Misinformation, lies, liar

Misinformation and Lies Will Destroy Our Lives

Misinformation is everywhere, and liars are going to be the death of us

Every day, our world is flooded with swaths of misinformation. Every day, thousands of people across our country internalize and distribute flagrantly false information. And as those lies are propagated, the thousands of people who see these lies as indisputable facts becomes millions. Then those millions of believers eventually become a movement that works to further entrench the systemic hate that plagues our society, and sends us hurtling toward climate induced death and destruction.

And these monstrous foot soldiers are a bunch of happy idiots named Dale.

To take a step back, engineering is my actual day job, and one of my main job responsibilities is occasionally going on field assignments and monitoring construction operations. And recently, I was sent to a job site in rural Oklahoma.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you may have some preconceived notions about the political leanings and ideologies of the people in rural Oklahoma. And, from my experience, neither of our preconceived notions are incorrect. If you’re around these people for long enough, someone will tell you about how the media is trying to “indoctrinate our children” with positive messaging about trans people. And, yes, that is a real thing I actually heard.

And, to actually do my job, I have to stand around these people a lot. So I hear a lot of their thoughts.

But recently, I was standing with this one guy who was just quiet, kept to himself, and did his job. And that was amazing. But one weird thing I noticed was that this guy was getting a new notification on his phone about every 30 seconds. And no, that isn’t an exaggeration. A couple of times I actually timed it.

Finally, after maybe 27 notifications, I realized what the name was on the popups: One Republic News. Now, this old white man with an eclectic collection of overtly patriotic garb didn’t strike me as the type to subscribe to a fan page for the band OneRepublic, so I went out on a limb and assumed that this website was bat-shit crazy.

And normally I would leave it at that. Normally, I wouldn’t care enough about the wild shit these “blue-collar” republicans are interested in, simply because I know it’s not going to improve my day. Polluting my brain with that incomparable level of ignorance is not worth my time. Being around them already leaves me constantly enraged at their ignorance.

Every time I get sent out into the field, I know it’s only a matter of time before these contractors start telling me what They are saying about global warming, guns, racism and every other thing that makes the world an objectively worse place. And I have not yet learned who They are, but from what I’ve heard, They sound like a bunch of fucking morons.

So no, I don’t typically have any interest in looking up the things these people have an interest in. But this one was different. This one I needed to know about.

There was a storm that came through the area, so we all took shelter in the comically oversized pickup trucks we came to work in. And as I was sitting in my car, sheltering while the storm passed, I couldn’t help but ruminate about what I was seeing on this man’s phone. There were just so many notifications. I couldn’t wrap my head around what could possibly be supplying this volume of information. Why he would be so interested in it that he would want to be spammed with information like this? But I knew, whatever it was, had the chance to be even crazier than I ever thought it could be.

And, holy shit, was I right.

After scrolling past a surprising amount of fan content dedicated to the band OneRepublic, I found it. I found the website. And, my god, that content was spectacular.

Website distributing misinformation
This is the website. Here you can see a claim that Georgia election was rigged, as well as a link to a website that discusses all the “quantum” technology used in ancient civilizations. Also, this webpage apparently has 13 thousand subscribers. Screenshot by author.

The website is essentially a single, poorly formatted, private twitter account that serves as a middleman for disseminating things which I can only classify as inaccurate. It features deep state conspiracy theories, dietary advice that was supposed to be good because it wasn’t supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and, my personal favorite, several posts about the advanced technologies in ancient civilizations. Specifically, the term “quantum technology” made an appearance, which was really spectacular. 

First of all, what even is that? There is such a thing as quantum computing, but that’s in its infancy and not exactly widespread. And quantum mechanics itself wasn’t even discovered until the late 1800’s (Cal Tech). So, I guess I’m not totally sold that there would’ve been “quantum” anything in ancient Egypt, but if I allow myself to try on their tinfoil hats for a minute, I guess if it did exist, maybe it could’ve been lost in the library of Alexandria. In that case, that’s just more proof that we maybe shouldn’t be burning and banning books, as sites like this endorse. But I digress.

The one thing that lingered in my mind after seeing this webpage was all the things these people had been telling me They were saying. And so, for the first time, I really thought about what They even is.

Someone is the source of the information on this webpage, and that person is the real They all of these people have been referring to. Not necessarily the person running this webpage, because that’s probably just an exceptional bigot with too much free time. No, They are the people birthing the ideas this sketchy website is propagating. And whoever They are knows they’re full of shit. They put out misinformation with the sole intention of stirring the pot and manipulating the minds of all these isolated townies.

In some ways, I almost find myself feeling a little bad for the people consuming this information. I don’t actually feel bad, because they’re still grown adults with free will and have access to the ENTIRE internet, which is notably full of scholarly articles and scientific journals on basically every topic in the world. But I still can at least see the humanity in the situation.

At the most basic level, they’re people who have simply been getting played. They’ve been lied to, en masse, by powerful, influential people who should know better. And They have been manipulating these people to support ideologies to further Their agenda.

I couldn’t help but think about the scale of this problem too. I started to think about how, not most, but EVERY person who opened their mouth about any social or political topic at these job sites had almost identical world views. I thought about how wild it is that this obscure, sketchy website, that I’m like 64 percent sure will now be flooding my phone with viruses, has over 13,000 subscribers. A single, poorly formatted webpage, which was buried beneath more content dedicated to the band OneRepublic than I thought existed, had not 13,000 visitors, but 13,000 people who chose to subscribe and receive constant updates about election fraud that didn’t happen and dietary advice that, according to the website itself, the FDA would categorically disapprove of.

After seeing this webpage, I really understood what it meant for this problem to actually be everywhere.

Small, isolated towns are everywhere, and many of these towns are full of people who aren’t exposed to the many different, diverse life experiences that disprove the outlandish amounts of misinformation they’re fed on a daily basis. So, all these people just go on with their lives, further internalizing and promoting the ignorant, and often hateful, ideologies they’ve come to accept as fact.

And I honestly don’t know how exactly we’re supposed to counteract the spread of this hateful, ignorant misinformation, but I’m confident it requires an awful lot of empathy. And that’s empathy for people who, if I’m being fully honest, maybe haven’t earned the right to be shown much empathy. For example, if I saw a dingy pickup truck proudly boasting a confederate flag broken down on the side of the highway, I wouldn’t exactly be unhappy that those people were having a bad day.

So no, I don’t honestly think I’m a good enough person to muster up the requisite empathy needed to genuinely care about the struggle these people have in identifying non-problematic sources of information. And if you or anyone else you know simply can’t do it either, clearly, I don’t fault you at all.

I honestly don’t know how this problem ever gets rectified. I have a really hard time imagining a reality in which there isn’t a large section of the population believes all the misinformation they’re presented. And as long as misinformation continues to remain as popular as it is, there will always be many people who believe all these claims that are egregiously wrong. And this mass of people will always be able to, at the very least, significantly slow progress.

And the consequences of even slowed progress could be catastrophic. Some estimations predict that, within just 30 years, the number of people who will experience multiple consecutive days of extreme heat exceeding 125 degrees in the United States will increase by almost 100 million (The Atlantic).

There are so many problems in the world that are immediate, visceral problems, and many others that feel more abstract and existential. But they’re all just as real, and to limit the damage we’ve already inflicted, we need to act fast and we need to create policies quickly. I just hope misinformation doesn’t slow us down too much. I just hope misinformation doesn’t keep us from getting things done before it’s too late.

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