What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.

Donald J. Trump; 2018 speech to veterans group

‘Google it!” has become a parent’s standard response to questions their children might pose to them. The Google app has become something akin to a modern-day Oracle of Delphi. Ironically, although Greece was a male-dominant society, the Oracle of Delphi was always a woman (fun fact). Select male individuals could and would seek insights and information from the Oracle. Whatever the query, her response was considered infallible. 

In today’s world of seamless technological wizardry, the Oracle of Delphi has been replaced by huge data bases, like Google, that in a matter of seconds spit out answers to whatever question(s) are entered via the computer or phone. We tend not to question the answers coming from these impressive data bases and assume that if the response comes from the data base, it is accurate and fact-based. This assumed infallibility that we assign to these massive, yet non-validated, databases has given rise and credibility to the dueling conspiracy theories that dominate the national/global discourse. 

Anyone with a computer, and their platform of choice, can put opinions, lies, exaggerations and hateful speech into one of the popular databases or create their own database. The result is that political movements (right and left) create their own realities — the facts be dammed. 

Sadly, we are all victims of this “garbage in, gospel out” mindset. We usually limit our information to those sources that reinforce our biases. By the way, the tech giants reinforce this sole-source supplier of information concept via algorithms. Whenever you click “like” on something, the algorithm stores and searches for like material to send without your asking. Thus, one ends up with a flood of content that reinforces already existing biases. 

In addition to the social media sites that spew and reinforce what we want to believe, the constant drone of so-called opinion journalists, full of anger and bile, also do their part in promoting alternative facts and realities — in other words, lies and half-truths. Nowadays, who to believe and what to believe are a real challenge.

Case in point is the recent and shameful insurrection attempt spurred on by a sore loser who claimed without evidence that the election was stolen from him. Without a scintilla of evidence, this loser claimed that he had won the election by a “landslide.” Employing the readily available social media sites and mainstream media, he pre-emptively started this “big lie” even before a single vote had been cast in the election. Suddenly facts were irrelevant. All that mattered to his supporters was that he said he won. He methodically stoked the flames of anger and disappointment among his followers to the point of a treasonous assault on both the symbols and substance of our government.

We, as a nation, cannot survive in an environment where so-called free speech allows individuals to lie and inflame without consequence. Just because information and content are delivered via social media does not mean said information is true or factual. As one wag put it, we must stop truth decay. 

So the question remaining is how do we know what is truthful and what is fake? Well, I would submit that the truth has no agenda. The truth does not care who is offended or reinforced by its existence. The truth does not tell you how to act. It simply reveals to us what objective reality is. It doesn’t matter if we accept or reject the truth; it cannot be ignored. In the spirit of providing a perspective, if not a roadmap, I would suggest the following steps to separate fact from fiction and truth from lies:

1. Be extremely leery of information that starts with a conclusion based on someone’s ideological bent.

2. Always question both the source and intent of what is promoted as truth, whether you agree or are aligned with the source or not.

3. Independently seek to triangulate what you thought you heard or saw. In other words, check out at least three different sources of information.

4. Remember that to gain and grow their share of eyeballs, the media typically does not “pick sides, instead it creates sides.”

5. Check out international news outlets to see how they see us.

6. Trust your common sense. Never allow someone else to think for you.

7. Ask your children what they think about current events. You will be surprised at their level of awareness. Alternative facts don’t exist in their mind.

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