The 2012 election season is right upon us and the internet is hot with controversy, news and drama. While we can do little to control what the candidates do or say, there is much the American citizenry can do to make this season more civil and helpful as as individuals and in community.
One of the most needful tips to surviving election season with your integrity intact is to be careful of spreading political propaganda. Email forwards and Facebook posts are so easy to pass on, but most of them are based on emotion, not fact.
Before posting that lurid “fact” about a candidate you oppose, first do some research. Check to see if the information comes from a neutral source. Political articles that come from websites or publications that are strongly liberal or conservative tend to stretch the facts, even to the point, at times, that there really are no facts in the article at all. Just because a tale has often been told does not make it true. When you see an article that seems to support how you feel about a particular candidate or policy, don’t share it right away. Do a search online for the key words and see if any major, unbiased news sources report the story with the same slant as the article you are considering sharing. Reading the news from both conservative and liberal sources, as well as more moderate venues, can help you weigh the data more thoughtfully and discern whether or not the “news” item in question really stands up to the level of integrity you try to maintain. If you would not consider spreading gossip based on innuendo and out of context sound bites about a personal acquaintance, shouldn’t you extend the same courtesy to political and other public figures?
Emails containing letters or articles supposedly from a reliable source that contain supposed history of a candidate or predictions of gloom and doom made by respected public figures should never be forwarded without further investigation. Usually a quick visit to Snopes.com or FactCheck.org can confirm or or debunk the story in question.
Political graphics and photos that make strong statements about a particular candidate’s character or policy are primarily just someone’s opinion. Perhaps the message represents your own point of view, so you want to share it with your friends on Facebook or through email. What may seem a harmless click of a mouse to you may be very hurtful to others in your circle. You may oppose the new health care bill. Someone you know may be grieving the loss of a loved one due to lack of affordable health care. You may be protesting giving aid to people who are undeserving, but fail to realize how many people you know personally have worked very hard, paid their taxes, and are currently unemployed due to job loss or physical illness. These digital “protest signs” are based on generalizations that may or may not be true. Think about the situations of people you know personally and consider whether your post actually represents their reality, and whether you might add to their suffering by thoughtlessly posting a judgmental political slogan that is going to show up on their Facebook wall.
The thing about the internet and politics that so many people forget is that there are real people behind every name, every policy, every bill and every vote. If we could come together and actually hear each others stories instead of spreading information that is based on a political platform rather than the reality of our fellow Americans, we really could change our national climate for the better. The challenge is up to us. Are we up to the challenge?