I vividly remember the first email I received that made me both scared and skeptical at the same time. It was many years ago, and it was a forward (always a forward!) that said that licking envelopes can result in spiders growing inside your mouth. 

The details are fuzzy in my memory—I think it was that there were spider eggs on the envelope adhesive, and if you paper cut your tongue while licking…whammo. You have just become a spider incubator.

Not wanting to fear envelopes for the rest of my life, I decided to turn to a site that was only a few years old at the time: snopes.com. I was grateful to learn that I didn’t have to worry about an onslaught of spiders in my mouth because snopes had debunked the myth through the use of research and references.

In a historic and dramatic turn in our ability to spread false information, the “forward” option on an email became the easy button to scatter myths, gossip, fear-mongering, and just outright lies without being bothered by that pesky thing called truth.

The ability to easily forward emails of dubious origins is similar to how the telegraph collapsed the time it used to take the pony express to deliver messages. From days to seconds. Prior to that damn forward option, a chain letter required paper, envelopes (danger!) and stamps. It literally cost a person to pass on that kind of “information.” Now? Just hit “enter.”

As technology evolves, so does the ease of spreading falsities. Share buttons and retweet options have helped misinformation grow exponentially, and…I don’t know what’s worse: the ease in which we can spread fallacies or the easy marks so many of us have become in accepting whatever infographic, video, meme, or pin states a “fact.”

Either way, it all makes me cry and scream simultaneously…definitely not a pretty picture.

This year’s U.S. presidential election is fertile ground for lie factories to grow and thrive. I was just on Twitter and saw a political slam that was a meme with a “fact” that was “quoted” from the New York Times. This kind of “information” is rampant on the internet, but it took me less than a minute to research it and learn that it wasn’t true. But it had been retweeted thousands of times.

Therefore it must be true.

Since when did the standard for truth become a photo with words on it shared countless times?

Since when did how we feel surpass facts? This election has created (or revealed?) extreme polarization in the U.S. Hatred is sadly flourishing, and facts have taken a backseat to feelings. Even when facts are put right in front of some (too many!!) people…they FEEL that they’re wrong…and therefore the facts don’t matter.

 

Wait…what? What just happened there?

 

It is not okay for us to be shallow thinkers who see something and take it at face value! The ease of hitting “share” doesn’t have to kill our brains. We don’t have to perpetuate “information” without question.

Matthew McConaughey is not moving into your neighborhood. Hillary Clinton does not have Parkinson’s disease. Donald Trump did not say that he’d be more popular than fried chicken and watermelon in the black community. President Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. (Glad someone finally copped to that…) Taco Bell is not giving away free tacos today. And a giant asteroid is not hitting the earth next week.

Interestingly enough, that last myth was actually related to a study that shows that nearly 60 percent of links shared on social media are never clicked and read—they are shared based solely on the headline.

Because we found that we actually could get intellectually lazier.

We have a happy trigger finger when it comes to sharing on social media, and it appears to be fostering simplemindedness and spoon-fed ideologies.

Just like soundbites have changed the depth of the news—and the news is not really about honest journalism anymore—we have to fight against the ease of absorbing (and sharing!) …crap.

 

ny-times-quote

 

Sharing is a wonderful thing. I’m all for sharing. Knowledge is a wonderful thing. I’m all for knowledge. It’s the gullible (and often mean-spirited or hateful) misinformation that’s the problem. So much so that we actually have an entire country’s future at stake.

It’s time we reawakened our thirst for knowledge—not just information. It’s time to revive our curiosity beyond a quick Google search. It’s time we performed CPR on discernment and stopped hitting the easy button on our judgments.

It’s time to build the fire of our values with sturdy oak logs rather than quick-burning dried leaves that light up quickly but offer nothing sustaining.

It’s time we stopped leaving our brains at home where thinking is concerned.* (And make sure to use more than 10 percent of your brain—because that, too, is a myth.)

…It’s time to make intelligence great again.

(Of course, please feel free to share this… )

*Unless a zombie has eaten your brain. Then, in fairness, you are exempt.

 

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