December 29, 2018

Who Cares if Nothing is Real?

The more extreme we become, the more people believe it. 
In this enlightening Washington Post article, we meet Christopher Blair, the author of the above statement; he lives in the woods in Maine, running the satirical Facebook page, America's Last Line of Defense. Even though the page makes it clear that it's satire (see the note below, one of the multiple disclaimers used), Blair's outlandish stories are liked and commented on over and over.
In that regard, they're treated in exactly the same manner that the president's tweets are -  liked and shared and commented on, over and over. The difference? The latter doesn't declare himself a satirist.

From the article:
In the last two years on his page, America's Last Line of Defense, Blair has made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former President Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. "Share if you're outraged!" his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked "like" and then "share,"most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair's page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55. 
With viewership spread to fake news sites with millions and millions of monthly visitors, according to the article, Blair was led to wonder how long it could go on.
No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back. Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they're being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?
Once, seeing a picture of Trump at a White House ceremony where two women - one black, one white - were behind the president, he circled the women and posted:
President Trump extended an olive branch and invited Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton. They thanked him by giving him the finger during the national anthem. Lock them up for treason! 
The women? Not Michelle and Chelsea - Omarosa and Hope Hicks. White House staffers, not bird-flippers (although, Omarosa did write that book...) 

Meanwhile,the article introduces us to Shirley Chapian, a 76-year-old living in Pahrump, Nevada who scrolls through her Facebook feed, liking and sharing posts she gets from right-leaning pages like Free Speech Patriots, Trump 2020 and Ban Islam, among others.

As I read about Chapian, what struck me is how easy it was to see her get sucked in. Many people believe "liberals were restricting free speech. Immigrants were storming the border and casting illegal votes. Politicians were scheming to take away everyone's guns." These are common themes, we know, from checking in on Fox News, Breitbart, and yes, the president himself, and from pretty consistent polling data, across multiple demographics.

As with Blair, the article gives us quite a big of background on Chapian, including that she wasn't a hard-core conservative until Barack Obama was elected, thinking him arrogant and inexperienced. And possibly a liar, and maybe he wasn't born here. That didn't jive with what she was seeing on the mainstream media, and she started seeking out alternative news sites to find out what she wasn't being told, ultimately following more than 2,500 conservative pages on Facebook. 

When she saw Blair's post about 'Michelle' and 'Chelsea'; it fit her opinion of the characters: Trump, a patriot, surely would invite the other two; Clinton and Obama -"demonrats" - would certainly act badly. She commented on the post, saying
Well, they never did have any class.  
Others commented too: the women were gross, and ill-bred trash; there were calls for putting them in jail (another nod to the power of the president's rhetoric). Blair's posted response to the comments was harsh, as were those of similarly-minded satire fans, who attacked Chapian and other believers. And that, really, was the point.
Beyond the money he earned, this was what Blair had conceived of as the purpose for his website: to engage directly with people who spread false or extremist stories and prove those stories were wrong. Maybe, after people had been publicly embarrassed, they would think more critically about what they shared online. Maybe they would begin to question the root of some of their ideas. 
I don't know if that's going to happen, though.  I know from personal experience that people - friends and family alike- fall for satire or fake news that's easily debunked literally as fast as you can Google the headline.

And, of course, our politicians (of both parties) and their champions - the satirists like Blair, the true believers like Alex Jones and others - share in this kind of nonsense, as if we're in some weird gang war with the goal of having an uninformed society that can be played with - and played - at will.

The article shows us how lies become the truth; the question is, how does the truth become the truth?

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