Information doesn't equal truth - Keith Roulston editorial
Visit anywhere people have time on their hands and you’re likely to witness the scene I see at the clinic where I go for my monthly blood tests: people intensely occupied thumbing through their telephones for messages or checking out websites.
It’s hard to realize that it was only a dozen or so years ago I was at the newspaper conference when a tech-savvy publisher
was demonstrating what the new iPhone could do. The rest of us sat in awe of the latest technology. No doubt most people present could hardly wait to get their hands on a similar communications tool. The world changed when more and more people got a smartphone.
But while the others waiting for a blood test all appear similar, they might be tied to entirely different universes through their phones. Some may be viewing a website from CBC, CTV or The Globe and Mail and getting the accepted version of the day’s happenings. Right by their side can be someone who looks outwardly similar but is in a different world with a different belief system as they watch Fox television or some even wilder alternative news source.
Those thoughts were brought to mind last week as judgements were handed down in a Texas courtroom against Alex Jones, who used his Infowars American far-right conspiracy site to claim the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six teachers never really happened. For nearly 10 years, Jones claimed the shooting was staged in order to raise anger and get greater control of guns in the U.S. Some of the parents who lost children sued Jones for his propaganda and last week won a judgement that Jones must pay $4 million in direct costs and $45 million in punitive damages.
Jones will claim that he can’t pay because he is bankrupt. It would be nice to think he was – that he was an unheard voice in the wilderness. Reports were, however, that Jones used the celebrity status he gained through Infowars to sell hundreds of
thousands of dollars worth of products each day! Even earlier in the week the judgement against him was delivered, as he denied there was any credibility to the Sandy Hook murders, Jones was asking for donations from his loyal followers to help in his defence. Only after the judgement was handed out did he admit the Sandy Hook shooting was real.
Also last week, Adrian Monck, managing director of the World Economic Forum conference in Geneva, told The Globe and Mail that far-right groups saw the COVID-19 pandemic as an issue used by governments to control the public. Among these groups are ones that argue that Germany’s National Socialists (who formed the Nazi government of World War II’s Germany) weren’t really bad and that the Holocaust, the slaughter of more than six million Jews, Romani, homosexuals and other people unwanted by the Nazis, never happened.
On one of the morning shows Jill watches, several of the hosts recently said they had disconnected from their phones because they were getting dozens of messages a day, many disagreeing with things they had said on air, and some actually threatening them.
The irony is, that this sort of debate over issues isn’t allowed in right-wing countries like Russia or Communist countries like China. Yet former U.S. President Donald Trump, who regularly attacks newspapers and television stations that question him, and supports outlets like Fox that support him, praises these countries that don’t have a similar free exchange of ideas.There, only the government’s version of events is allowed to be spread, no matter how many channels of communication there are in our modern world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a good example of the alternate “truths” that exist. Back in the winter, people, including truckers, shut down downtown Ottawa for two weeks to protest government restrictions, which were imposed to try to stop the spread of the disease. Yet though they rejected the limitations imposed on them, the protesters caused several businesses in the area to close because their customers couldn’t get to them because of the blockade.
The fact that there are people out there who reject the proven facts of a situation in favour of their own beliefs is hardly new. I remember laughing (and crying) after reading an article several years ago about an annual convention of the Flat Earth Society – people, who despite centuries of growing proof, including film of the revolving earth from space, still believe that the earth is flat. If you can’t prove the earth is round, what hope is there that people will accept the truth about more controversial issues?
Ironically, while allowing them to live in alternative universes, those smartphone users at my blood lab aren’t communicating with the real people right beside them, as they might have done in the past.