The internet is full of facts

The most ironic thing about all the misinformation that is passed around on social media is the fact that the very technology that allows you to share ideas at the touch of a button also allows you to access virtually all the information known to mankind. Instantly. At your fingertips. And yet people don’t bother to make any effort to verify the things they share.

Of course there are a million examples of false memes and posts that make their way around social media, but this one caught my eye the other day:

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The reason this particular bit of ugliness caught my eye is because in my whole life I’ve never heard or read anything about the Irish slave trade in the US. You’d think that somewhere I would have come across something that mentioned it. After all, I have heard about the Chinese “coolies” whose unpaid labor was used to build the railroads, and I know that the early Irish (and Italian, and other European) immigrants to this country were treated very badly. But I’ve never read about Irish men shackled together in the hulls of ships being brought over to America, or seen images of Irishmen falling under the lash or being sold at auction like chattel. But hey, I don’t know everything. So I Googled it. Am I the only one?

It took me l about a half a second (.53 seconds to be exact) to find almost half a million results for the Google search “Irish slaves in America.” And not much longer to discover that (a) the Irish were never slaves in the US, (b) although there were indentured Irish servants in the Americas (the West Indies), they numbered only about 10,000 and (c) Irish slavery lasted only about 2 decades. Compare that with the African slave trade which was the largest forced migration in the history of humanity, and involved millions of people over several centuries.  You can read a short history here.

Why are people so willing to share things that are false? Why can’t they be bothered to spend literally half a second to verify the accuracy of what they are sharing? And why it is that the ugliest conclusions are almost always based on false premises?

I think folks don’t bother to verify the information because they think that whether or not the specifics of this particular argument are true, there must be something similar out there that is actually true that will prove their point; they are just too busy at this particular moment to take the time to dig up the true example.

Additionally, even if they did spend some time investigating the truth of a statement, they would only believe information that reinforced their prior beliefs, or read information from sources they trusted.

There’s also a failure at a more basic level. Our education isn’t what it used to be. We aren’t taught how to distinguish fact from opinion. We are also not taught to look at the underlying premises of an argument and determine their strength. I would even make the argument that our education system’s focus on high-stakes testing leaves little time to teach the finer points of how to think.

And this intellectual sloppiness is how we ended up where we are: weeks away from a possible Trump administration. The GOP candidate spews lies and misinformation that people shovel up and pass on because it reinforces their own beliefs. Obviously he doesn’t care about the truth behind his statements and neither do his supporters.

But I have a question for the people who post and share such ugly things: if your ultimate point is so righteous, why you can’t ever make it using actual facts?

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