Debunking Can't Defeat Disinformation
If this is a war, there needs to be offense
Disinformation kills people. It isn’t just an inconvenience or a bother or merely a political problem. Intentional lying and the promotion of falsehoods has killed thousands of Americans over the past twenty years, ranging from thousands of lives lost to lies about weapons of mass destruction to hundreds of thousands of lives lost to falsehoods about COVID-19.
So why do we think merely checking facts is enough when it comes to this dangerous issue?
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Fact checking is important and vital. We need to compare claims and allegations to objective truth and issue rulings on what is real and what is not. Just throwing up our hands and arguing that there are “two sides” to everything is both stupid and deadly.
But fact checking in and of itself is not a true endgame.
Yet in general, liberals tend to act as if this is the case. Responding to disinformation by pointing to a fact check often seems like the most work that liberals are willing to do.
Once an allegation is made it is nice to cite one of the many fact checking sources out there to disprove a claim. Great, the allegation is a “pants on fire” level lie. The Washington Post gave the spurious rhetoric multiple Pinocchios on its scale of truth. Great.
That only goes so far. It’s only a very small part of the battle.
A fact check is a useful tool to arrest the spread of a lie. It is unlikely in today’s polarized world that a fact check will change the mind of a dedicated conservative super-spreader of disinformation, but fact checks can be useful to convince those stuck in the middle of political warfare that the lie being offered isn’t true.
But then what? Just more fact checking? Just more deflection of incoming fire in a barrage that, aided by institutions like Fox News that are nothing but concentrated disinformation, is never ending?
There needs to be more. In addition to fact checking, liberals need to also dedicate themselves to launching their own thoughts and ideas into the arena of ideas.
This doesn’t ever mean they should just make up things as much as the right, but ceding the stage to only those intent on offering up bad faith has not worked out. Again, it’s led to a massive death toll.
The truth needs to get a boost too. It needs to become viral and something that people want to circulate with the same vigor that dark forces are using to amplify the latest batch of fakery.
For a long time there has been blind faith in the notion that the truth can just stand on it’s own. After all, it’s The Truth, right? How could you question The Truth?
But that’s an idealistic assessment in the real world. The truth needs to be hyped at a minimum at the same decibel that the untruth is promoted, and ideally the truth should have even louder rhetorical firepower on its side.
In a war over information, reality needs to be hyped. We can’t just fact check our way into a better world. The truth needs advocates. Loud ones.