Soul searching for truth
I’ve been thinking a lot about truth these days. In the current environment of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” hyperbole and outright lying, it’s hard to discern truth. Three things I read this week – on Facebook and newsletters to which I subscribe – really brought the problem home.
On Facebook, I read some disturbing claims about ongoing perks for the Obama family, so I decided to do some research. It didn’t take much “Googling” to learn that these false stories have been making their way around the Internet for some time. They get recycled by new people, and they are still untrue!
I subscribe to The Sift, an online newsletter published for educators by the News Literacy Project. The newsletter includes doctored photos and fake stories as teaching tools. This week there was an article about one Democratic presidential candidate who has hired people, for $2,500 a month, to promote him via pre-approved text messages and social media posts. As a result, dozens of identical posts appeared, and Twitter suspended 70 accounts.
Yashar, the newsletter of The Mussar Institute features the middah (soul trait) of truth, emet, as its theme this month. Editor Jason Winston writes, “Society once agreed on who were the gatekeepers of fact: journalists, historians, and broadcasters of unquestioned integrity. No one doubted that Walter Cronkite told the truth, right?…Yet that’s not our world today. “
So how do we tell fact from fiction?
Last fall I had the privilege of serving on the Media Literacy Advisory Committee, formed as a result of Rep. Lisa Cutter’s bill passed by the Colorado Legislature. The committee’s charge was to develop recommendations for implementing media literacy in schools through revising state standards in reading, writing and civics.
One of my “ah ha” moments occurred when we interviewed some students. They saw themselves as consumers, but not necessarily producers of news. Yet by sharing information on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, they are indeed daily producers of news. We all are. So we all have an obligation to be truth-seekers and truth-tellers.
I shamefacedly admit that I have shared a few stories on Facebook, posted by respected friends, only to learn later that the information was false. So I have pledged not to share any “news” item until I verify through multiple, trusted sources. And I have decided not to further the current trend toward lack of civility by sharing negative posts, though sometimes it’s very tempting.
Instead, I’ll aim to bring my Mussar practice into truth-seeking by listening to all sides, seeking multiple viewpoints and honoring every person, even those with whom I vehemently disagree. Another way to grow my soul will be to confront, kindly and appropriately, those who spread false information. As Alan Morinis writes in Yashar, “When falsehood is being used to disadvantage, if not outright hurt, other people, we are individually obligated to be vocal in defense of truth.”
Will you please help hold me accountable?