There’s a new etiquette issue these days that Ann Landers never had to address: what do you do when a friend or relative forwards some wacky right wing spam?
Wacky right wing spam seems to be a growing phenomena. Such emails can be identified by breathless proclamations, like “uncovering” some “totalitarian socialist” plot by President Obama, Democrats or everyday liberals to “sell your country down the river.” They sometimes feature an abundance of words in CAPS and citations of conservatives’ favorite news source, Fox News. Usually they also contain an admonition to SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW.
That’s where friends of wacky right wing spammers come in. Since we’re friends with – or related to – the spammers, we get these emails. And then we’re faced with the question of what to do about them.
For many of us, the choice has been to ignore and not say a word about them. We know the content is either misguided, misleading or totally false. But we don’t want to get into some big ideological argument that could damage our relationship with the spammer. Besides, it’s hard to reason with someone when they’re all rev’d up about some unreasonable claim. Who has the energy for that?
But lately I’ve come to believe that just ignoring right wing spam doesn’t accomplish anything except encourage more of it. I think there’s something to be said for letting the person know, in as gentle a way as possible, that what they’re spreading is out of touch with reality as you know it and that you disagree with them. Citations from Snopes, Truth or Fiction and FactCheck can be useful in pointing the conversation back towards reality.
In essence, what this does is redefine their sense of the “social norms” for such points of view, without getting into a big (and unwinnable) argument about who’s right and who’s wrong. I don’t think we should try or expect to change anyone’s mind by doing this. But maybe we can make them aware of the fact that their “movement” is not really as mainstream and popular with their friends as they might believe, and maybe they should think a little about the truth of what they’re spreading. Hopefully, we can come to disagree without being disagreeable.
It seems worth a shot, anyways…
(BTW, all of this would be true for left wing spammers as well; but everyone I discuss this with these days finds the right wing spam much more common.)
Thomas Friedman has a column in the NY Times today makes a similar point in discussing the absurd conservative claim that the President’s recent state trip to Asia cost $200 million a day. (He notes that the war in Afghanistan currently costs the US $190 million a day.) He closes by saying:
When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet. All you can hope is that more people will do what Cooper did — so when the next crazy lie races around the world, people’s first instinct will be to doubt it, not repeat it.
Gee, it’s like he read my blog! 😉