Facebook and the Art of Discernment

by Ken Mueller on February 1, 2012 · 20 comments

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I love social media. I really do. And I love Facebook.

But sometimes the ease of posting things on the platform is enough to make me run the other way. And I often have to stop myself from ranting at my friends for the stupidity of what they post. There. I said it.

Sadly, as we approach another presidential election, I might just have to turn my blinders on. You see, in many ways my group of friends on Facebook is rather diverse. I’d say that on the political spectrum my group of friends is pretty evenly dispersed from far left to far right. And those on the farthest left and farthest right seem to have one thing in common: they post all sorts of political statements, often in the form of images or graphs, as if they are gospel.

Case in point. This image is among the many I’ve seen making the rounds the past few days.

romney obama Facebook and the Art of Discernment

A lot of the pictures I see are juxtapositions like this, designed to prove a point. At first glance, it looks as though Mitt Romney is getting his shoes shined, while President Obama is giving a knuckle-touch to a cleaning guy. The implication is that Romney is privileged, wealthy, and out of touch, while the President is a man of the people. And whether or not you believe that is true, that’s not what is happening in the picture.

In the first picture, Romney is actually on an airport tarmac, having his shoes scanned with a wand as part of an airport security check. A very different story. There was no shoe shine.

You see, pictures, video, sound bites, statistics…they all can mean a lot of different things when taken out of context. What we see presented as fact on Facebook, or any other social channel is merely a snapshot; a moment in time, possibly captured out of context. And now, a lot of what is being shared on FB is what normally gets sent through those email forwards that drive everyone nuts. Don’t people check around or check Snopes or Google anymore before posting content? Just because something seems believable, and seems to bolster your cause, doesn’t mean it’s real. When you post things like that, I think it cheapens your cause. If you can’t stand on truth to post things that support your particular political or religious stance, then don’t post anything. It’s no better than an unreasoned rant.

Here’s another one:

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My friend Andi were talking about this the other day, and she shared this one with me, presumably it was originally created and shared by someone from a more conservative political bent, as a way of showing why capitalism is better than socialism. But really? Couldn’t you come up with something better?

Let’s break it down. Are the pictures really from the cities and dates that are shown? And even if they are, the left side pictures and right side pictures aren’t from the same location over time. And do you mean to tell me that all of Havana or all of Hong Kong looks like that? I’m betting I could go into either city and find pictures of both opulence and poverty to illustrate just about anything. I could take shots in either city to show that socialism works better than capitalism.

And yet we see things that seemingly support our opinions and beliefs, and we share them. Without checking. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

And this can be done without even photoshopping and image. Add a little manipulation and we can improve on the story. Massage a few statistics and throw them in, and you’ve got yourself a convincing “proof” of your point of view.

Does this really enhance and create dialogue surrounding issues? What is the source of the information? Is it reliable? Do they have an agenda,even if it’s the same as our own? Is there any real context?

We need to learn to ask these questions as we see things around the web, and certainly before we share them. By sharing them we are rubber-stamping them and lending credence to the source. We are saying, “I believe this to be true and it’s important enough for me to share.” Goodness knows we have enough negativity out there, why can’t we promote our beliefs with some positivity, rather than seeking to tear others down to make ourselves look better?

Oh, and I’ve got at least one more good political rant in me, but that can wait until closer to the election…

Think before you share. Think before you comment. Take some time to Google to find out if someone, somewhere, is playing hard and fast with the truth.

 

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20 comments
ifdyperez
ifdyperez

Wow, really enjoyed your post. Will be sharing. :)

Inkling Media
Inkling Media

I couldn't quote everything, which is why it was quoted anonymously...

Andrew Pickett
Andrew Pickett

think before you comment is good advice. even if you are engaging in a conversation on a friend's personal timeline realize that he may selectively quote you in an uncharitable light on his business site.

justashcraft
justashcraft

I agree their @KenMueller . The sad thing is, most people, especially people who are passionate about their politics tend to use "Shock Treatment" to prove their point. While it may sound, look, or seem emotional and true at first, it really is not true. Check your facts peeps, then post.

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Brad Aldrich
Brad Aldrich

Very wise! I hate to see distortions like these! I've seen them on both side of the isle, however I even have to admit to myself that the ones from the opposite side seem to get under my skin quicker. Guess that is the bias you were talking about, looking for things to prove our views rather then looking for the truth.

Thanks for your post!

RebeccaCicione
RebeccaCicione

Ah yes!! Love this post. I've seen the first picture multiple times and it never made sense to me why someone could take something so out of context and so easily post it on the Internet. Although I didn't know it was a wand until I read this. That makes it even worse!

Facebook is a simple way to spread your ideals and key messaging points - but the fact that it's so easy also makes it dangerous. No one thinks before they post things (I'm sure I'm included in this at times!) "Hard news" that's been fact checked is so very rare!

GiseleNavarro
GiseleNavarro

Same thing happens to me with Argentinian politics and my Facebook friends. I had to create different lists just to make sure those insanely misinformed and totally one-sided propaganda images shared by all the 'kirchneristas' dissapear from my stream. It's hard because they don't check on the facts nor are open to discuss any of their beliefs. And both sides (kirchneristas and antikircheristas) make use of the negativity surrounding their competitors instead of pushing for their own positive attributes. I won't unfriend my brother, but I did move him to a list I try to ignore...

Shonali
Shonali

I think I'll be "unsubscribing" from quite a few people on Facebook (it takes a lot for me to completely unfriend someone). In fact, I already have. I don't have patience to deal with this kind of stuff, and no, most people don't head to Snopes or even do a search for the topic/story/rant/whatever...

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Brad Aldrich I've tried very hard not to let my particular "bent" color my thinking on this, and it really irritates me from both sides. It wasn't always this way, but I'm really dreading the next few months as the political campaign heats up!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@RebeccaCicione I think we've all done that. We just need to be more careful and think things through before we post.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali I do my best to ignore people. I won't unfriend. Might unsubscribe. But I have another rant about this in the works as well, but that will be closer to the election. I think.

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