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Learn How to Fact-Check in the Age of Trumpism, Thanks to Laura M. Browning

This OTYCD entry originally posted in April 2017.

 

Read Fact-checking in the Age of Trumpism, a concise primer by Laura M. Browning. 

 

Just after the election ended, much was made of an NPR interview with an admitted purveyor of fake news (by which we mean stories deliberately made up to get clicks and earn ad revenue) who claimed that while right-wing folks swallowed any article that reinforced what they already thought about Hillary Clinton, no matter how ludicrous, left-leaning folks never seemed to fall for fake news focused on Trump.

 

Specifically, he said: “We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.”

 

What’s our point? Don’t get cocky. You might have rudimentary skills for spotting and rejecting fake news, but you’re vulnerable to believing things you’d like to be true, but aren’t. You need to hone and maintain your bullshit detector if you want it to work properly.

 

Laura M. Browning wrote Fact-checking in the Age of Trumpism for a January 2017 presentation about how to spot and avoid fake news. It’s not about fact-checking Trump or your MAGA-spouting uncle. It’s about controlling and cultivating your news feed and keeping it free of garbage.

 

Also, pay special attention to the paragraph about checking your emotions. Does this news flatter your worldview? That’s all the more reason to kick it, pinch it, and generally jump up and down on it to make sure it’s solid before you retweet and repost it and tell friends about it.

 

Browning’s primer is the difference between eating a free fish lunch and learning to fish. It’s a must-read any day of the year, and doubly so on April Fool’s Day.

 

Read Fact-checking in the Age of Trumpism:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E0m6GEQwwTnOk3-mWrC6zZs60wDJBh9IH-yfpl3TRvM/edit#

 

Sign up for Browning’s newsletter, One Small Thing:

http://tinyletter.com/onesmallthing

 

Follow Browning on Twitter:

@ellembee

 

Read that NPR interview with the creator of fake news who claimed that left-leaning readers were harder to trick:

http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs

 

And for the sake of it, here’s a link to Snopes:

http://www.snopes.com

 

…and a link to Politifact. Browning recommends both sites for fact-checking:

http://www.politifact.com

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

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Join the Postcards for America Page and Keep Fighting Trump With Postcards

This OTYCD entry originally posted in March 2017.

 

The OTYCD page on joining #TheIdesOfTrump–the effort to bury Trump in postcards on March 15–is the most popular in the young blog’s history.

 

Seeing as you all have such an appetite for sending postcards, we’re doing a post on one or our favorite Facebook activist pages: Postcards for America.

 

Its main goal is to encourage you to send postcards to your members of Congress about your fears and concerns. But it also alerts you to other postcard campaigns and suggests legislators who might benefit from receiving great wobbling piles of postcards that tell them they’re wrong, or in some cases, exquisitely correct and in need of thanks.

 

Apply for admission to the Postcards for America Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/postcardsforamerica/

 

Please note: Postcards for America is a closed group. You can apply to join and you will have to wait for an administrator to approve you before you are admitted.

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

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Read How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

This OTYCD entry originally posted in March 2017.

 

Read this January 2017 Scientific American column by Michael Shermer on how to convince someone when facts fail.

 

Once upon a time, everyone agreed that you can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. Sadly, companies such as Fox News learned to make mad profits off of selling people a set of facts that just plain feels better to them than the reality that the rest of the news media reflects.

 

Twenty-one years later, we’re in an ugly situation where Fox News finds itself beset by upstarts that pander even more blatantly to what a subset of people want to believe, regardless of whether it’s accurate or true.

 

Talking to true believers is tough, and maddening. Getting through to them is even harder. Shermer, a professional skeptic and publisher of Skeptic magazine, discusses the phenomenon and has good advice on how best to handle it.

 

Read his column on how to convince someone when facts fail:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-convince-someone-when-facts-fail/

*Full disclosure: One of us at OTYCD was active in the skeptic movement in the 1990s and met and worked with Shermer on several occasions.

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Leave Your House

This OTYCD entry originally posted in August 2017.

 

If you’re going to effectively push back against Trump, you have to commit to leaving your house more than you might like. 

 

Robert Putnam’s 2001 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is a classic for good reason. He traces how civic and community engagement started falling in the 70s or so and continued to drop. He also examines many factors that might have contributed to the decline (increased TV-watching and longer commutes seem to matter). The data he gathers shows that the generation who lived through World War II were the last exceptionally engaged group of Americans. Their children (commonly called the Baby Boomers) somehow failed to follow their example, and the generations that followed the Boomers were even less engaged. This is a problem because widespread civic engagement is the gasoline that fuels democracy–it can’t function without it.

 

In a subsequent 2010 paper published in the Journal of Democracy, titled Still Bowling Alone? The Post 9/11 Split, Putnam and his co-author, Thomas H. Sander, note that people who were young during the 9/11 attacks–from elementary school to college-age–show more civic involvement. This is good news. (Scroll down for a link to this paper.)

 

Cataclysmic events that affect everyone, such as World War II and 9/11, seem to have a lasting impact in the form of greater civic engagement among those who live through them. Let’s be dead clear on this–the Trump administration is not on the order of those events, but the 2016 election shocked and mobilized millions of people into action, or into becoming more active than they had been.

 

Bowling Alone appeared in August 2001, before social media really took hold, but the book makes it clear that routine face-to-face engagement with other human beings is absolutely vital to the survival of democracy. This doesn’t mean that social media lacks value. It means that its greatest value is in cementing and enhancing relationships that also exist in the real world.

 

Which brings us to the headline of this post: Leave your house. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve done that already, if only to join the big national and international protests that happened throughout 2017. But you need to think about leaving your house on a semi-regular basis to push back against Trump. You need to show up and contribute to groups devoted to that cause, and you need to cultivate friendships that you make in those groups.

 

Putnam notes that the Rotarians, the Lions Club, the Odd Fellows, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and similar organizations were hemorrhaging members as the 20th century yielded to the 21st. If we work at it, we can ensure that the new anti-Trump groups–the Indivisibles, the Solidarities, and other local coalitions–rise to take their place and keep the garden of democracy watered and nourished.

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

 

 

Purchase and read Bowling Alone:

http://www.powells.com/book/bowling-alone-the-collapse-revival-of-american-community-9780743203043/17-28

 

 

Read Putnam and Sander’s 2010 paper, which serves as a hopeful update to Bowling Alone:

https://www.hks.harvard.edu/ocpa/pdf/still%20bowling%20alone.pdf

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Take a Break Every Now and Again. It’ll Help You Stop Trump.

This OTYCD entry originally posted in June 2017.

 

For your own sanity’s sake, plan periodic breaks from fighting Trump and his ilk.

 

With so much going on, it might be tough to convince yourself to step away and rest. But you must if you want to fight Trump and the Republicans effectively. No, really. You’ve heard people say ‘This is a marathon, not a sprint’? It’s not a bunch of yap-yap. You can’t go the distance if you don’t slow down to grab some water every now and again.

 

You need to sit yourself down and plan these respites, and you need to commit to them. Blocking out one day a week where you disengage from the news and from social media to do something you like–be it hiking, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, or binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer–put it on your calendar and don’t talk yourself out of it.

 

If you’re having trouble giving yourself permission to take one day off a week, then let us at OTYCD tell it to you straight:

 

 

“We, your friends at the One Thing You Can Do blog, are telling you, our faithful reader, to unplug and chill out completely once a week. We are giving you formal permission to do so.”

 

 

Print it out and tape it to your mirror, or your computer monitor, or staple it to your forehead–whatever it takes to get through to you.

 

 

If you won’t listen to OTYCD on this, follow Jen Hofmann on Twitter and subscribe to her Weekly Activism Checklist newsletter. She’s a fire-breathing evangelist for self-care.

 

Follow Jen Hofmann on Twitter:

@inspiredjen

 

 

Sign up for her Weekly Activism Checklist:

Americans of Conscience Checklist

 

 

Like her on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/Jennifer-Hofmann-463228547169366/

 

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

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Believe It, You Matter, Part XIII: The GOP Really Is That Bad

This post originally appeared on OTYCD in July 2019.

 

Believe It, You Matter: the GOP really is that bad.

 

Sarah Jane here. I write all the Believe It, You Matter pieces for OTYCD.

 

Some time in 2018, I came across tweets from David Roberts (@drvox) that referenced the results of focus groups convened at various times between 2000 and 2014 with voters. They laid out information that showed what the GOP intended to do, if elected.

 

I’ve had trouble finding direct reference to the George W. Bush-era focus groups, but I was able to find them for the Romney-Ryan campaign in the 2012 cycle.

 

It describes groups convened by a Democratic Super PAC that attempted to alert voters to the extreme nature of the Romney-Ryan platform–promises to cut taxes for the wealthy and essentially destroy Medicare.

 

They hit a truly startling finding.

 

Apparently, a large number of the focus group recruits simply refused to believe that what the Super PAC described was, in fact, the Romney-Ryan platform.

 

They couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion that real politicians would advocate such unpopular and ruinous policies. Did not make sense. Did not compute. So they rejected the notion that the platform was the platform. It couldn’t be. It was cartoonishly evil. Real American politicians aren’t cartoonishly evil, because democracy, and civility, and American values, and rules and norms, and blah blah blah.

 

I’m going to drop the cites here before pivoting. Here’s a passage taken from a 2012 piece by David Roberts for Grist:

 

“If it’s hard for many folks to see the centrism already on offer from Obama, it’s also hard for the general public to see — to really understand — the radicalism on offer from the GOP. In the middle of Robert Draper’s recent New York Times Magazinepiece on Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC, comes this astonishing detail:

Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.[my emphasis]

That is, of course, an entirely accurate description of the Ryan budget plan. It’s precisely what Romney and the congressional GOP have said they will enact. And yet when voters hear it, it sounds over-the-top, like fear-mongering.

My guess is that most voters wouldn’t believe that the GOP has embarked on a nationwide effort to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters, but that’s just what they’ve done. (Here’s the latest.) Most voters wouldn’t believe that Romney and the GOP want to end the Environmental Protection Agency as we know it, but that is precisely what they have said they will do; Romney has expressed only eagerness to work with the most anti-environmental House of Representatives in the history of the institution.”

 

Here is the July 5, 2012 New York Times piece in which Roberts found the information about the focus group. (Scroll down to the subhead with the words “Last December” in bold:

 

And here is a MaddowBlog piece that references the post-9/11 focus groups. Not an ideal cite, but unfortunately, I can’t find other sources talking about it (I invite others to send them if they find them):

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/why-focus-groups-incredulity-matters

 

 

I realized I should pass on this information about the focus group results, but for months, I couldn’t figure out how. One of the fundamental tenets of OTYCD is to offer bad news with substantial side dishes of, you know, THINGS YOU CAN DO to fight back against what the news represents.

 

The focus group results are important, but they don’t offer anything inherent to act on.

 

Well, I’ve finally figured it out.

 

You can use this information when you talk to friends and family about the importance of voting.

 

It seems gross and Pollyanna-ish to find a silver lining in the torrent of bullshit that Trump has rained upon us since November 2016, but there is this:

 

The disbelief that people expressed earlier in the century about the GOP should have evaporated by now.

 

People should be far more likely to believe that the GOP and its goals are cartoonishly evil.

 

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would stick with Trump, despite the mountains upon mountains of evidence that he’s incompetent, incapable, venal, self-serving, and thoroughly corrupt.

 

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would support placing babies in cages.

 

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would go mute in the face of Trump’s outrageous capers with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Mohammad bin Salman, and other autocrats.

 

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would plow ahead with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh after the president, who was, by then, credibly accused of a felony by Michael Cohen, placed 93 percent of Kavanaugh’s work product under the veil of executive privilege, and off-limits to their evaluation.

 

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would stand by while Trump refuses to safeguard elections and announces he’d be open to accepting information about opponents from foreign governments, which is a crime.

 

Only people who are cartoonishly evil… I could write so many more of these. You get the point.

 

When you talk to friends and family about the importance of voting, you can say “I don’t know what happened, but the GOP has completely gone around the bend. [Reel off a bunch of things they’ve done under Trump, describing each with neutral, factual, uncharged language. That means don’t use the phrase “cartoonishly evil,” btw.] Even if you don’t normally vote for Democrats, it’s important you do so now, to help the country find its way back to something that looks like sanity.”

 

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Support Students for Changes, an Advocacy Group Started by Marjory Stoneman Douglas Students

This OTYCD post originally appeared in April 2018.

 

Support Students for Changes, a nonprofit advocacy group started by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the deadly shooting on February 14, 2018.

 

Cofounded by three survivors of the attack that killed 17 of their peers and teachers, Students for Changes focuses on three things: gun safety, mental health, and school safety. The ultimate goal is to create a world where deadly school shootings are memories and not ever-present threats.

 

 

The pinned tweet on its Twitter page as of early March 2018 stated:

This Nonprofit Organization is started and led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas students. We’ve made this for the express purpose of connecting and consolidating the efforts of students nationwide to change our current policies and societal notions.

 

 

During the same period, its Twitter feed thanked Delta Airlines for rescinding the group discount it had offered to National Rifle Association (NRA) members, thanked Kroger, Walmart, and L.L. Bean for raising their minimum customer age for gun sales to 21, and promised to keep fighting after the Florida state senate passed, then quickly revoked, a two-year ban on the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

 

 

The founders intend this to be a student-led movement, and they encourage the creation of chapters in schools across America. As of March 4, 2018, SSC is filing to become a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit.

 

 

Visit the Students for Changes webpage:

https://www.studentsforchanges.org

 

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

 

 

Donate to Students for Changes:

https://www.studentsforchanges.org/copy-of-make-a-donation

 

 

Like it on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/studentsforchanges/

 

 

Follow it on Twitter:

@students4c