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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I think one of the lasting accomplishments of social media, the thing that archeologists will be studying when they dig our society out of the dirt thousands of years from now, will be the way that social media blurred and almost obliterated the line between fantasy and reality. There are people who are so anxious to believe anything that they will believe a Facebook hoax simply because an imaginary television station was attached to it. Are people really that easy to fool? They are now.

That line between reality and fantasy is what helped to keep sports a fun distraction and politics a serious venture. But ever since social media came along, sports has dominated the regular headlines and politics has become a circus. Not the kind of circus that sees power brokers facing off to try and get the next law passed that is detrimental to society, but the kind of circus where a bigoted billionaire suddenly becomes the presidential candidate of choice for millions of Americans.

I had a discussion online just today with someone who tried to tell me that President Obama had as much political experience when he first took office as Donald Trump and Ben Carson currently do. Obama was a junior senator from Illinois when he took office. He had years in state politics and a brief stint in the federal government as his foundation for experience. Donald Trump and Ben Carson have absolutely no experience holding a political office at all. But yet, this person insisted that Obama’s experience was the same as two guys who have no idea how politics really works. I was so dumbfounded that I just could not respond to that person’s statement.

These are the people who vote in presidential elections. Apathetic Internet users who believe every meme they read and never get past reading the headlines to any article. People who believe that an 18-year-old kid cannot do any worse as mayor of Lockport than someone with experience running the city or someone who has experience negotiating with unions for years because, well, I have no idea why.

People demand the truth from politicians and business people, yet absolutely no one checks facts. How the hell do you know if someone is lying to you if you never bother to look up the truth? A very simple Google search could have stopped this week’s Facebook hoax before it even got started. An intelligent and rational population would have looked up the details and found that the information was not true. Instead, the thing went viral faster than jokes about Tom Brady’s deflated balls. What does that tell you?

Here is what I have learned about Americans after observing social media for a very long time. Americans are eager to believe something that sounds so stupid that it just has to be true before they will take the time to learn and use facts. All NASA has to do is create a series of comical memes about life on Mars and, thanks to all of the recent information about water on Mars, everyone will believe that War of the Worlds is about to happen. Why? Because no one ever bothers to check the facts anymore. It is all about believing what is convenient and what fits your own beliefs.

Have you ever noticed that the ratio of real news stories that go viral compared to satire stories or made-up stories is heavily weighted in favor of misinformation? Why? Why are people inclined to believe a story from some made-up news outlet that insists that police officers arrested two people who tried to help someone get out of a car filling with water, instead of doing a quick Google search to see that the story is a fake and resurfaces every couple of years?

The problem with the Internet is anyone is allowed to put information out for mass consumption, regardless as to whether that information is accurate or not. There are way too many people who believe that stories from the satire website the Onion are true, no matter how ridiculous those stories may be.

There was a concern in the 1980s that video games and movies were dumbing down the American public. I used to ignore those concerns because I didn’t see any problems with the way our society was progressing. But now that everyone is posting their misinformation on social media and millions of people believe it, it looks like mission accomplished on setting back common sense by about 50 years.

+George N Root III is a Lockport resident who does not believe everything he reads on the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3 or send him a message at

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