It feels almost naïve in an election year to suggest that maybe we should all try to tamp down the angry political rhetoric in 2020. It seems a foregone conclusion that we’ll be exposed to venom and vitriol at record levels, especially as we get closer to November, and it’s likely to carry many of us along in the current.
But — we ask gently — if we can’t get a little kinder, can we at least get a little smarter?
Russia, along with American political operatives, will be pushing conspiracy theories, telling us that Joe Candidate said something terrible or did something untoward or believes something awful. And if 2016 is any indication, many will believe, uncritically. The efforts may not change a single vote — most already know whether they’ll go blue or red — but they will still lead to believing misinformation, also known as stupidity. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
Social media, which allows us to stay in touch with friends and appreciate adorable kittens and baby goats, is often a font of misinformation. It may be entertaining, but nothing produced by an anonymous source should be considered credible.
In October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his platform will not accept paid political ads this year. He said that political ads, including manipulated videos and the viral spread of misleading information, presented challenges to civic discourse, “all at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.” He said he worried that political ads had “significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.”
Spotify has followed suit.
That doesn’t mean that Twitter will be free of falsehoods, of course. Foreign agents will still create fake accounts and try to inflame anger and deceive readers.
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, said that he would allow politicians to run any claims — even false ones — in ads. He reasoned that Facebook had been founded to give people a voice and said his company stood for free expression.
Despite its attitude toward political ads, Facebook has taken steps to prevent fake news from being posted on its platform, but some observers say it’s not being rigorous enough. Again, if it sounds too good to be true …
It’s unfortunate that many won’t care. They’ll delight in the salacious claims, hit “share” and giggle.
Let’s shrug off the jade for a moment. We should all be devoted to learning, in 2020 and every year; devoted to bettering ourselves, but also, we should be thinking about the people whose paths we cross, many of them undernourished or otherwise underprivileged. Let’s help them, especially children, with our dollars and time. Our communities are a reflection of our desires, our efforts and our attitude toward others.
If nothing else this year, let’s take a cue from North Carolina son, songwriter Jim Lauderdale, who sings:
If the words come out before you think
You don’t know of what you speak
Then you come off sounding like a fool
Listen, listen, listen
Try not to talk for a while
Here at the Journal, we wish all our readers health and happiness in 2020. May you sleep well and travel with confidence. May you exceed your resolutions and receive the kindness with which you treat others.
And may we all find the time to read a few good books this year.