Social Media ==> The Dumbing Down of America

This afternoon, I am once again sharing the words of the wise Nicholas Kristoff, opinion writer for the New York Times, and author of several books.  His article, Lies in the Guise of News in the Trump Era, says much of what I intended to write about today, only he does it far better than I.  In the interest of honesty and integrity, I share only a portion of his article, and a link to the entire article.

Lies in the Guise of News in the Trump Era, Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, 12 November 2016

IF you get your news from this newspaper or our rival mainstream news sources, there’s probably a lot you don’t know.

You may not realize that our Kenyan-born Muslim president was plotting to serve a third term as our illegitimate president, by allowing Hillary Clinton to win and then indicting her; Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump helped avert the election-rigging.

You perhaps didn’t know that Clinton is a Satan worshiper at the center of “an international child enslavement and sex ring.” Or that Chelsea Clinton isn’t Bill Clinton’s daughter, but a love child of Hillary’s by another man — or that Bill has his own love child with a black prostitute.

Oh, the scoops we miss here at The Times!

None of those items is actually true, of course, but all have been reported by alt-right or fake news websites (the line between them is sometimes blurred). And one takeaway from this astonishing presidential election is that fake news is gaining ground, empowering nuts and undermining our democracy.

As I’ve argued for most of this year, I think we in the mainstream media — especially cable television — sometimes bungled coverage of Trump. There was too much uncritical television coverage of Trump because he was good for ratings; then there was not enough investigation of his business dealings, racism and history of sexual assaults, and too much false equivalency that equated the two candidates as equally flawed.

More broadly, we in the mainstream media are out of touch with working-class America; we spend too much time chatting up senators, and not enough visiting unemployed steel workers.

Yet for all of our sins in the mainstream media, these alt-right websites are both far more pernicious and increasingly influential. President-Elect Trump was, after all, propelled into politics partly as a champion of the lie that President Obama was born abroad and ineligible for the White House.

Even now, only 44 percent of Republicans accept the reality that Obama was born in the U.S.

I find them particularly loathsome because they do their best to magnify prejudice against blacks, Muslims and Latinos, tearing our social fabric.

The venom directed at minorities is staggering: Alt-right kooks suggest that Obama is literally the devil and is trying to destroy humanity through vaccines.

Read more here

Mr. Kristoff is one of the few in the mainstream media who has even acknowledged the mistakes that were made by the media in what is likely to go down in history as the Great Trainwreck of 2016.  Yes, the major media outlets, the ones I rely on for my day-to-day news, let us down in a major way, and it is to be hoped that they have learned from this and will take the necessary steps to police themselves in the future.  If they do not, then it is up to us to hold them accountable for journalism that benefits their bank balance more than their viewers.  But that is a topic for another day, another post …

However, of equal importance is, as Mr. Kristoff writes, what I call the ‘illegitimate media’.  A study by Pew Research shows that some 60% of people get at least some of their news from Facebook and other social media sites, and 49% get a significant portion of their news from social media.  This, given the unreliability and proliferation of falsehoods found on what passes for news on social media, is an abomination!  And it is a sad, disturbing statement about our society, about our educational system, that this many people are willing to accept, at face value, everything they read on a platform that, by its own admission, is for social interaction rather than scholarly pursuits.

readHas the citizenry of the U.S. forgotten how to read, how to research, how to think?  I believe that a vast majority of them have, else they simply do not care.  Is it easier to jump on the first train that comes by, never asking where that train is bound, than to study the schedules and make sure to get on the train that will take you where you actually wish to go?  For a long time, I worked to correct friends on Facebook who re-posted untrue garbage, such as poor Jackie Chan who seemed, for a time, to die every few weeks, or the rumours of Bill Clinton’s illegitimate son.  I would patiently explain that one really needed to verify these stories through reliable sources before posting them on Facebook, but finally I got tired of it and just began ignoring them all.

We have all heard of the ‘dumbing down’ of America, and I am convinced that social media has contributed largely to that concept.  Human laziness, declining quality of education and social media.  At least 30 million American adults cannot read.  Somewhere around 60% think a faux news story on Facebook is “news”.  This, folks, is a trend we must all work to turn around.  Educators, parents, even friends need to help people understand the difference between news and politically motivated lies, else our nation will continue to spiral downhill and we will continue electing people who make promises they cannot possibly keep, who have no qualifications for the positions to which they rise.




12 thoughts on “Social Media ==> The Dumbing Down of America

  1. Jill, this is very timely and prescient, unfortunately, as I don’t see it changing when emoji’s are used instead of words. What has already happened and will continue to happen, is Trump will continue is war on news and use his Twitter and fabricated news sources to guide people to. It will be interesting to see when foreign leaders and news sources start calling him on the carpet for poor decisions and positions. “It can’t be me, as I alone can save us,” so it must be them, those in the media he portrays. It was interesting how he could not hide some of his schtick in the “60 Minutes” interview. We are in for four years of disinformation and misinformation to support the absence of data-informed decisions. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t necessarily see it changing, but I think there may be some things that we, the consumers of the media, may be able to do. I’m still pondering on that one. And yes, my friend, it is going to be an interesting year for us all. Sigh. A while back I wondered what I might find to write about ‘post-election’, but now I think I shall not run out of topics … at least not in this lifetime!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jill,I am not Facebook or Twitter, so I must confess ignorant bliss to their usage. My wife has shared some bizarre stories published by “friends” that make you want to hide the cutlery. Twitter does not allow for context with 140 characters which is an ideal for a substance free candidate.

        One of our news icons died today, Gwen Ifil. She had so much integrity and professionalism. That is what we need more of. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree … social media seems to bring out the worst and weirdest of the pack. I saw today that Gwen Ifill had died and was sad. She was a journalist, not an entertainer, and you are quite right … she was the epitome of professionalism and integrity. She will be sorely missed and there like her out there today.


        • I started out hating emojis and refusing to use them, but in their place – chatty social media posts and texts – they do a job of accentuating the intonation of a necessarily short phrase or exclamation. Their escalation into non-emotional imagery allowed me recently to add a bunch of flowers to a text to a friend who was unwell, whose partner does not like flowers and who lives too far away for a visit. It made her smile 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • I must admit that I enjoy the emojis. And since electronic communication can so easily be misunderstood without the benefit of vocal inflections and facial expressions, they help in understanding whether something is a joke or not. But … I DO get carried away with them sometimes 😀


  2. Walter Cronkite warned years ago that we were turning news into entertainment. As long as the networks depend on sponsors who put pressure on them to build the audience, news will be ignored for the more sensational story — true or false. Give the folks what they want. But you are spot on: this election was an indictment of our educational system — especially in the lower grades where entitlement has become the order of the day. The kids cannot be disciplined and the teachers spend much of their time trying to keep order while the basic subjects are ignored or glossed over. I don’t blame the teachers: they must work with what is given them. But the larger society is sending messages to teachers and parents that everyone must succeed and no one must be allowed to fail. The result is “passing along” kids that should be failed and grade inflation that makes every student look like a genius. The result is “dumbing down” all along the line.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it would seem that the goals of our educational system have fallen by the wayside. So much to be said on that … but I’ll settle for a single point in this comment: our kids, as young as, say, 8 years old, know how to hook up computer components, program software, and much more, but they do not know that Ben Franklin was NOT ever President of the U.S. They know little about history, government, or other cultures, even once they graduate high school. Even after college, they know little of the important things. Sigh.


  3. If it only was Wikipedia, the worst would probably be averted! 😉 But indeed, research skills apparently are not on the list of “cool” things these days. I have to say, I do love the internet, but there is something to be sad about the “good old days” when research started with going to the library, looking at the catalogues, finding the books… At least in a university library you normally would find the reliable sources…
    As for the so-called “uneducated masses” – it is unbelievable what people are ready to believe just because someone wrote it down somewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. At the beginning of the new academic year, my husband advises his first years always to check sources, not to trust the Wikipedia version of things above all else and always to check references, not just cut and paste them assuming them to be correct. With many of those students it is a hopeless quest. If this is true of students, who are, in theory, engaged in the quest for knowledge….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes … sad but true. I have taught a few college courses, primarily Black History and Accounting (don’t ask) and have found that with a few exceptions, students just do not seem to be engaged in the process of learning. Those few exceptions, however, are what make it all worthwhile. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

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