Best of 2012: Facebook and the Art of Discernment

by Ken Mueller on December 28, 2012 · 3 comments

Don't You Lie to Me

Continuing my series of the top posts of 2012 here on the blog, this one was originally published back in February after getting fed up with some things I was seeing on Facebook. And I think the post was popular because it resonated with a lot of you because of those same frustrations, much of which really bubble to the surface in the final months of this year’s presidential election campaign. Sadly, the first image that I talked about in the post back in February, also made the rounds of Facebook quite a bit in October and November.

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 picture

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:

Havana and Hong Kong

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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