EDITOR’S CORNER: Tacky post by elected official highlights need for skepticism

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(Opinion by Miles Smith, LPR Editor. Published in 8/9/18 Post-Register)

Election season is gearing up and, thanks to an increasingly polarized political climate, heated opinions and ugly words are being hurled around like feces in a primate cage.
And the walls of Facebook and other social media forums are especially festooned with far-flung … um … opinions about the upcoming elections.
At the top of the list in Texas, the big-ticket race is the one for U.S. Senate, where incumbent Congressman Ted Cruz, R, faces a massively funded challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.
With O’Rourke closing the gap in many polls, the fight will be fierce in a traditionally red state like Texas, where Republicans seem motivated to keep its representatives on the conservative side.
But are elected officials and other impassioned individuals beginning to take the fight too far? Last week, one Caldwell County official took to Facebook late in the evening with a screenshot of a 1990s punk band’s album cover. The band – Foss – featured the band’s members, which included O’Rourke, the bassist. O’Rourke was clad in what appeared to be women’s clothing and a considerable amount of cosmetics, and this fact wasn’t lost on the elected official, who made it the entire focus of her post.
“If y’all haven’t seen the photo of the Democrats’ last big hope for November 2018 in a dress (“Beto”), here you go! (they must be so proud!),” read the July 31 posting.
The photo, as I stated earlier, was of an album cover. To figure out what it was and why O’Rourke was in it, I headed to the Google search window, a handy resource that can provide you both information and misinformation.
Choosing the Washington Post as my source, carefully checking the website’s domain name, I quickly read a synopsis on O’Rourke’s background. Gaining context, I headed back to the Facebook discussion thread, which had denigrated quickly and was headed down the rabbit hole.
Making fun of O’Rourke’s costume was a move that lacked substance, and the official mentioned why she did it in a response published later that evening that received several likes:
“Shallow, maybe, but I was in a bus full of political junkies and someone said if the Hispanics saw Robert Francis O’Rourke in a dress, they’d never vote for him. So I posted it to be sure the photo stayed in circulation. (I think it’s working! y’all are keeping it alive!),” the official typed.
And there you have it, ladies and germs. Campaigning on social media has never been easier or sleazier. Got an audience, an Internet connection, a free social media account and opposable thumbs? You, too, can create your own echo chamber and ensure you’ll never be forced to see the big picture ever again!
We should definitely demand better behavior of our elected officials in public forums.
This isn’t just happening in specific political races. Ridiculous posts intended to promote ire and fervor among voters both conservative and liberal alike are also making the rounds. Try this one on for size: a meme that combines a watermarked Alamy stock photo of a smiling woman wearing a hijab (the photo is actually called “Smiling young Muslim woman wearing a hijab sitting in her home office working with a laptop”) with text on it that reads “THIS IS MAMASAI MAMAKUSA, A SCHOOL PRINCIPAL IN RICHMOND, VA. SHE HAS EXPELLED 2 KIDS FOR WEARING A CRUCIFIX AROUND THEIR NECKS SAYING, “THERE IS NO PLACE FOR RELIGION IN A SCHOOL.”
There are two dead giveaways that this post is just monkey business. The fact it’s an obvious stock photo not withstanding, “mamasai mamakusa” is actually the alternate spelling of a Michael Jackson lyric that ends the song “Wanna be Starting Something.”
Again, if you approach Facebook with an ounce of skepticism, you can find this out on fact-checking website Snopes.com even if you aren’t familiar with stock photo libraries or have a mind besieged by fragmented lyrics you’d just as soon forget.
Sadly, the thread’s viewers were fooled, the “share” button was clicked, and the frivolity lived to fight another day.
So how do you navigate the minefield of misinformation marauding through your news feed and purporting itself to be legitimate? Here are a few tips Harvard.edu offers:

– Be wary of unusual top-level domain names, like “.com.co.” A second-level domain like “abcnews”  may appear credible. But note that abcnews.com.co is a different and illegitimate site, though designed to appear similar to the original.
– Read the “About Us” section for more insight into the publisher, leadership, and mission statement. Also, confirm that you have not stumbled upon a satirical news site, like the Onion.
– If the content showed up in your social media feed or was promoted on a website known for clickbait, proceed with caution. Even if the information was shared by a friend, be sure to follow the steps below to vet the publisher’s credibility.
– Is the information available on other sites? If not, then it’s very likely that the journalistic jury is still out on whether this information is valid.
– Visit a fact-checking website like FactCheck.org, International Fact-Checking NetworkPolitiFact.com, or Snopes.com.

There are a lot of people monkeying around out there on social media who want you to see it their way and don’t care what they’re flinging around as long as it’s effective.
Don’t be an easy target.

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1 comment

  1. Jeff Murrah 8 August, 2018 at 21:32 Reply

    If you view Snopes.com as a reputable source of fact checking, you are making some big assumptions. Although used by many journalists, with increasing frequency, the numbers of false or misleading Snopes reports being found. The old Roman saying “Who watches the watchers?” comes to mind.

    Checking credibility is one thing. checking to see if it’s approved party line propaganda or that it fit’s a political narrative is something else.

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