Facebook fuels an addiction to outrage

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Posted 8/29/17 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

By Sunday night, I’d had it. While watching the movie, “The Kingsman,” whose villain supplies free SIM cards to people so he can trigger a cataclysm in which a whole bunch of people kill each other to “cull” the population, I was using commercial breaks to check my Facebook feed.
I found disturbing reports about the search for the young Fargo woman now confirmed dead -- people were posting erroneously about the search early in the evening -- along with disturbing images from Hurricane Harvey -- where people were quick to blame everyone they could think of for some elderly folks sitting in waist-deep water -- to a post purporting to be of Antifa generals -- all having the appearance of mutants.
Honestly! What possesses people to post some of this stuff?
Having already written a column earlier in the day about the need for the media to do a better job of engendering trust, it dawned on me that everyone now wants to be the guy or gal giving the news. But a lot of the ‘news’ people are sharing is either false or clearly, propaganda.
A few days ago a high school friend posted that billionaire George Soros was an SS soldier under Hitler. My thought, “So is he 103 or what?” 
I turned to Wikipedia and learned Soros’ was born in 1930. He would have been a tender 13 years of age by the height of WWII.
On Sunday, thankfully, this same women admitted her error, sharing a snopes.com link. Grudgingly, she allowed, she hated to defend Soros.
My question, as I view many of the posts from the 450-odd “friends” I have on Facebook is:  What possesses you to share some of this stuff in the first place?
Growing up, I watched the original “Star Trek” show. There was a rule the Enterprise crew followed: Wherever possible, they tried not to influence the development of societies different than theirs. Of course, they always did. But it was the fact they tried -- that was the thing.
I believe the same is true of journalism. Modern journalism is based on maintaining objectivity. That means trying to give voice to opposing viewpoints. Like the crew of the Enterprise, however, journalists can fall short of the mark. People are so fed up, they apparently feel compelled to craft their own narrative -- one that makes more sense to them than what they see on national news networks.
Lately, I’ve taken to calling out the people sharing clearly biased or misleading “news” -- either asking them to cite their sources or provide a link to support a claim.
In one case, a woman asserted the whole Charlottesville rally was staged, based on the YouTube recording of an unidentified man, in an unidentified location, claiming to have heard from an eyewitness that both Black Lives Matter and KKK demonstrators rode the same buses into the city.
When I asked her how she could form an opinion based on the unverified statements of an anonymous man, she answered, “It’s not any more arbitrary than what the news is trying to shove down our throats.”
This is what we’ve come to -- a time when the national media has become so polarized, people will believe an anonymous guy with a cell phone over people who are trained to gather facts and present them, as best they can, without bias.
A Harvard paper has made a study of this phenomenon. The scholarly conclusion? The only way to combat the distrust is for every news organization to do a better job. That means named sources. Documented evidence. Less commentary. 
It’s time for those networks filled with more bombast than facts to consider whether ratings justify the continued spin. 
Like the crew of the Enterprise, journalists need to stick to their mission -- advocating for the public, speaking truth to power; protecting democracy, instead of helping tear it apart.
If we fail in this quest, no villain will be needed to put us at each other’s throats. Facebook has become America’s crack pipe, and too many of us are willing to ingest information that’s as harmful as the deadliest drug.