Call For Comments: News by Meme

From Mav: I had the idea of doing a show based on the benefits and failings of meme culture quite some time ago and given the events of the last few weeks (and this last week of worldwide covid-19/coronavirus pandemic especially) it seems like it’s maybe more important to do this one than ever. I’ve seen a lot of people posting constant public information above the coronavirus: symptoms, why social distancing is important, links to CDC and WHO reports. And I’ve seen people posting absolute bullshit too. Most are just yahoos who don’t believe in facts complaining about it being a hoax or perpetrated by the deep state or whatever ridiculous thing they believe. Those people aren’t listening to this show so whatever. Some though, are people posting absolute bullshit — complete lies about where the virus came from, how it works, how deadly it is, how the liberal media is hyping up a nothing story, how this happens every year and the flu is worse, etc. These aren’t bad people. They probably mean well. They just don’t have REAL information… and they have chosen to believe the false information because it makes them feel better.

This doesn’t just happen with stuff like the coronavirus. It happens with politics all of the time. Literally everyday, I see some random Trump supporter try to defend whatever his latest atrocity is, by posting a meme claiming something about Obama or Hilary did and how that’s so much worse than Trump and is hurting us now. Obama hasn’t been president for over three years! And almost always the arguments are flat out false. Sometimes there are misunderstandings of laws or math. Sometimes there are just outright falsehoods about something that Obama did. Doctored videos. Fake quotes. You get the idea. I literally spent today arguing with someone who thinks that the media is against Trump for playing up COVID-19 when “H1N1 was worse and killed more people during the Obama outbreak.” Of course the numbers on that meme were wrong… entirely. And they fudged them the wrong way, so even though they had more cases of H1N1, they actually ended up making the disease LESS dangerous than it was, so Coronavirus seemed even worse. I never said the meme was smart. Memes are not facts. Anyway, was Obama perfect? NO… he wasn’t. Obama did a ton I didn’t like. I’m not the guy who’s going to defend everything he did. And I’m not the guy who thinks Biden or Bernie is gonna magically save us either. They’re not perfect either. No one is. I’m not that guy who thinks someone is perfect because they share my politics. I’m the guy who cares about facts being correct.

The great thing about the internet in the year 2020 is that people are more informed than ever. At least in the trivial sense. But it’s pretty clear that people don’t really “read the news” or even “watch the news” anymore. They really don’t. They read memes. They forward news stories based purely on clickbait headlines. Part of this is the nature of online news sites. They cater to their own niche audiences. Who wants to look at facts when you can just find “News” that already agrees with what you want to think. The idea that we have “conservative” or “liberal” news has been a disturbing thing for a while now. And it’s gotten to the point where it’s not even really disturbing people anymore. People actively seek it out. SMART PEOPLE actively seek it out. And I find that insane. But honestly, most people don’t even go to the news. Why bother with sources when you can just use “some guy?” There are half a billion people on Twitter. Not everyone is Walter Cronkite.

It’s really easy to blame FoxNews for this. It’s not just them though. In fact, I want to be clear here. It is NOT just conservatives that spread fake news. I see liberals spreading fake news all the time. Ever since he decided to run for President I’ve seen this meme popping up quoting Trump saying if he ever ran, he’d run as a Republican because they’re dumber. The problem is, he never said that. I know it’s believable that he might have. But he didn’t. It’s just a made up meme. And I don’t know why, because Trump literally says stupid, insulting and insane shit all the time. There’s no reason to make things up about him. Just wait five minutes and he’ll tweet sometime insane (seriously he’s lied at least half a dozen times during a press conference WHILE I was typing this). A few months ago people were spreading a meme about about Bernie Sanders saying “Elizabeth Warren was only popular because she has ovaries.” Now I want to preface this by saying I am a Liz Warren fan. I wanted her to be president. I also very much believe Bernie has made some questionably misogynistic statements. He just didn’t say that one. AT ALL! The headlines claiming that he did linked to a video where he was asked if some of his supporters might flip to her because she’s female. And he said “yeah, maybe. There’s probably lots of reasons.” And that’s literally a true statement. But it didn’t make a good meme.

A lot of what causes this is “virtue signaling”… a term I know a lot of internet people don’t like. I always like to call it “performative wokeness” which of course people also hate. Oh well. The point is that there’s a thing happening here. When we post to social media not because we’re trying to inform people… we do it to let people know WE are informed… about whatever it is cool to be informed of. Even if it’s not real. To pick something that isn’t as politically volatile, I’ll talk about a story from a couple of years ago. There was a report that a website named PlayFM had named Millie Bobbie Brown (then 13 years old) sexiest woman alive and this was exploitation of young girls and pedophilia and awful. This story got a bajillion shares and went viral on the web with everyone complaining how awful it was. Something struck me as wrong about it. So I traced the complaint in order to write a blog about it. It turned out that PlayFM didn’t do any such thing; actually it was an article from Chile, written in Spanish, complaining that American magazine W had named her sexiest celebrity. So then I got the magazine. Nope, that wasn’t true either. There was an article that mentioned her being a good actress, but it didn’t talk about her being sexy at all. It does talk about her being one of the 13 hottest actors on TV… but it very clearly means “hot” as in “most exciting new actors” and that’d be obvious to anyone who read the article. But no one did. Except me. So the only people who sexualized a 13yo girl were the people complaining because they assumed there was no reason to talk about her other than as a sexual object. I even had people argue with me for writing the article because they assumed I was defending pedophilia. People don’t actually read.

Sometimes not even me. I actually do read. But even I was embarrassed this week because I reposted what I thought was a rather innocuous story about Tom Hanks playing with a Wilson ball while recovering from Coronavirus. It was fake. I have no idea why anyone would bother to fake that story. But it was. And if I’d bothered to fact check it, I’d have learned that. But why would I? Fact checking is hard… and who wants to fact check when you don’t even want to click through the article to read it?

Which… I guess is why we do a show you can just listen to. So that’s what I want to talk about this week. How do you separate out the good information from the bad? How do you check sources? What can you trust and not trust? Is news by meme ever a good idea? Give us your thoughts, your greatest horror stories or what you want to hear us address.

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