Internet has spread the virus of disinformation through humanity | News, Sports, Jobs

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Let’s say a tree has become overgrown with a large branch hanging over our house. You and I have to decide what to do about this. We go out and stand in front of a tree. If one of us says it’s a tree and the other says it’s a cat, we might have trouble solving our problem. Or if one of us says it’s a good tree and the other says it’s a bad tree, that could also prevent us from finding a solution.

The paragraph above is stupid. But it illustrates what happens if we can’t agree on simple facts. Many of us fear this is happening in America today.

The world beyond our senses comes to us through the media. When I was young, the media were newspapers and television. Now the media is a thousand applications, memes and videos bombarding us every day on our phones and I-Pads. Instead of swimming in shallow water, we now try to keep our heads above water in a fast current.

Today, anyone with a phone has access to literally all the knowledge humanity has accumulated. I can find everything from translations of old documents to news happening right now in Beijing. At the start of the internet age, there was a pleasant idea that this could be a golden time for mankind. Armed with the information we all shared, with this great democratization of knowledge, we were able to cooperate to solve problems around the world.

But not if we can’t agree that a tree is a tree.

Discerning the facts shouldn’t be difficult if we have all the information in front of us, right? False, as we have just discovered. On issues as broad as COVID-19, climate change and a certain recent election, we find “facts” which are absolutely opposite. Tree, cat. How on earth do we solve a problem or find the best way forward in this environment?

On Monday, in Sleepy Eye, a two-hour seminar will address just that. “Assess the news” will be an analysis of how to sort through falsehoods and misinformation as they reach us in the media today. It will be led by LeRoy Harris. Harris is the Program and Technology Services Librarian at the New Ulm Public Library.

Early in the spring, a group of local Farmers’ Union and NFO members were talking about these issues. We occasionally hold informational meetings in Brown County, usually focused on an agricultural issue. We talked about all the tough conversations we’ve had over the past few years with friends, neighbors and family. And how often we can’t even agree on the most basic facts. It ends up talking to us around, over and through each other, but not with each other or with each other.

Our group president, Jérôme Graff, wondered if we could come up with something useful to address this dilemma. I remember reading a series of lectures in New Ulm last winter. Friends had gone and were impressed with the presenter and what he presented.

I contacted Harris. At first, he was understandably unsure about taking a five-part seminar and compressing it into one evening. He agreed, however, and his efforts to distill and condense “Assess the news” at two o’clock are available to the public on Monday evening.

From a promotion for this: “Join us for an unrestricted analysis of fact-checking, clickbait, fake news, misinformation and bias; including methods to sift through information and separate fact from fiction.

It is coincidental that while our group was thinking about this, Harris was here in Brown County.

It is free and open to the public from 7 p.m. It is located at the Sleepy Eye Community Center, 115 2nd Ave. NE, behind the bedroom desk. (On the city’s website, it is noted that the Community Center is “not the event center.” Apparently, our centers are regularly confused.)

We’ve been careful to point out that this is not a conservative or liberal or right-wing or left-wing effort. We cannot let go of the idea that there is truth and there are facts. This idea itself has taken a hit in recent years and could be on life support. LeRoy says there are no perfect sources of information. Recognizing this is a good first step.

This does not mean that we should berate and denigrate the media. I have known a number of Fourth Estate members, and they work hard at their craft and try to be fair. In The World I Grew Up in, the newspapers and TV stations I referenced were tightly edited and fought over facts.

It’s ancient history. There aren’t many Lou Grants in this media landscape. We have to be our own Lou Grants.

If you watch Fox News or MSNBC for more than an hour a day, you could be in danger. Although there are journalists on these networks, most of their time is taken up by opinion-mongers. If you listen to anything long enough, you can become convinced that a tree is a cat.

Then there are the algorithms. This allows all the media you use to target things at you, right at you. If you hate Biden, you get a growing stream of Biden is bad, and if you hate Trump, you get a growing stream of Trump is bad. Social media makes money by getting your eyes and your time. He doesn’t care about your brain, let alone your soul.

Why is this important? I think it’s incumbent on all of us, as citizens of a democracy, to be responsible for our opinions and, of course, our votes. We cannot be if we allow ourselves to be manipulated. It is a type of laziness to let others control our thinking.

Seeking the truth is work. Vary your sources. Listen to the other side. Respect them sincerely. Don’t be inflammatory. There are already enough people who have raised their voices.

We still call it the American experience. Two centuries ago, said George Washington, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the fate of the Republican form of government is staked on the experience entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

It’s up to us now to pass the fire to the future. We have to do the work of finding the truth.

– Randy Krzmarzick farms in the original place west of Sleepy Eye where he lives with his wife, Pam.



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