Friday, December 2, 2016

How to Handle Real and Supposed "Fake News"

In addition to addressing the supply of real or supposed "fake news", we should also focus on the demand. To that end, here are 6 rules to go by.

(1) Remember that if a story looks too crazy to be true, it probably (but not necessarily) is.

(2) Be extra cautious if the story supports your preconceived views. We tend not to think as critically in such cases.

(3) Look for multiple attestation. If the same story is attested in multiple sources, it strengthens (but never guarantees) its credibility.

(4) If the credibility of your source is questioned by some of your more outspoken friends, see if you can link to a source that is more widely trusted. Otherwise, you might spend more time debating the credibility of the messenger than discussing the message itself.

5) Be wary of potential "false flag social media". By this I'm referring to the possibility that there are people on social media who pose as members of groups in order to discredit or demonize these groups. (Imagine liberals masquerading as Trump voters in order to reinforce the sense that they're ignorant or bigoted, or conservatives posing as liberals in order to strengthen the impression that they're elitist or anti-religion.) They could do this through publishing provocative Tweets or Facebook posts, or creating viral memes, among other means. This scenario may seem less far-fetched if we recall that Hillary Clinton reportedly had over a million fake Twitter followers during her campaign (reality is easy to distort in cyber space).  In short, I'd personally be reluctant to share any social media content that works to increase animosity towards entire groups of people, especially when the creator's identity is unknown.

(6) Be kind and patient with friends who are sharing fake news.  In most cases, they aren't deliberately spreading falsehood.  Gently correct them without causing them to lose face.

(7) Remember that Snopes is not the mouthpiece of God. While fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact perform a valuable service, they are not beyond criticism.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Is Political Correctness a Right-Wing Invention?

The Guardian put out an article yesterday suggesting that political correctness is a right-wing invention. Let’s first define political correctness:

Political correctness: the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

Some people avoid expressing pro-life views for fear of being viewed as a misogynist; some people avoid labeling an incident an act of terrorism for fear of being viewed as an Islamophobe; some people avoid expressing traditional views on sexual morality for fear of being labeled a homophobe. These are but three examples reminding us that political correctness is all around us.

That said, Trump is attempting to use our aversion to “political correctness” to excuse his incivility. Not calling people “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals’” is not being “politically correct”; it is being a decent person.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On the 8th Fact Concerning the Tragic Death of Terence Crucher

Click here for earlier remarks on the Terence Crutcher incident.

No, being on drugs doesn’t, in itself, justify being gunned down by a police officer.  What it might do, however, is result in behavior that might be perceived as threatening (and, yes, that perception might be strengthened by racial prejudice) to the officer.  This is especially likely in the case of PCP, a hallucinogen that can result in “agitation” and “combativeness or violence”, among other effects.  Therefore, whether Terence Crutcher was on PCP is a matter of significance.

To be honest, I completely forgot about this case (naturally, I was distracted by what was perhaps the country’s most historical election).  It slipped my radar that it was reported (with, evidently, little to no least on my Facebook wall) over a month ago that Crutcher did, indeed, have PCP in his system, according to a toxicology report.

I don’t believe that this incident conforms perfectly to any popular left- or right-wing narrative.  It is enough for me to recognize it as a tragedy. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

On Why Many Mourn Castro's Death

Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Here in the U.S., it isn't necessary to list the real and alleged flaws of the Castro regime. They're known to all. But why are so many people mourning the loss of this "tyrant"? There are multiple reasons. One reason is the fact that Cubans have, in spite of our embargo against their country and repeated attempts to destabilize the Castro regime, enjoyed remarkable improvements in their living standards. Let's take two examples. Over time, the differences in infant mortality and life expectancy (two widely-used measures of health and well-being) between Cuba and the U.S. have been reversed; Cubans are living somewhat longer lives than Americans and fewer infants are dying in their first year.

Am I saying that these gains make up for the authoritarian and repressive manner in which the country is run (side note: according to the Political Terror Scale, Cuba isn't more repressive than the U.S.)? No. But there are many who are aware of and appreciate these gains, and credit Castro (reasonably or not) for them.

Another point: however authoritarian the Castro regime may have been, it is no more dictatorial or repressive than the Batista regime preceding it. Here's what JFK had to say of the latter:

"Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years - a greater proportion of the Cuban population than the proportion of Americans who died in both World Wars, and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state – destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista – hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend – at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections."

Past repression doesn't justify current repression. But it would be wrong to think that Castro toppled a peaceful, democratic government. Quite the opposite. Further, Cuba's greater independence from the U.S. (the world's most powerful country that nonetheless failed in its many efforts to assassinate Castro) is arguably a source of pride for many Cubans, which may have enabled them to overlook or excuse ongoing repression in their country.