A story on the evening news recently documented how Russian agents operating through Facebook and other social media outlets have been trying (with surprising success) to manipulate the American public by fomenting unrest and divisions within the population. They tactics used by those agents aimed at increasing racial tensions and heightening fears about the impact of immigration. They were successful to the extent that Facebook and other sites have had to take specific actions to limit their access to accounts and monitor their attempts to plant fake news or to slant the coverage of real news.
The sad part of all of this is unfortunately the answer to the headline question. Are we as a people really that easily manipulated? The answer is apparently – yes. At least there is a large portion of the population that seems to believe what they see and read on social media sites without taking the time to evaluate the message or the sender. Perhaps that comes part and parcel with the shortened attention span that has evolved in modern times. We have become an audience accustomed to sound-bites, tweets and YouTube posts. There seems to be no time to stop and evaluate the content, so we just accept it and sometimes act upon it. We re-tweet or re-post or take to the streets with signs because we read about a threat on social media. Never mind that the national news outlets or the big newspapers may be debunked the false reports or posts. Anyway, We are told that they are purveyors of “Fake News”; so, let’s believe a Facebook post from someone that we don’t know, instead.
What fun it must be in Russia and North Korea and Iran and in ISIS and Al Qaeda camps around the world to work at manipulating such a gullible population. They never have to question whether many Americans will believe some outrageous story or claim; rather they just have to figure out the best social media places to post it. I’m reminded of the old cereal commercial where the older kids who were leery about the taste of cereal said, “Let’s give it to Mikey, he eats everything.” Perhaps that’s the bad actors view of the American public – “Let’s feed them this false report, they believe anything.”
Still, I believe that there is a “silent majority” of Americans who have not joined the extremists who are manning the barricades of hate, prejudice and ignorance that these bad actors thrive upon exploiting. There is still a strong sense of right and wrong within the hearts of most Americans and a desire to do what is right, rather than acquiesce to what we know is wrong. We may be frustrated that we cannot seem to resolve some of the big issues that are facing us as a society, but that does not mean that we will drift off to the edges of reason and join the bigots or zealots that define the extremes in today’s political and social environment.
Are we that easily manipulated? I tend to think not; however, we are not happy with the status quo. Every few years we get the chance to do something about that and 2020 is one of those years. Let’s not let the Russians or anyone else manipulate us and our system of government. Make up your own mind and get out and vote for the people that you believe will make the changes that are needed. I don’t think that you will find them out on the fringes and you shouldn’t look to Facebook or Twitter to tell you who they are. Just listen closely for the voices of reason and compassion and concern amongst all of the shouting and accusing and finger-pointing of modern politics. Centrists exist in both political parties and they deserve your attention and support.
We need not become an isolated, bully nation nor a socialist state to resolve the current issues that face our country; we just need to return to the rule of civility, reason and compromise and reject the hate, prejudices and fears that foreign agents are trying to use to manipulate us. We are a better people than that. We can make up our own minds – thank you very much. Let’s get ready to vote in 2020.