A Modest Proposal: Don’t Give Them Oxygen

The previous couple of posts have dealt with the disastrous turn of events at Twitter, which has slipped far over the border into fascist territory. If you’re still spending time there (as, alas, I do myself in order to keep abreast of developments) you may be tempted from time to time to chime in and set the record straight when someone posts something patently false. Most of the time, it’s not a good idea to do so — in the first place, for the same reason that it’s not a good idea to argue with your Fox-addled uncle. You’ll never, ever ever change the mind of a true believer. Never. N-E-V-E-R. It is impossible, as Jonathon Swift observed, to reason someone out of something that they never were reasoned into.

Second, it only encourages them. People who spread crazy rumors and claims are seeking validation, attention, reaction, altercation. Why should you give it to them? All they’ll do then is crow about how they “triggered” a liberal.

And third, it’s important to remember that on social media, every interaction, every like, comment and retweet, helps boost the poster’s visibility. The algorithm elves tend to think that anyone who gets a lot of interaction should be bumped up to the head of the pack so they can elicit even more interaction. And you don’t want to help promote the career of a misinformer, do you?

Still, there are times when you might want to make an exception to the cold shoulder policy. If there is a particularly egregious bit of misinformation posted by someone who already has high visibility, you might want to make a response to it — on the premise that it will be seen by a great many people, not all of whom will be hardcore extremists and actually might listen to reason. And if the poster already has a really high visibility, then you’re not helping catapult them into the public eye (although you might be helping them stay there). And certainly you should not interact with them any more frequently than you deem crucial.

It’s also a good idea to avoid even saying the names of the hucksters any more than necessary. Some time ago, I decided to stop spreading the name (and even the undoctored image) of the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant. He’s all about building his brand, and he knows that there is no such thing as bad publicity. So ideally, we don’t give him, and others cut from his cloth, any publicity at all.

There are exceptions to this rule as well. It might sometimes be quite difficult and awkward, for instance, to talk about Dennis Prager or PragerU without mentioning them by name. If you merely say something like “that bloviating blowhard and his organization for systematically indoctrinating the young and gullible”, people well might wonder which one and which one.

There are, however, a great many of his hangers-on who aspire to be just as well-known as he is, and he is providing a platform for them, grooming them to claim a chunk of the grift. He particularly likes to recruit members of demographic sectors not normally known for being right-wing (e.g., African-Americans, Jews, gays, college students, even Muslims) and enticing them to prostitute themselves for his cause. A case in point is a certain black female Youtube hack known for desk-pounding accusatory rhetoric and willingness to say absolutely anything in an effort to provoke outrage. (She’s suggested that Hitler wasn’t so bad, she called the Southern Strategy a “leftist myth”, and she made a “documentary” dishonestly attacking Black Lives Matter.) These people all can be safely ignored about 99 percent of the time.

It’s important to remember, however, that just because we ignore the bottom feeders and minimize the attention we afford those at the top of the chain, that doesn’t mean we should ignore their campaigns of disinformation. They’re spreading some very dangerous lies these days, so it’s crucial to counter them with the truth as frequently and widely as possible. But the emphasis should be on the facts and not the lies. And we don’t have to give the misinformers credit for the lies they spawn or propagate.

They’re counting on you to give them more oxygen. Seal the door on them instead.

3 comments

  1. I’ve always kj d of gone with The Fogbow’s slogan that “Falsehoods gone unchallenged only fester and grow”

    Just just talking about something give it credibility?

    • It’s certainly important to challenge falsehoods. But after a certain amount of exposure, more exposure just helps them grow. The trouble is that this exposure often entails repeating without debunking.

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