Be the Change #3: Fake news

zzbethechangeThere’s a lot of hand-wringing on the Left since the election about how the Democrats lost so many working and middle class white voters.  There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that fake news played a role.

Fake news appears almost exclusively on social media.  It may have a tag line like “BREAKING NEWS” and the teaser headline is almost always shocking or inflammatory.  The actual “news” reported almost always turns out to be false or, at best, a distortion of the truth.

The Washington Post reports in this article that Russia put a lot of effort into planting fake news on American social media in the run-up to the election, almost all of it aimed at seeding doubt about Hillary Clinton in particular and our democratic process in general.

Even Facebook quizzes have a hidden agenda.  This article from the New York Times describes how your quiz answers are recorded, shared, and used to placed ads in your Facebook feed, not just for products that someone wants to sell you, but for political ads as well, tailored exactly to the kind of person they conclude from your answers that you are.  In other words, to manipulate you.

How can you tell the difference between actual news and propaganda?  Here are the criteria that I use:

  1. Does the news source present balance? Every news source has an editorial slant, but responsible news sources present facts that both support and cast doubt on their own position. Even their editorial pages will contain some dissenting commentary.
  2. Is this news source respected? Have they won awards for their journalism?  Are they quoted by other reputable news sources?  Has their reporting generally been proven accurate in the past?
  3. Is this news source editorially independent, or is it run by someone with an agenda?
  4. Are the same basic facts being reported elsewhere? Is detail provided?  If what you are reading has not been reported anywhere else and the detail is vague or lacking, what you are reading is probably not true.
  5. Is the language measured and reasonable, or is the tone frenzied, nasty and reductionist? Watch out for name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and for any language that makes you feel panicky, ESPECIALLY IF IT CONFIRMS YOUR BIASES AND HITS YOUR BUTTONS.  You are almost surely being manipulated by propaganda
  6. And, finally, stop and think: does this make sense?

Please be aware of where your news is coming from, particularly if you’re getting it from social media.  I get most of my news from NPR, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the New York Times.  I try to avoid clicking into news articles on Facebook.  When I make an exception, I always double-check the factual basis for what I read.  Some good fact-checking sources are Snopes, Politifact and Factcheck.  Politifact and Factcheck are also great for checking the accuracy of claims made by candidates and office-holders.

And here is a list of fake news sites.  This may not be comprehensive.  Doubt everything that is pushed to you on social media, even by friends!  Double check everything!  When your friends push fake news to you, help them become more alert to the dangers of propaganda by sending a Reply with a link to Snopes, Politifact or Factcheck.


Be The Change #2

zzbethechangeIn my previous post, I asked my readers to identify their most important American values and share what they will do to promote those values in their own lives.  One of my readers responded that he’s recommitting to his part-time work facilitating diversity-training sessions.

And that gave me an idea.  Here is your assignment for this week:  Have at least one conversation with someone from a different race, religion or ethnicity than your own.  For some, that will be really easy.  But if your workplace and neighborhood are both homogeneous, it might be hard.  Do it anyway.  Deliberately go someplace where you will come into contact with diverse people.  Go shopping, or just walk down the street, in a mixed neighborhood.  Ride a bus or subway.  I dare you.  Make eye contact, smile and say hello to someone who looks different from you.  Start a conversation in line or on the bus.  It can be about the weather, about the upcoming holidays, about an article of clothing the person is wearing.  Maybe it will feel artificial.  Do it anyway.  Maybe you will be rudely rebuffed.  If that happens, I give you permission not to draw the conclusion that “they” don’t want to talk to us anyway.  You have my blessing, instead, to try again with someone else.

Many minorities are feeling worried and insecure about the results of this election.  If you’re a white Christian who is rolling your eyes and thinking they have nothing to worry about, I think you are wrong.  But, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that you’re right.  In that case, prove it by reaching out.  Demonstrate that your position is correct, and they have nothing to fear.

Here are some small cross-cultural actions I’ve taken since Election Day:

  1. Started a conversation with a Western Asian family while we were on the hiking trail at Ohiopyle, about how beautiful the scenery was.
  2. Took a piece of cake to the African-American security guard in my building.
  3. Started a conversation with the African-American man who cleans our offices about whether he likes his job.

Every single one of those interactions was pleasant and gave my heart a warm little glow.

What will YOU do?  Let me know how this works out for you.  Post your results in a Comment on this blog, or message me on Facebook.


Happy 1662nd birthday, Saint Augustine!

16AugustineOn this date in 354, Aurelius Augustine, later known as Saint Augustine, was born in Thagaste, North Africa.  His mother, Monica, was a Christian.  His father, Patricius was a pagan and by all accounts an unfaithful and probably abusive husband.  They were an upper-class family with rights of citizenship in the Empire, but far from rich.  Patricius was a local official, which meant that he collected taxes and was responsible for public works and community governance. Part of his responsibility was to ensure that the locals didn’t rebel against the Empire in any significant way. Failure in this responsibility could result in his being fined into poverty or tortured.  Patricius was proud of his son, but could not afford to educate him.  Augustine’s education was financed by Romanian (whom I renamed Urbanus in my book because some early readers found the name Romanian confusing).  Romanian was Patricius’, and later Augustine’s, patron.  The patronage system was one of the backbones of late Roman life.  The patron of a peasant would be the owner of the land he farmed.  The patron of citizens of a small town like Thagaste would be a local official like Patricius.  The patron of a minor official like Patricius would be someone more powerful in the Roman government, and so on.  Your patron advanced your career when he could, provided financial help if needed, and advocated for you if you got into any legal trouble.  In turn, you were expected to show loyalty to your patron and do any favors requested of you.  Kind of like the Mafia, actually.

Romanian and Patricius recognized that Aurelius Augustine was a brilliant young man, and planned a career for him in civil service.  Monica hoped he would make his life in the church. Although he was not baptized until he accepted Christianity of his own free will in his 30s, Monica had enrolled him as a catechumen in the Christian church from childhood.  In those early days of the church, it was common to  be enrolled long before baptism, as it was believed that sins “counted” more after baptism.  Monica, of course, is the patron saint of mothers of rebellious children, and is famous for having “prayed” her son into the Church.  But in the meantime, young Aurelius had plans of his own….Read about them in my novel The Saint’s Mistress.


Be the Change #1

zzbethechangeI promised to post weekly about taking action in your own life to bend this nation in the direction of love, hope and justice.

Here’s what I think we all need to do first.  Whoever you voted for, think hard about what personal and community values your vote was based on.  What vision of America did you have in mind when you voted?

Write them down.

Now, narrow them down to the 2 or 3 that mean the most to you.

And now I have a message for you.

I don’t think many (if any) of my readers were Trump voters, but just in case…Your guy won.  But he’s not your sugar daddy.  He can’t “make America great again” all by himself.  Look at your 2-3 most important values.  What are YOU going to do about them in the next 4 years?

And for my fellow Clinton supporters…This loss was painful and crushing, partly because it was so unexpected.  Some of us are angry; some of us have been quietly mourning.  We don’t know what the next 4 years will bring, and that uncertainty is unsettling.  But, we can be certain of our own convictions and actions.  What will YOU do in the next 4 years to promote the kind of America we thought we lived in?

I was able to narrow my top 2-3 values down to a single word:  civility.  That one word sums up the notion of people living together in orderly, rational, truthful, and open-hearted communities, treating each other with respect, kindness and trust.  I am sad that we don’t have that as a nation right now.  But I pledge to behave that way in my own family, work place and communities.

What will YOU do?  Message me on Facebook or leave a comment on my site.  I would love to hear what others are doing, and will share the best ideas in future posts.


Take Heart

zzaugtimesI’m writing this on Saturday, November 5 before we know who won the election.  I will not change a word before publishing it on November 9.

If your candidate didn’t win, you probably feel like the world is a more unsafe place today than it was yesterday.   I have bad news for you.  The world isn’t a safe place.  It has never been safe and it never will be.  It has been less unsafe at some times than at others, but it has always been unsafe.  Loved ones die.  Wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes and hurricanes happen.  People are made prisoners or refugees.  Stock markets crash, planes crash, cars crash.

But the world is also a beautiful place.  We fall in love.  Babies are born and cared for.  The leaves turn green every spring and flame every fall.  We invent music and writing and dancing, rockets and computers and central heating, rule of law and constitutional government.

Human nature reflects that natural world that we are part of.  Good and evil battle constantly within us and without us.  I believe in a good God.  I believe that the essence of the universe is love.  I can’t know for sure if these beliefs of mine are objectively true.  But, I do know this for sure:  the only way to have a meaningful life is to live as if they are true.  The only way that love and hope win in the world is if love and hope win in individual hearts.

If love and hope win in our hearts, then we are not enemies no matter who we voted for.  Hate Trump if you want (I do).  Hate Hillary if you want.  But don’t hate your friends and family members who voted against your candidate.  Because, in the end, one of the candidates is in Washington, and your family and friends are right here in front of you.  And we are each other’s salvation.  My main character, Leona, in my novel The Saint’s Mistress, learned this in her hour of deepest grief and despair.  And I beg you, whoever you are and whoever you voted for, not to despair.  Start where you are, with kindness towards those closest to you.  Then spread it around.  That’s how we all win at life, no matter who wins the White House.

Look, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter.  It certainly matters who leads the most powerful country on the planet.  But the election is over.  The people have spoken, for good or for ill, and it’s out of our control now.  Control what you can.  Believe that the long arc of God’s plan for us bends toward justice, love and hope.  Then take courage and make it so.

Here is my commitment to you, my readers.  Every week for the next 52 weeks, I will suggest something that you can do to bend this world in the direction of love, hope and justice.  If you have ideas, please message them to me on Facebook or send them as comments on this blog post, and I’ll use them.  Some of them will have specifically to do with healing from this brutally divisive election. Some will be suggestions for local actions you can take if you are hurting and angry about the election results.  Most will have nothing to do with politics at all.  But I urge you not to just forget this election, even though you probably want to.  Whether you are happy with the result or not, take the passion that you put into the election and put it in the service of something shining and splendid and noble right in your own back yard.

 


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