Are We All Wrong?

I think most of us have been there. Look at this article that I found on Facebook, says your irate grandmother. The title? New Bill Would Require Officers to Call Supervisor Before Drawing Weapons.

That story, which was shared all across Facebook and the internet, alleged that democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris was sponsoring this legislation that she supposedly says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allow officers to check their privilege.

I hope it’s obvious to all of you by now that this story and the website it was originally posted on is wholly satirical. Why, then, are our parents and grandparents so much more likely to believe and share fake news online? Are they just stupid?

I don’t think so. I think the first thing to consider is the differences in media consumption between the generations as they grew up. Our grandparents were fed a diet of largely non-partisan television news anchors who sought to deliver the news in a way that appealed to everyone. After all, there were only five or so channels. They knew then that if they tuned in, they were largely being told credible information.

Let’s contrast that with Generation Z. Nicknamed the iGen for our affinity for smartphones, most of our first experiences with independent information collection (outside of school) were with smartphones or computers. Most of us then learned fairly quickly that the internet isn’t the most trustworthy place for information. Many were taught in schools directly how to find credible information and understood, at least on a surface level, that anyone with $10 can make a website.

Add to that the change in the traditional media landscape with vast increases in networks that all try to pander to different sides, and what results is an ingraining in each of us a distrust for many who try to feed us information. We’re (understandably) cynical.

Our grandparents developed a trust for reporters, as really all of those five stations they had access to were credible. The result is that our grandparents are more likely to believe that so long as a story is delivered in a manner that at least mimics journalism, it is credible.

So that’s it! Our generation is better!

Not quite. Generation Z faces a different problem. As I said before, many of us were taught in schools how to find information. We’re very good at finding the information that we want to find, and that’s exactly the problem.

Let’s say I’m a liberal in Gen Z and I think that Trump should be impeached. Many with this belief would google “Reasons why Trump should be impeached,” and often would be delivered exactly what they asked for. The information might even be credible, but of course they are only getting one side of the story.

We’re so good at finding exactly what we want, arming ourselves with facts that may all be true, while unknowingly ignoring things that we think might challenge our views. And when we go to debate other people, often their facts are true too, but we’re both missing sides of the story that we would have if not for our incredibly pointed search queries and carefully curated webpages.

The internet is a beautiful place, and you’re sure to find something that supports your views if you search well enough.

Slowly but surely Gen Z is becoming very similar to their grandparents in that their information diet is toxic and an echo chamber. For better or for worse, we’re the best at finding information and have more access to it than any generation before us. The question now is whether or not we choose to suffocate in our bubbles.

The Privilege of Silence

I couldn’t vote during the 2016 Presidential election, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t following it closely. My preferred candidate was Bernie Sanders, but we all know how that turned out.

When I found myself grimacing at the two frontrunner candidates for our nation’s highest office, I had but one thought: Well, the Presidency doesn’t really matter, nothing will change regardless.

I was only half right. Nothing would change – for me. The next year I pulled back my political participation, no longer reading articles and trying to stay informed, as I thought it was a waste of time because none of the news was truly impactful for me.

It didn’t dawn on me for awhile that the ability to just tune out what our government was doing is an extreme privilege. Now, I don’t come from a rich family. We’re upper middle class at best, but both my parents have secure jobs. However, this security has almost sheltered me from what it’s like to truly depend on a candidate like Bernie Sanders to help push for policies that could change my life.

For me, the 2016 Presidential election was just a fun joyride. For others, it was literally a death sentence due to an administration that hasn’t passed any meaningful healthcare reform. It was a life sentence for those still incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses, in a system that seeks profit instead of rehabilitation.

2020 is coming up fast, and I realize now that while I have the privilege to stay silent, I won’t be. No matter your views, I encourage you to be vocal and do your best to speak up for those that need it the most.

Why I Don’t Argue Online Anymore

We live in a time where people are able to share in one second the thoughts that they dreamt up in two seconds. This can be beautiful but it can also be quite problematic.

Often times I’ll find myself on Instagram, whose Explore feature likes to oscillate between showing me hardcore communist propaganda and tea party conservative memes. No matter the side of the spectrum though, invariably I’ll see a claim such as House rep. Ilhan Omar is a terrorist or graphs that play tricks on the reader to suggest one thing when really the data represents the complete opposite.

When I was twelve, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would engage the kind of people that post misinformation online. I would debate them until we were both blue in the face, at the end both of us still resolute in our beliefs. My (limited) personal experiences tell me that most people, especially as they grow up, don’t change their beliefs or principles unless something major happens in their life. Me arguing with a homophobe probably won’t be fruitful – until one of their close and most respected friends comes out to them, showing them that not all gays are bad. Convincing a person that deep into their beliefs and prejudices isn’t a challenge I like to take up anymore.

What I learned however was that debate (competition) has never been about convincing the other person. It’s about the judge. The spectator. The person who is also looking at those Instagram comments – maybe someone who hasn’t yet made up their mind – and now sees a discourse that presents more nuanced information that they can follow and make their own judgement on.

When I see misinformation nowadays, a random claim or misuse of statistics, I don’t engage with the poster directly because they often will get defensive and the conversation will be fruitless. I do however like to leave other sources, information, and my opinion on why the OP’s information might be skewed or inaccurate in an attempt to let their audience see the other side.

A last thing I like to keep in mind when commenting online so that things stay classy is that I’m arguing against a point not a person.