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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Looper

I'm no fan of Mark Zuckerberg. He so often comes off as entitled and hypocritical that it's hard for me to take him seriously. Yet this summer, I joined Facebook after years of resistance so I could stay in contact with some dear friends as well as family I couldn't visit because of the pandemic (and because, frankly, I hate to travel).

Am I upset when I see a post that's been fact-checked? Nah, because I'm an advocate of fact-checking, and I double-check anything I might want to repost before actually doing so (I typically only repost fact-checkers and news services, with a few cute animals thrown in). I've reported more than a few posts as fake news. I've also irritated a few friends by posting fact-checks on their posts, though most know I do it not to embarrass them, but because truth is important to me.

I understand why some people think it's ridiculous that fact-checkers sometimes check jokes and Internet memes, and in normal times, it would be ridiculous. These are not normal times.

As an example, a recent Reuters fact-check noted: "Users on social media are sharing an article that claims President Donald Trump will sign a law to make the United States a 'Christian Nation.' The article is satirical, but some users appear to have ... misinterpreted it as being authentic. ...

"While some of the users' comments note that the article is satire, others appear to take the content seriously, with comments like: 'Jackass! What about separation of church and state? We are not ALL a Christian nation! We are a nation of many different faiths! Idiot!' and 'This is one of the few things Trump has done that I do not agree with at all. But I still support him regardless.'"

One need only a cursory glance at a Facebook newsfeed to see that many people have problems discerning truth from fiction and satire from straight news. You'll find manipulated video that claims Joe Biden fell asleep during a live interview (it was patched together from an interview with Harry Belafonte, who did fall asleep, and a Hillary Clinton endorsement video in which Biden looked down for a few seconds). You'll see out-of-context quotes and images, or outright fake quotes, such as the Donald Trump quote about Republicans (no, he didn't tell People magazine in 1998 that Republicans are the dumbest voters).

When confronted about posts like these, those who posted them will usually say they were jokes, but some posting them truly believe, and you know that there are people in their audience who will believe as well, especially, it seems, if they are hyperpartisan.

That's what makes it necessary to fact-check jokes. We did this to ourselves by appealing to the lowest common denominator. We have shown ourselves willing to believe the most outlandish things, and to be easily led as long as those things confirm what we believe to be true.

Which is why a large segment of our population is under the impression that there was massive fraud in the recent election, despite assurances from people in authority that no evidence of widespread fraud has been found, as well as obvious holes in theories about a stolen election (seriously, if the fix was in, wouldn't Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham have been defeated?).

A Pew Research survey in August showed that 90 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats believed social media censored political viewpoints. James Clayton of the BBC reported last month: "One of the Republican criticisms of social media is that its algorithms push down conservative content. But that isn't borne out by the data for Facebook.

"Data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned by Facebook, puts together the most popular posts for each day on Facebook. On any given day the top 10 most popular political posts are dominated by right-leaning commentators like Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro, along with posts by Fox News and President Trump. Mr. Trump's Facebook page has 32 million followers, nearly 10 times more than his Democratic challenger in next month's election, Joe Biden.

"If the accusation is Facebook suppresses right-wing content, it doesn't seem to do it very well."

Regardless, many conservatives say they're abandoning Facebook and Twitter for services like Parler that claim that pretty much anything goes. Because apparently their bubble wasn't small enough. An echo chamber where only what you agree with is allowed, with no pesky fact-checks? What could possibly go wrong? I mean, other than more people refusing to accept reality.

Shannon McGregor, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told The New York Times she was doubtful such defections would be permanent. "If there is no one to argue with, no omnipresent journalists or media entities to react to, how long will it last?" she said.

Some people do want to try to understand their fellow humans and will engage in actual discussion. Some, though, are only interested in fighting, usually with name-calling, tired memes and debunked talking points.

Which means they'll probably be back after not finding any takers on Parler. Sigh.

--ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“vā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“--

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com.

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