Early today on Doubtful News, I posted a story declaring the Michelle Obama photo holding a sign saying “An immigrant is taking my job” to be photoshopped. This produced a flood of repetitive comments to my personal and DN-based Facebook, Twitter, and comment threads alleging that it was OBVIOUS it was fake. Why did I bother to debunk it? Did someone actually think this was true?
Yes, they actually did. This SHOULD NOT have surprised you. Have you NOT been paying attention these many years when countless made up or misleading stories were accepted by the general public? There are simply too many to list as examples. I am frustrated you have not learned from several years of fake news. People REALLY DO believe this stuff.
I found this obnoxious skeptical reaction to my post to be annoying and short-sighted. Skeptics live in a circle just as much as alt-righters. The people who shared this picture on my feed did it because they thought it was funny and knew it was fake. But many others who see it on Facebook are not internet savvy. They don’t know about meme generators and it may not register in their memory that this picture is a doctored version of a previous picture. Or, they may have thought, she’s held up a sign once, she’d do it again.
Think about this: many FB users are older people who have not interacted with the Internet their whole lives. Some of them aren’t used to Photoshopped memes and fail to grasp the ease to which this is accomplished. They may erroneously assume that the photos they see (minus context) are genuine – your Mom, your Grandma, your Aunt Joan…
What about the people who can’t seem to distinguish real news from fake? They assume what is posted by people they know and trust is trustworthy information.
When I wrote this post, I looked for other sites that debunked it, figuring I could link to work by someone else. In about 3 minutes I was able to find that NO SITE had stated it was FAKE and that it may have originated via a meme generator. So I wrote up the story. DN counts on Googlers searching for more info on a topic hitting on our site via search results.
And, it sure hit.
The story received thousands of hits via Google search results. I was reaching exactly the intended audience, those that are curious about the truth. Maybe I could influence them. Maybe I can get them to click on other stories of interest on the site. Maybe they would bookmark the site or subscribe. This post was a giant win outside the circle.
Shortly after, several sites, including Snopes, also posted on it and other sites commented on the phenomena, confirming that YES, people really DID believe it to be true and it required a debunking, of which Doubtful News was perhaps first.
People who self-identify as “skeptics” sometimes tend to be smug and condescending. They know more than others and revel in that. This misses the point of critical thinking advocacy which is to educate others so that they do not make bad decisions or judgments. It also misses the point that such skills must be as widespread as possible, not just held by few. We make progress by persuading and educating rather than putting others down. The comments I received on this story of that nature indicated that some people really should change their tone. This is not a revelation – it’s partly why Skeptics have a shitty reputation for being the killjoys at parties, why people don’t click on our sites as much as the mystery-mongering sites, and why they tune out skeptical voices. If we want more people everywhere to be open to critical thinking messages, we have to work on better techniques of framing and improve our social media behavior.
This story was probably not for you, dear reader of my blog; it was for everyone else. That’s where we need to go to quit the echo chamber. This setup offered skeptics a perfect opportunity to reach out and help people revise their opinions and perhaps arm them with worthwhile info for the future, but most only looked down their noses assuming it was beneath us to address it. Skeptics were being closed-minded, arrogant and insulated. They weren’t even evaluating the evidence that this was an important story to address. How unskeptical! Not helpful.
Change your attitude by thinking of the very broad aray of people on Facebook who are viewing the feed without the background you have. We are going to get exactly NOWHERE if we keep going along the same pointless path. Nab the useful opportunities when they are presented! Be persuasive!
We must observe. Listen to people. Investigate the social angles we might normally miss. Be aware. Respond thoughtfully and gently. And provide actually helpful critique or provide none at all.
(Minor edits made 18-Nov 2016)