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Pulling the Plug on Those Spreading Big Lies
in the news: After getting over the shock of seeing alt right extremists occupying the US government building chambers for a few hours during the January 6, 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, people looked to answer questions like "Why did this happen?" and "What can we do to make sure it doesn't happen again?" Spurred by these questions, CNN Business reporter Oliver Darcy pointed a finger at TV cable companies and their owners like AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, and Dish, in asking another question, "We regularly discuss what the Big Tech companies have done to poison the public conversation by providing large platforms to bad-faith actors who lie, mislead, and promote conspiracy theories. But what about TV companies that provide platforms to networks such as Newsmax, One America News —and, yes, Fox News?"
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): The last issue of this blog provided a detailed analysis of "The Extreme Alt Right Worldview." Here we focus on one of the worldview themes identified there: "Spreading Disinformation / Tactical Deception" (theme #4).
In recent years conservative Republicans have largely depended on news and commentary provided by the right-wing dominated Fox News network. But this network greatly disturbed President Donald Trump on election night 2020 when it reported something Trump would find unpleasant, but was really happening: Trump's opponent Joe Biden was projected to win the battleground state of Arizona. Given this disturbance to his often "Wishful Thinking" (theme #201B) based reality, Trump began urging his followers to get their news from the even more extreme, more removed from reality networks such as One America, and Newsmax.
Seems the alternate reality these folks are creating is making a mockery out of American politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s statement, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Those who stormed the US Capitol did so believing what has been called "The Big Lie"—that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election, but fraud gave Joe Biden the victory. Some of them, such as the Arizona "QAnon Shaman" who left a threatening note on Vice President Mike Pence's Senate desk, believe in outrageous fictional "Conspiracies" (theme #36B) often built on big lies.
Many fear American democracy can’t survive if a majority of citizens believe the misinformation they get from unscrupulous cable news networks and extremist platforms hosted on social media. For many, serious examination of the latter's role in this problem began with the October 2019 publication of the book Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz. It helped begin a serious national discussion about freedom of speech in this modern era where “the free marketplace of ideas” has been increasingly hijacked by extremists spreading misinformation, lies, and hate—with their voices dramatically amplified by big social media.
Over a year later, after much prodding, with years of Trump's lies culminating in The Big Lie and resulting siege of the Capitol, Twitter finally had enough and permanently closed his account—which reportedly had nearly 90 million followers. This, and other related social media giant moves, brought outcries of censorship and stamping on rights of free speech from conservatives. Darcy redirected this conversation, by saying "At least Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others have acknowledged they have some responsibility for the content they host and they have very clearly posted community guidelines on their websites for all to see. Why do we expect any less of TV companies?"
Speaking just hours after rioters had been cleared from Senate chambers, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney warned those who claimed they were standing up for those who felt the election was stolen in opposing election certification efforts. He said, “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.” A few days later, long-time political commentator, and advisor to four presidents from both parties, David Gergen compared the Trump years to Hitler’s years in Germany. He wrote, “Trump’s greatest strength is his ability to convince large swaths of people that what is true is false and what is false is true. He has become a master of ‘The Big Lie’”—just as Adolph Hitler was.
Hitler's Nazi enablers, like his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, spread The Big Lie that Jewish people were to blame for Germany’s defeat in World War I and were subhumans worthy of "Blaming / Scapegoating" (theme #39B). Hundreds of thousands of American lives were lost in World War II pulling the plug on the hate-based Nazi alternate reality. Seventy five years after "the greatest generation" ended that nightmare, today's caring and responsible folks can help corporate America find a way to pull the plug on similar misinformation / propaganda promoting "A Culture of Fear" (theme #16A), and aimed at those hurting and looking for someone to blame. Pull the plug in a thoughtful way that restricts freedom of speech in a manner everyone accepts: such as not permitting people to broadcast dangerous and potentially hurtful Big Lies, like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
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