There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.
— Mark Twain
President-elect Donald Trump has been using the same tactics with his tweets that other TV conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh and Kellyanne Conway use when speaking on air: throw out so many lies and twisting of facts that by the time you respond to the first, he is already on the fifth. At that point, responding to the first statement is being petty, because we need to be “moving on.”
With on-air personalities, unless the interviewer is able to interrupt and talk over the person (not even possible with Rush Limbaugh), you might not remember, let alone be able to counter, the statement. It seems like the only way to stop the parade of misinformation is to refuse to allow them to be interviewed. Networks are loath to do that; these commentators draw interest, and the networks want to appear to be even-handed and fair.
Journalists need to get back to their original motivation – to make sure the truth is heard. If they need to get all sides of the story to find the truth, they can do a filmed interview and edit it for their piece, instead of having them on the air live. If the story is primarily presenting facts, they don’t even need to provide an alternate point of view. Facts are facts, regardless of what people believe.
And, if the networks are being honest in their search for the truth, they need not respond to the constant claims of liberal bias in the mainstream media (a claim which has shown to be false numerous times – see The Phantom Menace (of Liberal Media Bias) ). They just need to be diligent in their methods and ignore any unfounded criticism. Maybe they can consider taking a page out of Trump’s playbook – sue for libel anyone who refers to the mainstream media as liberal. It is a false statement, and it is designed to lessen the value of the reporting, thus costing the company money. Those are the two elements required for a successful libel suit.
Trump’s tweets have already become legendary – and he’s not even President yet. Fortunately, there are only so many lies that can be spread in 140 characters. Still, the tweets often get covered by the media, and are not quickly or colorfully rebutted, that they have the desired effect of getting Trump’s version of the story out and making it stick. Short of Twitter banning Trump from having an account – a story that has been floating around the Internet, but is not true – it appears there is no way to react effectively.
To counter Trump’s tweets may require an army of tweeters. Fortunately, there already exists an army of tweeters who are opposed to Trump. Actually, it’s more like a militia, because it isn’t organized. Let me suggest that one way to counter the distortions present in Trump’s tweets is to rebut them quickly. If everyone who opposes Trump responds to his tweets, it would likely cause Twitter to crash.
We don’t need to have everyone respond to every post. If each person responds to, say, one a week, there would still be enough people making a big enough response to get the message across. Multiple rebuttals are likely to get more support than a single rebuttal. Psychology studies have shown that if everyone in a small group except for one person lies, the lone wolf is very likely to change his position to the lie, even if he knows it is a lie. Peer pressure on one person is simply too difficult for many people to go against. However, if a second person agrees with the lone wolf, the likelihood of maintaining an opinion different from the group as a whole rises tremendously. I suspect the same phenomenon would work the other way: if one person dissents, he will be ignored, but if there are multiple dissenters, people will start to take notice.
I know the number of people who read my blog is very small, but I encourage you to spread the word. We can redo the Faberge shampoo commercial from the ’80s: tell two people, and they’ll tell two people, and they’ll tell two people, and so on.
Let’s see what happens. I think it’s worth a shot.
Oh, and in the spirit of calling out fake news, the above quote was not initially said by Mark Twain. He popularized it in the United States, but the quote is attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
When you’re taking a break from your tweeting, please leave me a comment.