St George News

Perspectives: Well-intentioned lies are spreading misinformation

OPINION – Social media has its advantages. For instance, it’s astonishing to reconnect and stay in touch with friends I’ve known since kindergarten who are currently scattered all across the country.

When an unexpected need arises, it’s becoming common to see a call distributed throughout social media to rally family, friends, and acquaintances for help moving, a ride somewhere, or picking up or dropping off a package in another city. Good and bad news travels faster than ever thanks to our interconnectedness.

Of course, the downsides of social media are also a reality.

Cyber-bullying and gossip are two of the more visible symptoms of how our social networks can be abused. A less obvious but highly destructive trend is the sharing of misinformation or disinformation through social media.

This is where folks who are well-intentioned but lazy when it comes to fact-checking can unwittingly spread lies and deception by being a little too trigger happy when they click the “share” button. They further the efforts of fear mongers and hate-peddlers who define themselves purely by their enemies.

A prominent example of this can be seen in attempts to use the conflicts in the Iraq, Israel, and Syria to stir up anti-Muslim hysteria. One of the more horrific accusations featured a photo of a smiling bearded man in Iraq with his arm around a crying seven year old girl.

The story that accompanied the photo claimed that the distraught child was the man’s new bride and intimated that he, and by extension, other Muslim men were eager child molesters. This accusation was being used as a rallying cry to condemn and destroy an entire religion.

I watched as this story was shared over and over again on Facebook with predictable arias of outrage accompanying each posting. But the story being told was a lie as can be seen by watching the video from which the photo was lifted.

The little girl was simply reciting a passage from the Koran and became embarrassed when she faltered. The man with his arm around her was offering comfort to a child who felt self conscious after making a mistake in front of a crowd. How desperate must a person be to concoct a perverted lie in order to advance their own twisted agenda?

Perhaps there’s a reason that they cannot sell their propaganda on its own merits.

To paraphrase Milton: Since when does truth need propping up when put to an honest comparison with falsehood?

I wonder how many of those who shared the original distortion went back and posted a correction when the real video surfaced to set the record straight. This is where a true test of our personal character can be found.

It’s one thing to unknowingly spread false or misleading information when our passions have been inflamed. It’s quite another to be faced with proof that we have engaged in bearing false witness and then allowing the falsehood we spread to stand.

It shows that we are more willing to cling to false beliefs than we are to embrace truth when presented with it.

C.S. Lewis warned of the dangers of this kind of moral relativity in “Mere Christianity” when he wrote:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

At any given moment, there are enough factual examples of man’s inhumanity to one another without compounding the problem by allowing others to maliciously direct us into despising others based upon lies and misinformation. Those wrongs cannot be fixed by allowing ourselves to participate in spreading deception.

A good rule of thumb when we feel our ire start to rise is to ask ourselves what we know for ourselves about the particular person or situation that didn’t come from someone else.

When we honestly assess what we know versus what we’ve been told, it becomes much tougher for charlatans to use fear-based propaganda to stampede us in a predictable direction.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2014, all rights reserved.

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  16 Comments
  1. Retired Trooper August 14, 2014 at 2:54 pm · Reply

    Brian you as guilty of this as anyone, but it was not the internet it was on your morning radio show several years age.

    People were calling in about how the highway Patrol was doing too many searches of vehicle in the area. A man called in and spoke of a black man stopped on the ridge with all his belonging out of the car. Another one called in and complained that a rental truck was stopped and the people were standing around with the back doors open.

    And you said that was two examples of the officers stepping on people rights.

    The first one was a Baptist Minister coming from a convention in Las Vegas and had a flat tire and My Sgt was helping change his tire. And the luggage had to be removed to get to the spare tire.

    The second one was a family had rented the truck but when returning it had most of the family riding in the back with the door part way open and it was stopped for the safety issue of the people inside not for a search.

    When we honestly assess what we know versus what we’ve been told, it becomes much tougher for charlatans to use fear-based propaganda to stampede us in a predictable direction.

    Wished you have done that back then.

    • mesaman August 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm · Reply

      Don’t you hate it when someone steps up to report facts instead of allegations. By the way Brian, have you seen the photo of an Australian muslim and his seven year old son holding the head of one of their victims?

  2. Bobber's Brain August 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm · Reply

    Describes all political parties to a tee!

  3. Brian August 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm · Reply

    I routinely fact-check forwarded emails I get from well-meaning friends. It’s a hobby now. Easily 90% of them turn out to be falsehoods, fabrications, or manipulations within less than 5 minutes of scrutiny. It’s very disappointing, especially when there is so much verifiable facts to be ticked off about. There is a lot of conspiracy FACT going on right now, without muddying the waters with conspiracy theories. Lame, hollow comment from Bobber in 3… 2… 1…

  4. Ron August 14, 2014 at 3:38 pm · Reply

    Excel1ent, Bryan. How easy it is to buy into misinformation that supports our beliefs, fears, and prejudices. And how hard it is to admit it when we’ve taken the bait. This goes for the Right, Left, and everything in between.

  5. Billye August 14, 2014 at 3:48 pm · Reply

    I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time . I so totally agree. Good article.

  6. JAR August 14, 2014 at 5:12 pm · Reply

    Excellent Point Mr. Hyde.
    (You should see some articles circulating about you).

  7. mesaman August 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm · Reply

    When someone presents indisputable facts it often collides head on with some else’s allegations. Do you agree, Brian? Facts, per se, do not lie, but people who use information after conforming the facts to their personal agenda tell distortions. Some people refer to them as lies.

  8. McMurphy August 14, 2014 at 7:14 pm · Reply

    Another example of the harm caused by misinformation — the invasion of Iraq.

  9. killjoy August 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm · Reply

    Does this story with its points of lies and fabrications only fit people from other countries? I have seen so many DA*# lies and falsehoods spread about the people from Hildale/Colorado City that beggar belief. It makes reason stare. The lies and falsehoods are so far off base. But, this little information is not going to make those who love to spread hate and lies change their false opinion.
    I too had been taught to hate/dislike the Flds people. Then I learned the truth and I’m very ashamed of myself.

  10. Really? August 15, 2014 at 5:50 am · Reply

    I agree with the story, good to see Brian is acknowledging this is a problem. I hope in the future he will take his own words of advise before writing articles about what his friends have told him, or what he reads on the internet. Normally I am commenting against Brian, but his last few articles have been pretty good.

    • Roy J August 15, 2014 at 1:50 pm · Reply

      I am going to agree with REALLY? on this one and say that I would also like to see Bryan Hyde apply these principles to his own writings and research first. I would also like to ask those here who have read C.S. Lewis or Milton, but especially those who have read ‘Mere Christianity': does Bryan’s appeal to authority here actually apply? Do you think Bryan has read ‘Mere Christianity’? I would supply my own answer, since I have read alot of C.S. Lewis, and not a little of Milton, but I would like to see how many others are actually taking Bryan’s appeals to authority seriously, or are paying attention.

  11. KOOLAID August 15, 2014 at 11:41 am · Reply

    Let’s ask about a few Utah noted people such as Shurtleff, Swallow, Hatch, Lee and even local city council boys

  12. GRAPE KOOLAID August 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm · Reply

    WHEN I THINK OF WELL INTENTIONED LIES THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO MIND IS A MAGICAL ANGEL THAT TOLD A DULL-WITTED FARM BOY IN UPSTATE NEWYORK WHERE TO FIND SOME MAGICAL GOLD PLATES BURIED IN THE WOODS…

    • Koolaid August 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm · Reply

      Maybe the believe that Jesus didn’t turn water to wine but instead turned water into the koolaid they continue to drink.

  13. ItsTrue August 16, 2014 at 9:36 am · Reply

    I think a perfect example of this in our area was the Bundy fiasco. I saw so many people sharing “information” on Facebook that was a complete lie. Things like Reid wanting the property to build a power plant with China, lots of anti-government crap, etc. That misinformation which so quickly spread across the net, and it played a big part in turning the situation dangerous. Some of the worst violators of spreading misinformation are older retired folks who have nothing better to do than sit in front of their computers for hours a day. A good portion of my Facebook friends in that situation are the ones doing exactly what this article says.

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