Over the past couple of months I’ve posted ten stories about disinformation and how to confront it. About 120 people have seen them: not bad, but no stampede, and certainly nowhere near enough to move the needle even a tiny bit vs. the propaganda and disinformation facing us. I’m neither a renowned psychologist nor a syndicated columnist, so I never expected the world to rush to my blog and soak up my point of view.
So why say something you know people aren’t going to pay much attention to? Why do something you know isn’t going to be that effective?
The answer is simple: to be heard.
When someone joins a protest, they don’t expect to tip the balance themselves. They protest to do something: to register their anger, provide an outlet for their dissent and feel that — however small — they made themselves heard. Hopefully, in that process they contribute to something bigger than themselves, something which actually could make a difference.
That’s what I did.
Every day I see people falling victim to propaganda and B.S., making terrible decisions in the process. Whether it’s anti-vaccination, QAnon, Stop the Steal or something else, as a society we’re falling for lies more frequently than ever. When people start believing what they want to hear, ignoring evidence and tripping over their own biases, our ability to make good decisions starts evaporating.
So I decided to speak up.
The very first time I realized it wasn’t ok to be silent was when I saw a video of a baby with whooping cough, and it broke my heart. I don’t know the background: I have no idea whether the parents immunized their baby, whether the child wasn’t old enough for the vaccine, whether the parents bought into anti-vax conspiracies, or something else. But I do know that anti-vaccination disinformation is rampant, and contributing to a resurgence in preventable diseases. And that’s just one type of disinformation.
Watching that video made me realize that it’s not ok to normalize dangerous, hurtful things. Even if you feel like you’re just shouting into the void, doing so has meaning. That’s one more person who didn’t stay quiet, one more voice that contributes to a collective shout.
Disinformation is the biggest menace facing society, because it enables all the other lies that threaten us. I thought the best way I could have some effect was to do what I do best — write — and see if I could reach anyone, to get them to think about the messages they’re receiving. If I could change even one person’s point of view, get them to challenge their assumptions and think differently, I’d consider my writing a success. I thought of all the times people much braver than me spoke up in dangerous situations, and realized raising my voice was the least I could do.
I didn’t want to look back years from now, as things get worse, and have to say I did nothing.
If we can collectively shine a light on societal lies and force some to scurry back into the darkness, then we’ve achieved something. If I can play the tiniest part in making that happen by speaking out, then I’ve achieved my goal.