Chris Brown wasn't galvanizing people around a platform of hate and bigotry. These types of statements are a quick way to divert attention from the issue at hand, and it is a tactic done to perfection by the Trump team.
*Notice that this video has almost 10 million views
What we choose to discuss plays a large role in shaping the narrative around someone. We saw examples of this recently with all the tweets about Hamilton and Saturday Night Live. They distracted from the more substantive issues of his cabinet picks and massive conflicts of interest in entering office.
The old way of diverting the public was through entertainment [as I wrote about in a previous article, Bread & Circuses]. Now, Trump is able to mask the diversions as newsworthy by manipulating the media.
Judd Legum (who is a great follow on Twitter), lays out these tactics in a detailed article in ThinkProgress (complete with screenshots from various newspapers showing which headlines they are focusing on):
One of the guiding principles for the media in covering the President of the United States is that the things the president says and does are, by definition, newsworthy. This is why there is a White House press corps and a “protective pool” that follows the president around everywhere. ....
But major media outlets continue to treat Trump’s business conflicts as a secondary issue. The main course is, per tradition, driven by Trump. But Trump is not talking about conflicts-of-interest. He is talking about Hamilton. ...
Trump also staged a photo-op with Mitt Romney, a much more moderate figure than the people that have joined his administration.
Trump nominated Jeff Sessions, a man the Senate decided was too racist to be a federal judge, to be Attorney General. He named Steve Bannon, the proprietor of a white nationalist website, to be his “chief strategist.” Michael Flynn, a conspiracy theorist and Islamophobe, will be National Security Adviser.
Romney has not been offered any position yet, but dominates the headlines because Trump steered the media that way.
Of course, the same strategy has been used with other major items such as Trump defrauding thousands of students through his sham university.
In the social media age, he can create the news.
Eventually these distortions add up. Things that should not be normal (like this type of media coverage) end up becoming normal.
Make the Craziness Look Normal
The most obvious example of this is the usage of the term "alt-right" as a mask for white supremacy.
The language used to describe things is incredibly important, moreso than most people realize. Notice the usage of certain words in this video - 'governing', 'gravity', 'root for him', and so on.
Language is a core focus of the infamous 'Hasbara Handbook' which outlines talking points for addressing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict from an Israeli perspective. They emphasize understanding that Americans need a "team to cheer for" and how to craft a message accordingly.
The point being, rhetoric plays a huge role in creating perception, shaping attitudes, and "winning hearts and minds." It is no surprise that there is a Prophetic tradition which states:
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, "Some eloquent speech is as effective as magic [e.g.some people refuse to do something and then a good eloquent speaker addresses them and then they agree to do that very thing after his speech]" (Bukhari).
The way we frame a discussion has the effect of mainstreaming talking points. For example,
At the time of writing this article, "Are Jews People" was a trending topic.
Instead of detailing the ramifications of an issue, we throw everything up for discussion as if it is somehow actually a debate.
It becomes another way of making the abnormal normal, as Keith Olbermann breaks down in a video for GQ (a men's fashion magazine) of all platforms.
To understand this bias, simply rewind to 2008. Imagine if Obama sought security clearances for his children, had been caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, ran on a platform of registering all white male gun owners into a national database, and settled a fraud lawsuit for $25 million weeks before taking office. How would the media and public have treated him?
Obama reflected on his presidency and Trump's election in a long profile in the New Yorker. This passage in particular caught my eye:
Until recently, religious institutions, academia, and media set out the parameters of acceptable discourse, and it ranged from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to policy,” Simas said. “The continuum has changed. Had Donald Trump said the things he said during the campaign eight years ago—about banning Muslims, about Mexicans, about the disabled, about women—his Republican opponents, faith leaders, academia would have denounced him and there would be no way around those voices. Now, through Facebook and Twitter, you can get around them. There is social permission for this kind of discourse. Plus, through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions. This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable. This is a foundational change.”
That day, as they travelled, Obama and Simas talked almost obsessively about an article in BuzzFeed that described how the Macedonian town of Veles had experienced a “digital gold rush” when a small group of young people there published more than a hundred pro-Trump Web sites, with hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers. The sites had names like TrumpVision365.com and WorldPoliticus.com, and most of the posts were wildly sensationalist, recycled from American alt-right sites. If you read such sites, you learned that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump and that Clinton had actually encouraged Trump to run, because he “can’t be bought.”
The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”
That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”
This is why people can openly and explicitly spout Nazi propaganda, and the media will hide behind labels like alt-right.
Jeremy Stahl writes in Slate, "But others have twisted themselves in pretzels attempting not to explicitly label Bannon or his brand of agitprop as racist. This involves reporters and headline writers attributing descriptions of Bannon’s views to “critics,” or framing the issue as “one side says this and the other says that,” or letting others characterize Bannon rather than taking the evidence available and drawing conclusions themselves. Also, there are those great euphemisms we mentioned (he’s not racist, he’s controversial).
Then he goes on to list some of the euphemisms he has come across in mainstream media, including: Nod to Anti-Washington Base, Provocateur From the Fringe, hard-right nationalist, conspiracy-tinged outlet, far-right conservatism, nationalist media mogul, and other such phrases. Think about the visceral anger the mere mention of the name 'Hitler' evokes. Now imagine if people simply referred to him as a "small-mustachioed provocateur" - it sounds more like a slightly lovable bad guy in a James Bond movie than someone who actually committed genocide in real life.
This normalization is much easier to achieve in the age of online filter bubbles. I wrote about this phenomenon in great detail in a previous article - How Filter Bubbles Shape Your Social, Political, and Religious Views. One of the consequences of this is people becoming more and more polarized in their views, creating fertile ground for 'fake news' to take off.
Fear and Fake News
There are a few ingredients that create a perfect storm for fake news:
- The power of the emotion of fear
- The speed of online communication and desire to share things quickly
- Social media sites that are designed to get you to engage in debates (i.e. comments)
- Revenue models that significantly incentivize traffic over objectivity
This is why the news usually looks something like this.
I wrote previously about the infamous Qur'an burning story from a few years ago that was covered irresponsibly, and ended up causing over 25 deaths in ensuing riots. We see the same blueprint playing out now.
The Washington Post gives a behind the scenes look at the fake news industry during this election:
Fewer than 2,000 readers are on his website when Paris Wade, 26, awakens from a nap, reaches for his laptop and thinks he needs to, as he puts it, “feed” his audience. “Man, no one is covering this TPP thing,” he says ... Wade, a modern-day digital opportunist, sees an opportunity. He begins typing a story.
“CAN’T TRUST OBAMA,” he writes as the headline, then pauses. His audience hates Obama and loves President-elect Donald Trump, and he wants to capture that disgust and cast it as a drama between good and evil. He resumes typing: “Look At Sick Thing He Just Did To STAB Trump In The Back… .”
Ten minutes and nearly 200 words later, he is done with a story that is all opinion, innuendo and rumor. He types at the bottom, “Comment ‘DOWN WITH THE GLOBALISTS!’ below if you love this country,” publishes the story to his website, LibertyWritersNews.com, and then pulls up the Facebook page he uses to promote the site, which in six months has collected 805,000 followers and brought in tens of millions of page views. “WE CANNOT LET THIS HAPPEN!” he writes, posting the article. “#SHARE this 1 million times, patriots!” Then he looks at a nearby monitor that shows the site’s analytics, and watches as the readers pour in.
“We’re the new yellow journalists,” Wade will say ... “We’re the people on the side of the street yelling that the world is about to end.” ...
Between June and August, they say, when they had fewer than 150,000 Facebook followers, they made between $10,000 and $40,000 every month running advertisements that, among other things, promised acne solutions, Viagra alternatives, ways to remove lip lines, cracked feet, “deep fat,” and “the 13 sexiest and most naked celebrity selfies.” Then the political drama deepened, and their audience expanded fivefold, and now Goldman sometimes thinks that what he made in the last six months would have taken him 20 years waiting tables at his old job. ...
Neither of them is particularly religious, but their readers are, so in their writing they ask God to bless the president-elect, and that works, too. So does exaggeration: “OBAMA BIRTH SECRETS REVEALED! The Letters From His Dad Reveal Something Sinister... .” And stoking fear: “Terrorists Have Infiltrated the US Government! Look Who They Want to ASSASSINATE!!” And inflaming racial and gender tension: “BREAKING: Michelle Obama holds Feminist Rally At HER SLAVE HOUSE!” And conspiracy theories: “BREAKING: Top Official Set to Testify Against Hillary Clinton Found DEAD!”
“All successful journalism has shock value,” Goldman says as he and Wade sit at their computers later that day.
There are times when Wade wonders what it would be like to write an article he truly believes in. “In a perfect world,” he says, it would have nuance and balance and long paragraphs and take longer than 10 minutes to compose. It would make people think. But he never writes it, he says, because no one would click on it, so what would be the point?
The New York Times has a fantastic break down of how a person made up a story about paid protestors against Trump, saw it traded up the Media chain (similar to the Qur'an burning story), and culminated in Trump tweeting about it. In the end, the story had over 44,000 shares. The correction posted the next day talking about it being fake had only 29 retweets, and a Snopes story debunking it had less than 6,000 shares.
Here's another example of such a story in action.
James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) detailed the step-by-step on Twitter about Trump taking credit for keeping a Ford plant from moving to Mexico.
- New reality for the press: the president-elect's Twitter account is a competing media outlet spreading fake news
- Starts out when Trump tweets the claim that he saved a factory that, in fact, wasn't going to close. Text of the Trump tweet: "Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford, who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky - no Mexico"
- Reuters then runs a story reporting "Trump says Ford not moving U.S. plant to Mexico," with no corroboration [link to headline]
- Detroit Free Press reports it as Ford keeping MKC production (true) w/o correcting false claim a factory was saved [link to article]
- By morning, several news outlets have debunked Trump's claim (e.g. Washington Post article)
- But by this point, people are happily spreading "Trump saved a factory!" on social media
- Oh, and as of 8:24 a.m., that weak USAT/Detroit FP story leads the Google News section on the topic [screenshot]
- The Reuters story is there, updated & with headline "Ford tells Trump no Lincoln SUV production going to Mexico" [Reuters link]
- But the fact that jobs that weren't going to be lost *still aren't going to be lost* is not the story. It's the fake news from PEOTUS.
- Pushing back on fake news - some spread by the president - is going to become a bigger part of the media's job.
- I have no great answer. But at least news organizations could refrain from "helping" the fake news.
- A lie goes around the world while the truth is tying its shoes. At least don't give the lie a ride to the airport. /end
A larger problem is that we tend to think only dumb people fall for fake news. I can't count how many times I've seen my own friends share links on Facebook without realizing they were sharing satire. It's not surprising either, as the online filter bubble tricks people into thinking they are more informed and have the facts.
Internet sites know that they can drive traffic by inflaming the biases of their readers. It's manipulative, but profitable. This passage below was written in 2015, and in hindsight seems prescient.
Walter Quattrociocchi, the head of the Laboratory of Computational Social Science at IMT Lucca in Italy, has spent several years studying how conspiracy theories and misinformation spread online, and he confirmed some of my fears: Essentially, he explained, institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it’s demonstrably fake.
...But Quattrociocchi has found (and this is perhaps intuitive) that the sort of readers who would unskeptically share such a far-fetched story site are exactly the readers who will not be convinced by The Washington Post’s debunking.
Ultimately, this just creates confusion. There's fake news everywhere. Talking heads are spouting all kinds of nonsense. The internet algorithms are going wild. How do we even know what to believe?
Brian Phillips comments about this in his article, "Shirtless Trump Saves Drowning Kitten":
Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom. It's telling, in that regard, that Trump supporters, the voters most furiously suspicious of journalism, also proved to be the most receptive audience for fictions that looked journalism-like. Authoritarianism doesn't really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies.
This is what Orwell meant when he wrote that the goal of totalitarianism is to destroy our "common basis of agreement," ....
It is also frighteningly essential, because democracy depends on a public forum, and ours is upside down.
And thus we arrive at the Trump campaign, with its annihilating virtuosity in falsehood; and thus at the Breitbart right, which loves small government so much it will settle for a little tyranny. Thus, too, we enter the context in which your Aunt Margaret clicks a link from her college boyfriend and learns from the Philadelphia Post-Intelligencer that Black Lives Matter protesters have been chanting their allegiance to ISIS. There has always been a heavy dose of unreality mixed into American reality. But so many of the checks against unreality have fallen away, and reality — the thing outside your windows — is paying the price for it.
And if our president-elect has taught us anything, it's that you don't have to believe in your own convictions to let other people suffer for them.
The Hadith That Predicted It All
The Prophet (s) said,
“There will come to the people years of treachery, when the liar will be regarded as honest, and the honest man will be regarded as a liar; the traitor will be regarded as faithful, and the faithful man will be regarded as a traitor; and the Ruwaibidah will decide matters / speak out about public affairs.’ It was said: ‘Who are the Ruwaibidah?’ He said: ‘Vile and base men who control the affairs of the people / speak out about public affairs’” (Ibn Mājah).
Sh. Abu 'Aaliyah gives a beautiful explanation of this narration. In it he details the importance that Islam puts on the blessing of security (amn).
If any matter comes to them concerning security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority, those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter would indeed know [what to do with] it (4:83).
Abu Aaliyah shares an explanation of this verse from Imam Al-Sa'di:
‘This is a counsel from God, to His servants, about their unbefitting conduct. And that it is imperative for them, when there comes to them news about important affairs of public benefit – such as those related to the security and welfare of the believers, or to breaches of security and [impending] calamities striking them – that they should first verify such matters and not be hasty in spreading such news. Instead, they must refer such affairs to the Messenger and to those in authority among them – those possessed of sound judgement, learning, intelligence, sincere advice, calmness and composure; those who understand such issues and have knowledge of the associated benefits and harms. If, after that, they see that in broadcasting such news there is benefit for the believers and a cause of joy for them, or a means to protect them from their enemy’s harm, they should do so. But if they see there to be no benefit, or that there is benefit but the harm in it is greater, they should not do so. This is why God said: those among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter; meaning, they will evaluate it with their well-grounded thinking and sound knowledge. So in this is an evidence for a principle of [correct] conduct, which is that: When there arises a need to investigate a particular matter, it is essential that it be left to those qualified to do so and that they are not to be preceded in this by others.’
It seems impossible at first - how could people of virtue and morality be subdued, while vile and ignorant people rise to the top? It happens when morality and virtue are themselves subdued. When we reward vile and ignorant stories with traffic, comments, and shares, we get more of it (and normalize it).
The Qur'anic Injunction to Fact-Check
O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful (49:6).
Harith ibn Dinar, leader of the tribe of Banu Mustaliq accepted Islam and pledged to pay the zakat (obligatory charity). He was going to his tribe to have them pledge the same and requested the Prophet (s) to appoint someone to come and collect the zakat on a specified date.
When the day arrived, no one was there. Harith feared that the Prophet (s) was upset with them for some reason, so he gathered some of the leaders from his tribe and set out to meet the Prophet (s).
The Prophet (s) had actually dispatched Walid ibn 'Uqbah to go and collect the zakat. On the way, Walid became nervous because the Banu Mustaliq were old tribal enemies, and he feared they might kill him. So he went back and told the Prophet (s) that the Banu Mustaliq refused to pay the zakat and threatened to kill him.
In response, the Prophet (s) sent a delegation to go and meet them. The two groups met en route to one another and realized what had happened. It was upon this incident that the ayah of Qur'an above was revealed.
The core lesson from this is always verify the information you have before acting on it. This is difficult in the age of social media and 24 hour news cycles, but it is a necessary step. Especially when you consider that most people share articles without actually reading them. A person must be firm, and not swayed by every piece of information that floats across their screen.
Caitlin Dewey from the Washington Post profiles an individual who had this fantastic idea: Create fake news about Trump so people would share it, and then look stupid when everyone found out it was fake.
Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it. ...
My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager [Corey Lewandowski who later went to work for CNN] posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.' ...
I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad]. ...
I can write the craziest thing about Trump, and people will believe it. I wrote a lot of crazy anti-Muslim stuff — like about Trump wanting to put badges on Muslims, or not allowing them in the airport, or making them stand in their own line — and people went along with it! ... Right now I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense.
So What's the Gameplan?
This is a lot to take on.
In fact, there is a seductive nature to feeling powerless, as Seth Godin explains:
Where do conspiracy theories come from?
More than 10% of the population still believes that the moon landings were faked. (Even though we can see the landing modules with a telescope).
People make up inane theories about various cabals that are secretly controlling this or that.
In fact, the more information and leverage we each have, the more inclined the culture seems to embrace stories of puppetry, conspiracy and control.
Because it lets us off the hook.
How can you possibly be responsible if there are powerful shady forces working behind the scenes? If you're powerless, it also means you're not at fault if things don't get better.
[Of course, the world isn't fair, and there are people, powerful people, working against you. The best systems open doors, not close them. The best systems work for us, not against us. But that doesn't mean we're powerless, it only means that we have to work ever harder. Harder on the system and harder around it.]
She's been quoted a million times, but people don't really listen to the essence of Marianne Williamson's quote: "Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
If we're actually powerful, if our voice, our effort and our contribution matter, it's time to get to work.
This is enervating. It would be so much more comforting if it were up to someone else. Whatever system we are living in or with, it would be nice if it were responsible for what happens next.
On the other hand, knowing that we can connect, publish, inspire, lead, build, describe, invent, encourage and (especially) teach, means that there's no one better than us and no time like right now.
And if it helps, go find, organize and connect with others who feel as committed as you do.
Of course it's frightening. But it's important and it's our turn.
1. Diversify your news sources
This is what Edward Snowden recommends:
If people consumed news from multiple sources, he argued, it would be much easier to tell the fake from the real. In other words, stop relying on Facebook for your news.
“To have one company that has enough power to reshape the way we think, I don’t think I need to describe how dangerous that is,” he said.
Snowden’s answer? Making sure that one, singular platform doesn’t play such a dominant role in people’s lives. When people rely on one source, it’s easy for misinformation to spread (since there’s nothing to back it up against). Instead, Snowden proposed a “federated system” of sorts, or a network of many Facebooks all connected. That way, one outlying bit of information would easily be lost in a sea of truthful information that’s repeated over and over.
One way I've done this is by creating a 'National News' Twitter list. On it I have roughly 50 people including journalists and policy analysts all from different organizations and backgrounds.
2. Cut Down on Information Consumption
The list function on Twitter helps here. It makes it so that the news is not always blasting you in the face, but it is there only for when you want to go check it.
There's a distinct line between being informed and being overwhelmed. Our focus should be on the actions we can control. The more we consume information that makes us feel helpless, the harder it becomes to take action.
Ryan Holiday writes in his article, "Want to Really Make America Great Again? Stop Reading the News" [btw, the entire article is a must read]:
One of the most powerful things we can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or, more provocatively: “I don’t care.” Not about everything of course—just most things.Because most things don’t matter, and most news stories aren’t worth tracking.
It’s a trade off of deliberate ignorance for the ability to prioritize and see with clarity. It’s a swap of generalized outrage for what will hopefully be effective opposition to trends that actually matter (bad policy versus political correctness). Whatever one thinks of a potential Trump administration—that it’s the beginning of real positive change or that it’s the beginning of the end—I would argue that you would think about it all more objectively if you followed the breathless news cycle about it less. ...
There is plenty to do in this world, and plenty to be vigilant about. But let’s stop pretending that the ticker-tape of the news feed is anything other than what it is: addiction and manipulation masquerading as a social good. Then we wonder why we’re sapped of reason and willpower and perspective.
3. Donate to Good Media Outlets
John Oliver made the case for donating to good media outlets on his show. He suggests subscribing to papers like the New York Times, Washington Post, your local paper, and also contributing to organizations like ProPublica.
These first 3 action steps seem somewhat contradictory in nature. Diversify your news intake, cut down on your news intake, and then financially contribute to the better production of news. In reality, these 3 done together helps to trend us back toward a theme of 'quality over quantity'.
4. Local Action
The Facebook debates during the election season were exhausting to say the least. NPR profiled a few people who dealt with this issue. One interesting outcome was that the online debates motivated them to unfriend people and focus back on their family, friends, and community.
One of the traps of social media is that it tricks us into thinking we are being productive when we're really just fighting for meaningless internet points. Find ways to be productive locally. Engage with your community. Call your local representatives and hold them to account for their stances that affect you. Start voting in your local and midterm elections and get other community members to do the same.
The first 4 action items are the proverbial tying of the camel, and this step is the tawakkul (reliance in Allah) part.
O Allah, the Lord of (angels) Jibril, Mika'il and Israfil, Creator of the heavens and earth and Knower of the seen and the unseen. You judge between Your servants regarding what they have disputed in, so guide me to what have been the subject of dispute of the truth by Your leave. Indeed, You guide whom You will to the straight path.
O Allah! Show us the truth as truth, and bestow adherence to it on us. Show us the evil as evil, and make us stay away from it, and do not confuse us regarding the reality of evil so that we will not be led astray by it, and make us leaders for the believers.
- Reflections on Moving Forward in the Era of President Trump
- How Invisible Filter Bubbles Shape Your Social, Political, and Religious Views
- How Bad Leaders Rise to the Top, and Why We Keep Following Them
- The Game Being Played Around You (And the Qur'an Burning Fiasco)
- Bread and Circuses
- Book: Filter Bubbles by Eli Pariser
- Book: News by Alain de Botton
- Book: Trust Me I'm Lying by Ryan Holiday