The latest Pew Research Center study has shown just how politically divided the country has become.
A highlight of the study is that the percentage of consistently conservative or consistently liberal voters has doubled since 1994. It is not just Washington politicians who are hyper-partisan, but rank-and-file members of both parties have moved further right or left.
A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR to these increasingly rigid positions has been the political media. Newspapers, talk radio, cable TV and the Internet have developed highly partisan outlets specifically to cater to a particular political view. Once you have zeroed in on your favorite TV channel, newspaper, website or radio talk show host, your views are constantly reinforced. No need to listen to other opinions – you are now comfortably living in your own political cocoon.
And it feels so good to have your views constantly validated! Well aware of that, the political media pander to our biases to keep us aboard. As more and more readers, watchers and listeners tune in, they sell more advertising and make more money.
Fox News, MSNBC and political talk shows exist to make a profit, pure and simple. An impassioned commentator angrily ranting about a politician from the opposing camp is playing a role to boost the bottom line for his owner, not to objectively inform the public.
Although some may think this is harmless, it is not. The nation pays for these talking heads’ tirades in more ways than advertising dollars. We currently have a dysfunctional government because Republican and Democratic members are pulled toward extreme positions by frequently misinformed supporters, making governance nearly impossible.
If the amount of misleading, emotional and outright false information in our political discourse were reduced, citizens would better understand the issues. They would recognize it is possible to pass difficult legislation without betraying their political principles.
THE AMERICAN system of government requires an informed electorate. Meeting that goal necessitates we all do our part by helping stem the flow of another misinformation phenomenon, Internet political lies.
Because the Internet provides anonymity, the spread of political hoaxes by unknown perpetrators has mushroomed. Outrageous lies are forwarded into our inboxes, and political partisans, fervently hoping the story is true, robotically forward it to their acquaintances without checking its truth. They become enablers of the hoax by giving it broader exposure.
The first hint that an email may be a lie is when the author is anonymous. People can use Google to easily determine if an anonymous email statement is true or false. Simply copy the subject heading, paste it into Google search, and hit “enter.” A variety of references will appear. Several of these – factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, and snopes.com – are proven, reliable sites dedicated to separating fact from fiction.
If the message turns out to be false, instead of forwarding the email you can return it to the sender with the link revealing the falsehood. Or you could send it to all the recipients on the original email to expose the lie.
BESIDES REDUCING the spread of political misinformation, another valuable reason you should not forward these lies is to preserve your own reputation. If your email is determined to be a hoax, your integrity and judgment come into question. You have been conned by the liar and become an agent of his mendacity.
We need more truth and comprehension in our political process. We all can help by getting information outside one of the media’s hyper-partisan political cocoons. We need to create and apply an information filter based on knowledge that will help us sort out the worthwhile from the garbage.
And only we can stifle Internet political lies.
(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)