Yesterday, what started out as an interesting social media experiment for my own edification turned into a much greater societal lesson. Seven months after my foray into social media (and also the North Carolina political scene), there isn't a moment in the day that my head isn't abuzz with concerns. In the carpool line, I'm thinking about the many challenges we face in our schools. As I sit down to begin my this-year hobby of political keyboard warrior, I'm flooded with news about wars, conflict, anger. And by the time I get to social media, I'm honestly throwing my hands up in surrender to the piles and piles of information.
As a long-time analyst, even before a long career of it, two methodologies have always driven my actions - 1) I question anything I can't see with my own eyes, and 2) Always trust my instincts (gut intelligence). Our current culture has made it very hard to determine what is real - the sheer volume of information combined with growing distrust for government and a lack of raw data available in the public domain leaves us understandably questioning and wondering about credibility all the time. As a data-informed decisionmaker, I've spent more hours than I can count pouring over COVID research, reading use cases and claims of censorship and Constitutional violations, and trying to make sure that what I know and say is just, true, and representative of what I believe. I come from a culture where, in many ways, information is currency -- and if you pass along bad information, the impacts are incredibly high. For the first time, I was able to perform an experiment, apply rigor, and come to indisputable ground truth that reinforced why we - Republicans, Americans, Society - must always be asking questions.
As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, there it was - ANOTHER picture that was covered with a warning... but, this one wasn't about COVID, it was about God. As a Constitutional conservative, this hit me like a virtual throat punch. Could this be? Is this where we are? For me, this was a definitive line in the sand. I scoured the image for some other reason it carried a warning, and readied myself for battle... but something in my gut felt like I needed to take a closer look. The image looked fuzzy - as though it had been modified or saved off in a way that did not properly attribute the original author. So, I started by finding the original image. Next step - paste it to my page and see what happens. The image posted and was not covered with the warning. For a brief moment, I thought the unthinkable --- Is Facebook blocking images of God for specific users, perhaps those users that it has blocked before? I needed to know. So, I shared the original image with a few Facebook users who had posted the banned image earlier in the day... and I waited. Then, the first person's image appeared - unobstructed and without warning. Then the second, and then the third. I breathed a sigh of relief, and for a moment I celebrated that the most important expressions are still free.... but then something even more interesting happened.
As I was reveling in small victories, over the next several hours, I saw misinformation about the image continue to be posted - along with messages from people accusing Facebook of censoring messages about God. I started sharing with others about what I had learned, and, in some cases, I was met with disbelief and distrust. Even as people performed the same experiment and successfully posted the original image, there was so much anger, that people couldn't let it go. Then, I started receiving messages from people that they had posted the original picture as I had, but Facebook was still showing a warning... but a quick look at their posts and walls revealed no postings containing either of the images. This is where my experiment stops - I know what I need to know.
In a way, my victory had become a much larger defeat. Are we so angry that, when faced with absolute truths or undeniable evidence, it is rejected? Have we simply become routers of information - forwarding whatever we see without a second look or thought? Are we being manipulated by unknowns with unknown motivations, and in some cases acting as conduits for their darkness? And, if someone points an undeniable truth out to us in the face of this darkness, do we put a scarlet letter on them and bury the truth forever? The answer is different for each of us, but deserves some cogitation.
If a misunderstanding and course of events this meaningful could be kicked off with a simple Facebook image, one must question where else it might be present. Demand better data - from the media, from your leaders, from the ether. Value questions, truth, and unfettered curiosity. Put emotions aside and weigh ALL evidence on the issues that matter to you when drawing conclusions. Be relentless in the pursuit of truth, not just the pursuit of reinforcement. It's possible.