Here’s The Thing About Fake News

It’s been some time since I wrote any kind of editorial on my blog, but I feel that this particular issue is pressing and relevant. Especially in light of my recent experiences with high school students. 

Twilight-zone-season-1-22-the-monsters-are-due-on-maple-streetA few months ago, I began substitute teaching with the local school district. One afternoon, I went in for a high school English teacher who left plans for her classes to watch an episode of the Twilight Zone titled, “Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” They were also to read an article that prefaced the backstory of the episode: Communism and the Red Scare. While the episode was about a neighborhood falling into chaos because they believe there are aliens among them preparing for an invasion, the point was that it’s never wise to point fingers.

As I talked to a few students who had questions about their worksheet (based on the episode), many of them were surprised to learn that the Red Scare has repeated itself. Not only once, but on numerous occasions.

One of the earliest events I pointed to was during the Black Death in the 1300s. Jews were often blamed for the disease because they weren’t getting sick as frequently as their European neighbors (they had better hygiene). Another is the Salem Witch Trails were neighbors accused one another of witchcraft (men and women alike) for a variety of reasons, in the hopes of seeing those they disagreed with hang. Before the Red Scare, we did it with the Japanese during WWII – naturally, every Jap was a spy? Germany did it with the Jews  in the Holocaust (hello, more antisemitism. It was in the US too, believe it or not). And most recently, I’ll even venture to say we saw it again in the 2000s, in the wake of the spike in terrorism from muslim extremists. The fear of the muslim community was/is very real (Though I won’t delve further into this – it’s part of a longer conversation – I will say that blanket statements/assumptions are never a good idea).

So, this begs the question – why haven’t we learned from history? Why do we have to copy it over and over again?

I think it begs the question, where are you getting your information from? 

If these students were paying attention in their history classes, they might have known. I don’t think that their teachers are leaving out significant parts of history. But I’m fairly certain that when those events took place, the people hadn’t learned from the past. They didn’t think for themselves. The voice they listened to was coming from somewhere else.

And hang in with me here… I think Trump might have a point about fake news. Not necessarily because what’s being reported isn’t based on current events. I think it is. But I think we’re getting our facts about the world around us from something called, “group think.” 

Group Think (noun).

1. The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.

2. A Psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in a group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

Well, that’s interesting.

Let me ask you a simple question… Think of the last current event you heard about. Who was the first source you encountered? Best case, a credible news source. Possibly a politician who fed you a party line. And if it was a celebrity who copied and pasted or paraphrased something another celebrity said, I wouldn’t be surprised. Especially if they told you how to think about or respond to the event. Anything along the lines of, “I’m outraged about this and you should be too,” should sound familiar.

And hear me out. I’m not saying that their personal response is right or wrong. But:

If you called your representative and read a script without questioning it… 

If you gave that same opinion to someone else without researching it yourself…

If you donated to a cause without looking into the foundation’s credibility…

If you voted according to your party’s doorhanger without researching the ballot yourself…

There’s an issue here. Because, when we all think alike, then no one is thinking.

The news might not be fake, but our understanding of it might be. 

One thought on “Here’s The Thing About Fake News

  1. Lynn says:

    Well said Emily! My decades-younger nephew and I had a conversation about the recent mid-term candidates and elections and he offhandedly said that “people are paying too much attention to . . . . ” I replied that I don’t think younger people are paying enough attention and they are not remembering history. (part of our discussion involved Dem vs Repub candidates’ positions on several issues, including refugees, immigration, and immigration reform)

    Liked by 1 person

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