On Facebook, I am that guy–the one who scrutinizes memes and articles for the faintest whiff of bovine excrement. I’m the one who replies with links to Snopes.com –even if their determination is that a story is partially true. I’m the first to point out that the Borowitz Report, Daily Currant, Landover Baptist Church, and Christwire are all satire sites.
They aren’t true. They make stuff up. They’re making jokes.
I don’t point out these errors because I want to be a high-and-mighty know-it-all, out to humiliate anyone who makes the slightest mistake in judgment. It is simply that I believe in the value of truth. I’m all for a good joke, but if the joke is being spread as actual facts, then it behooves me to set the facts straight before the lie is taken by all to be the truth. And it’s nothing that I don’t expect others to do with me–if I am wrong, I want to be called out and shown what is true.
But the fact remains that the satire gets passed on as truth. Most of the time, it eventually gets called out and everyone can get back on board with truth. But there is always the risk that a lie can perpetuate, and the consequences are too dire to allow that to happen.
There’s actually a rule of thumb, almost as old as the internet itself, called Poe’s Law, that explains why we fall so easily for these satire stories. The rule, simply put, is that, unless the writer goes out of his way to show that a satirical depiction of extremist views is indeed satire, it will be impossible to distinguish the satirical work from actual accounts of extremism. And, to be sure, sometimes when someone posts something that I think must be satire, it turns out to be true.
I ran into this issue a few weeks ago. A day before Governor Mark Dayton signed same-sex legislation into law in the state of Minnesota, word spread across Facebook that Representative Michele Bachmann would move out of the state if the Minnesota state senate passed the law, which Dayton had already vowed to sign.
This made a lot of people on my friends list ecstatic. She is not their favorite person, nor they hers. She has maintained her Congressional seat for six years, not because of her skill and prowess (her faux pas and outright lies are the stuff of legend), but because she benefits from a ridiculously gerrymandered district drawn specifically to include people who are guaranteed to vote for Not-The-Democrat.
But something just felt off about the story. I spotted the error almost immediately. It was published by the Daily Currant.
And so I spent a good chunk of time debunking the source as the article cropped up over and over and over. And over. Eventually, I had to just back away from the computer and get out of the house to actually celebrate the legislature’s passage of the bill. I went across to the street to a gay bar for a bit of conviviality I was to share with a friend, but our signals crossed and she ended up elsewhere. No matter–the mood was most celebratory in the bar, strangers singing and dancing and parading a rainbow flag around the bar.
Then someone brought it up: “Michele Bachmann said she’s going to move now!” And now, offline, I was stuck having to explain yet again that this was simply not true, without the benefit of linking to the articles that were already debunking the story. It was just little ol’ me, a stranger, my word against what “everyone” had told the guy.
And when I awoke this morning, I thought I was going to have to go through this all over again. I hopped onto Facebook, and the first news I saw was that Bachmann was not going to run for re-election. Here we go again, I thought.
Except that it’s true. And now, as she likely fades from the public eye, the bizarre relationship I have had with the woman draws to a close.
Now, I’ve never met Congresswoman Bachmann. She doesn’t know me. And I don’t live in her district. I live in the district next door to hers, whose representative is Keith Ellison, perhaps the most liberal member of the House of Representatives–in other words, nearly her diametric opposite. She has made all kinds of vile statements about gays–and thus, about me.
And yet, her outrageous lies about me and my friends (never mind other lies she’s told) brought about a pivotal point in my life. Here was someone who, though never having met me, hated me. She saw me as subhuman, as not her equal. And I saw all about me people whose response to her hatred was hatred. The notion was that they would stop hating her when she stopped hating them.
And this made absolutely no sense to me. It put the responsibility for one’s own actions on another person. That’s not how responsibility works. And because this other person–Bachmann–showed no signs of letting up on her views, it created a never-ending cycle of hatred.
So I decided that I had to be the one to make the first move in relation to her. I had to treat her as my equal even if she didn’t believe I was equal. I had to love her even if she hated me.
Look at the alternative. All around the world we see cycles of hate creating endless wars, putting us always in peril of making ourselves extinct. (A previous post gets into this idea further.) And the only way we can avoid this is if each of us makes the move to disrupt the cycle.
And so I have found myself repeatedly defending someone who hates me. I’ve received no small amount of flak in doing so. But I cannot escape the idea that she and I are inherently equal, and to insist she is inferior to me accomplishes no good, even as she declares me inferior to her.
She and I are equal–just as I am equal to my other seven billion siblings.
This is truth. And I must speak the truth.