Forgive me for the repetition. Columnist have used this one before, but the Twilight Zone released “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” It aired in March of 1960. It might as well have been yesterday. The quote at the end of the episode has been referenced before, but in case you haven’t run into it here it is.
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices…to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill…and suspicion can destroy…and a thoughless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own – for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”
The Russians interfered in our election in 2016. We can’t prove that they are doing it again, but I think many people surmise that they are. They didn’t have to steal votes or hack voting machines necessarily. They don’t have to do that. Like termites, they are eating away at the core of our democracy from the inside. All they have to do is use bots to post stories on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. We will do the rest.
One of the biggest concerns I have as an educator is that we aren’t teaching our students to be good consumers of information. There are a number of educators still out there that didn’t grow up with the internet. We had to go to the card catalog and look up information in the encyclopedia or in a book. We didn’t have to worry about Wikipedia or any other flimsy website. What we researched we could trust.
Younger teachers had the internet, but even that is not the same. The internet gets bigger and has more information than even ten years ago. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues are not good consumers of information. Essentially it involves having a highly tuned BS detector. When something sounds too good to be true or too far-fetched to be true it probably is.
Just in the last week I’ve heard of a Houston area teacher telling their students that COVID-19 was a hoax. I saw another one on Facebook spread a story about the CDC saying that only six percent of the deaths related to COVID are actually COVID related. If that doesn’t make sense I agree. It matched what they thought previously so they just passed it on.
Then, we had the fact that 39 children were found in a double-wide in Georgia. Why isn’t this the biggest story in America? Well, perhaps because the details are all wrong. I’m not even sure 39 kids could fit in a double-wide anyway. It feeds that child abduction beast that I talked about in an earlier post.
The latest is that Donald Trump suffered from a series of mini-strokes back in November. We know that Trump went to Walter Reed Hospital. We don’t know what the reason was. So, you have now seen conspiracy theories run amok on both the left and the right. I suppose it is possible that any of them could be true. As scientist are fond of saying, there is a non-zero chance that all of them are true.
I have seen the enemy and it is us. All the Russians had to do was plant a few ridiculous conspiracy theories and sit back and watch. The aliens in the Twilight Zone episode did the same thing. They destroyed Maple Street without firing a single shot. The Russians are threatening to destroy our democracy without firing a single shot. They don’t even have to steal votes. They just post something that fits a narrative that people already believe.
It’s really a simple fix to beat this invisible enemy. All we have to do is take the extra effort to verify stories we see online. What is the source? Does it sound believable? Unfortunately, people have bought into the myth that the mainstream media is inherently untrustworthy. So, they go to sources that are out of the mainstream. There are reasons why they are out of the mainstream. If you can find the information in more than one source it is more likely to be true. If it is in three or more than it is definitely more likely to be true. Just the extra effort will fix a lot of this.