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News, gossip, and bullshit

Posted on December 4, 2019 by Sonoma Valley Sun

It’s not easy knowing what to believe in this “post truth” era. Between news, gossip, and just plain bullshit circulating on mainstream and social media, learning the truth has become a scavenger hunt.

News, seemingly once reliable, has become suspect. The rise of propaganda machines such as  Fox News, and the intermingling of opinion with fact, has eroded public confidence, turning reasoned discourse into endless argument. Conspiracy “nuts” spread their craziness within social media echo-chambers, promoting the rise of tribalism and gangs of fringe-element believers blind to any other type of information.

Gossip is now the currency of the realm, its suppositions and inaccuracies replacing investigative fact. Spreading as quickly as the wildfires we just experienced, gossip is almost as dangerous; rumors about explosions, accidents, and violence cause their own forms of panic, while anonymous personal insults, bullying, and character assassination produce emotional trauma. And the percentage of bullshit circulating nowadays is monumental. Money-fueled lobbying, false advertising, self-aggrandizement, and unadulterated hype has infiltrated nearly every mode of communication, transforming politics and further undermining the opportunity for actual understanding and problem-solving. It’s as if the Ten Commandments and Wisdom of the Ages have been lost and forgotten. 

Human society has always been vulnerable to the poison of gossip and dishonesty, which is why prohibitions against falsely accusing others are so important. We rely on honesty for our survival, yet in the rush towards power and monetary profit we have left the truth behind. We are stumbling blindly into an uncertain future, too often driven by information and ideas that are unsupported by evidence.

All of us can sense how precarious our situation has become. The articles of faith by which our common destiny seemed to be directed have dissolved. Admittedly, past narratives were never fully accurate; but values of freedom and equality were accepted aspirations if not always reflective of reality. Today, however, we have seen that even the words which express these aspirations can be twisted and subverted. The same is true for science, which has become a matter of contention as opposing parties pick and choose which scientific evidence to accept and to reject. Politics is now about “spin” not policy, and the healthy competition of ideas has been replaced by political gamesmanship.

There’s lots of talk about “transparency,” but like many other popular phrases, its meaning has been perverted. For all the wrong reasons, truth is now relative, a postmodernist nightmare; our ability to talk about truth has been superseded by willful ignorance. The complexity of modern society is such that it nearly defies complete understanding, and those that purport to understand it are labeled elitist, or part of the “deep state” of academics or bureaucrats. In this atmosphere, a public desperate to feel safe is deeply vulnerable to disinformation.

With regard to emergency events, we believe one solution to this problem is to avoid becoming part of it. What that means, in simple terms, is that unless you really know the truth about something, someone or some event, shut up. Using Facebook to spread poor or inaccurate information wastes the time of others, and in emergencies is downright dangerous. This highlights the need for the creation of a unified, reliable source of information and the development of reliable methods of communication.

When an emergency strikes, we don’t need opinion, we need truth. And unless we stop the gossip and bullshit, real news and real information don’t stand a chance.

— The Sun Editorial Board

 



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