One measure of the fragmentation in American society following the 2016 election is the number of people who have stopped communicating with each other on social media.
It has been said that Democratic voters seem more likely to block, unfollow or unfriend other Facebook users on account of political views, than Republicans have been. From this study, a writer in the conservative publication Townhall concludes that the vaunted liberal insistence on tolerance and inclusiveness is a myth. The real reason for this disparity is worth looking into.
There’s another important statistical difference between Democrats and Republicans: the devotion to fake news. Presented with a hoax meme, even one that would tend to support their side of an argument, most liberals will debunk and then delete it. Conservatives will repost without bothering to fact-check, and the result is a newsfeed full of drivel that is not just preposterous, but hateful. And it is not just that this type of hogwash apparently influences voters, but that it seems to have broken down the barrier between fact and fiction in our culture. As soon as somebody can say, “You can’t believe anything you read,” or once somebody can say, “You have to put up with the fraudulent things I say, because ‘political correctness’ is wrong,” then there is no longer a basis for rational behavior.
These people didn’t just present their views — they destroyed the mechanism by which views are presented. They didn’t simply state their distaste for big government or their opposition to subsidized health care, or a fascination with automatic weapons. It’s the people who shared or liked the stories about Pizzagate, or those stating that the FBI was about to arrest Secretary Clinton, or that her missing e-mails contained detailed instructions for the murder of diplomats in Benghazi, who broke the bonds that allowed society to function. Their greed for victory caused them to show us the lies that their beliefs are based on. Their current protestations of innocence are belied by their spiteful tone. The ones I know weren’t banished for being Republicans, they were banished for being liars and cheaters.
There will be protestations about “freedom of speech” and claims of good faith when repeating items that they did not know to be false. But freedom of speech does not imply the power to require any particular person to listen to that speech. Some ignorance can only be seen as willful. What sounds like a call for reasonableness is a call for false equivalency, a demand that society normalize disinformation. Inclusiveness means treating people equally. It does not require allowing bad behavior by anyone.
Facebook is the ideal medium for spreading fake news. A deceitful meme may appear in a user’s newsfeed because a friend has “shared” it, or has simply reacted to a post by a friend-of-a-friend. A comment refuting the post will soon be collapsed among other comments, so that later readers see only the original specious assertion, likely a picture with misleading text and a link to an article that goes beyond the idea expressed in the title, on a website that fosters more misinformation. What’s the only way to avoid having your picture show up as the “friend” of someone, next to a despicable rant on his or her Timeline?
For our democracy to work, we do need to come together. But an unconditional surrender is not what needs to happen. Shall we welcome these fraudsters back into polite discourse? Should we do it now since, as they point out, is is too late to influence the election? Should we do so as soon as they stop lying? Would it not be fair to wait for Republican leaders to call fake news by its name and to denounce it? Should we even take at face value the claim that conservatives have been disproportionately ostracized, or is this just more conspiracy-theory wound-collecting behavior?
— Scott McKee