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1915’s The Birth of a Nation has been widely seen but rarely discussed in depth.  “They lectured about D.W. Griffith and his film,” in NYU, Spike Lee says in the most recent TIME magazine. “But the social and political implications of the film were never discussed.” During that period, the KKK was largely inactive. “The film brought about the rebirth of the Klan,” Lee says. “…Never discussed.”

Of course, it wasn’t the only culprit, but there is no doubt that 100 years ago a film, one of the first ever in the new medium, was partly responsible for the resurrection and rise of the KKK in the 1920’s.  History not only has its eyes on you, me, and us, we must have our eyes on it. Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, helps in that regard by drawing parallels between the 1970’s and the present. No, he isn’t referring to Watergate.

BlacKkKlansman connectslaw enforcement then and now; between the Klan and the so-called alt right; and between KKK grand wizard David Duke and President of the United States Donald Trump.

In an odd way, one might call the election of Barack Obama a “Birth of a Nation” because it directly led to the rise of Trumpism and the distractions “Agent Orange” throws at us. Lee has always referred to pulling the wool over our eyes as the “okey-doke” and Trump is a master at it with the help of social media and its many cancerous posts. As Lee puts it, “It’s well-conceived, well-disguised. So, we, as a people, as American people, have to really stop going for the okey-doke. We have to be smart and not go for these distractions.”

So why do so many of us fall for Lee’s okey-doke? Another article in the same TIME helps us understand that. It focuses on answering these questions, “Why are even the smartest among us so bad at making judgments about what to trust on the web? And how can we get better?” To this old history teacher, it’s pretty obvious. “Americans of all ages, from digitally savvy tweens to high-IQ academics, fail to ask important questions about content they encounter on a browser, adding to research on our online gullibility. Other studies have shown that people retweet links without clicking on them and rely too much on search engines.”

Even before the digital age many of us taught our students the tools to study history, among which were always to ask, “Who says so?”, “How do I know this is credible?”, and “Where’s the bias here?” BEFORE I WRITE IT!

These techniques are far more important as “A 2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared a made-up news story. In his experiments, MIT cognitive scientist David Rand has found that, on average, people are inclined to believe false news at least 20% of the time.”

We can blame Facebook, Twitter, and Google as much as we want, and certainly they are not blame free, but if we really want to solve this issue, we need to look in the mirror and fix ourselves. We must stop being susceptible and become more skeptical. Question everything!

But as TIME points out, “We don’t fall for false news just because we’re dumb. Often, it’s a matter of letting the wrong impulses take over. In an era when the average American spends 24 hours each week online–when we’re always juggling inboxes and feeds and alerts–it’s easy to feel like we don’t have time to read anything but headlines. We are social animals, and the desire for likes can supersede a latent feeling that a story seems dicey. Political convictions lead us to lazy thinking.

But there’s an even more fundamental impulse at play: our innate desire for an easy answer.” We tend to use what Psychologists call heuristics. Sometimes simply referred to as “practical”, it has really become more about the use of lazy shortcutting. For example, we tend to believe what looks familiar, so hackers, bots, and Aquaturfers create websites that look and feel familiar and safe. “It all looks identical,” says Harvard researcher Claire Wardle, “so our brain has to work harder to make sense of those different types of information.

I have often asked friends not to share these fake sites because I intrinsically realized all that did was spread them to other people who wouldn’t necessarily look at them through that skeptical eye. It would, instead, make it easier for them to invade the “collective consciousness”.

Google has become a verb. As a result, anything found high on its list “must be reliable”. But that is not the case at all. Too many fall for that even when being skeptical about the site they may try to research. They are more likely to “evaluate sources based on features like the site’s URL and graphic design, things that are easy to manipulate.” They are also more likely to “like” information that confirms their beliefs, again leading to intellectual laziness.

How do we fix this? We have to go back to those pre-digital concepts I mentioned earlier but now we have to use the technology. How do we get post school adults to learn? That’s the problem. This is a major crisis and I doubt there is the funding for it in schools, especially if we continue to focus on test taking as a goal. We must train skepticism without developing cynicism.

Who are our models TIME asks? Professional fact checkers. Today’s historians of the contemporary.

“Lateral Reading” is one way they do it. Yes, it takes longer and yes, it also works. Good teachers and librarians teach these skills.

They immediately leave the site they are investigating and open new tabs and keep them open at the same time so they can shift back and forth to compare information. Therefore, they can find out what is factual and who actually is behind or funds the site to find the biases.

Another technique is called “click restraint”, which might be even harder. When confronted by a list of possible sources, they simply stop and review them all and then start selecting where to go. This must be done especially when “Googling”, because of how keywords are manipulated by sites to get to the top of the list so more objective sited are buried.

Then, once on the site comes the most logical thing but in today’s hurry up age is very hard for most. It’s a take-off of Nike’s Just Do it… JUST READ IT… not just someone else’s summation. Time point out that, “One study found that 6 in 10 links get retweeted without users’ reading anything besides someone else’s summation of it. Another found that false stories travel six times as fast as true ones on Twitter, apparently because lies do a better job of stimulating feelings of surprise and disgust. But taking a beat can help us avoid knee-jerk reactions, so that we don’t blindly add garbage to the vast flotillas already clogging up the web.

So, read the TIME I quoted. (http://time.com/5362183/the-real-fake-news-crisis/) and (http://time.com/magazine/) You better, or I might shame you. Many are now pushing for the use of shame as a toll to combat the spreading of bad information or “fake news”. At first you may not win a popularity contest but maybe if we all pointed out to folks, in a civil manner, that they just spread a falsehood, they might stop littering the net with it and make it a less “toxic” place.

The source is the August 20, 2018 issue of TIME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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