Looking for truth in all the wrong places

Labor Day once marked the beginning of the political season, eight weeks prior to Election Day  in November.

It was when vacations ended, the kids returned to school, business picked up and Americans started paying attention to their civic duties after a summer of backyard barbecues, travel and trips to the beach.

Not anymore.

Thanks to campaign finance laws that encourage wealthy individuals and powerful institutions to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns on both ends of the political spectrum, U.S. voters already have been bombarded with television and digital advertising. And, as we witnessed in 2016, when “troll farms” based in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union spread disinformation intended to disrupt our election, lies and distortions are spread as readily as truth and fact.

Nearly two out of every three Americans say they get “news” — much of it unvetted and some of it plain wrong — from social media. Four years ago, trolls put out a false report spread over Facebook that claimed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats were running a Satanic child sex ring out of a pizza shop in Washington, D.C. The “Pizzagate” conspiracy was never true, never based on a single fact and yet nearly half of registered Republicans and nearly one-fourth of registered Democrats believed it.

A 29-year-old North Carolina man, intent on putting a stop to the sex ring, fired an automatic weapon in the pizza shop looking for a non-existent basement where he believed the children were being held. He was sentenced to four years in prison and was shocked that something he read on the Internet proved to be a lie.

In 2020, of course, the Republican Party just nominated Marjorie Taylor Greene as their first congressional candidate who unapologetically follows the QAnon conspiracy movement that law enforcement describes as a domestic terror group.

Compare that to the United Kingdom, where 83 percent say they distrust information they get from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

The good news is that Americans may be learning to be wary, with over half of us saying that we are skeptical of social media as a source of news. More than half of Americans say they trust local newspapers and other local news sites.

Now if we can just find a way to keep those local news organizations in business.

— Bob Unger

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Bob Unger  508-542-1252

Barbara LeBlanc  603-486-8760