Post-Election Reflections

Read 'em and weep.

Well, just a few post-election observations, tossed out at random. Draw your own conclusions.

Sixty-two percent of Americans now say they get their news from social media. Social media! News! And forty-four percent of Americans say they get their news from Facebook, specifically. Have you ever, in your wildest dreams, considered Facebook a source for news? I must be a real dinosaur!

Twenty percent of Americans still claim to read newspapers.

Last summer Facebook apparently got rid of the humans editing its trending topics list. Now veracity is checked by an algorithm. (And I’m sure “al” is smart and all.)

Last July Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for President of the United States. I know it’s true because I saw it on Facebook. That totally false post was shared 868,000 times. Not long after, the entire thing was debunked by Snopes, the fact checking web site I have relied on for 15+ years. The corrected story (well, actually, there was no correction – it was a pure fabrication) was also posted on Facebook; it was shared only 33,000 times. That’s 96% fewer shares of the truth than of the lie. Sorry, pope.

Max Reid wrote in New York magazine: “Facebook has built the largest platform for the dissemination of incorrect information and news ever created in history.”

Just a few minutes ago, as I was writing this reflection, the following blog post appeared on MarketWatch, penned by Quentin Fottrell, news editor: There is little overlap in the news sources that people on social networks turn to and trust, according to recent research by the Pew Research Center, an independent nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., and when discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely to interact with like-minded individuals. Roughly half of Facebook FB, -1.93%  users (53%) and less than half (39%) of Twitter TWTR, -3.97% users say that there is a mix of political views among the people in their networks. And, of the rest, only 5% of Facebook users and 6% of Twitter users indicate that most of the people they associate with in these spaces hold different political beliefs from their own.

During the 2012 election season, a guy named Jonathan Haber wrote a book called Critical Voter. It’s available at Amazon for $2.99 for your Kindle, but the lesson plans are downloadable from the Internet free of charge. Haber, an educational researcher, wanted to develop a curriculum for teaching critical thinking skills using the presidential election as his subject matter. Here is the curriculum, in a nutshell:

·      Bias

·      Modes of Persuasion

·      Logic

·      Argumentation and Fallacies

·      Rhetorical Devices and Arrangement

·      Media and Information Literacy

I’m guessing those topics are not new to you; they weren’t new to me either. But what Haber learned in creating this course in 2012 is that it really doesn’t take long to teach a person the skills required to be a “free and truly independent critical thinker” during an election season. In fact, he discovered that the entire course could be successfully delivered in 8 one-hour podcasts. Eight hours!

I wonder how many hours per week the average American spends on Facebook.

As of this moment, Donald Trump’s Facebook page has 14 million likes. Hillary Clinton’s has only 9.2 million likes. Shoot. We could’ve canceled the whole election – the data was right there in front of our faces.

Still, I’m old fashioned. I’m going to read that book, Critical Voter, and do the exercises and refresh my memory about logic and argumentation and rhetorical devices before the next election season rolls around. Think anyone else will join me? (We could have a book club!) What percentage of Americans do you think would commit eight hours to becoming free and truly independent critical thinkers?

And one final question, if you don’t mind helping me out: Was the election rigged or not? Now that it’s over, I don’t hear that anymore. Just wondering…