You’ve likely seen it all over social media; for reasons personal, professional, public and political, 2016 has been the worst year in recent memory for many Americans. There has been no return to casual discourse, no sense of normalcy and no sense of pride. If one were to ask a single resident or group of them, it’s fair to say that they would likely be embarrassed about everything the country has endured in the previous 365 days.
The job of a voter this year was perhaps the most difficult (or the easiest, depending on your perspective) that it has ever been. Social media has many positives, but the negatives were never more apparent. Fake news, trolls and bots seemed to dominate the online landscape, and people appeared to be too apathetic or too lazy to do their homework. Perhaps never has a single person felt so helpless. After all, a man who has degraded, denounced and destroyed everything about the election process in which we used to believe was just bestowed the highest honor in the land. No doubt that he will not treat the position as such.
It’s tiring, but our job now is to believe absolutely nothing that we read or hear. Donald Trump is what happens when people take Twitter bots and Facebook memes at their word. That @Deplorables4Trump account and the shoddy statistics placard over the face of an immigrant which your racist uncle shared should not be argued, reasoned or negotiated with. I’ve seen it happen in real life; the worst thing for a troll to deal with is silence. Sure, they may try to keep yelling louder, but if they are continually ignored, eventually they will go away.
So what or whom can I trust, you may wonder? In this fashion, I am more than happy to be of service. It is my full time job to research, write and edit online content, and the company for whom I work (and our clients) will accept nothing less than information that is 100 percent verifiable. Breitbart does not qualify. Here is a list of sites that can help you delineate fact from fiction:
- White House Press Briefings – Press Secretary Josh Earnest has an incredibly difficult job; provide as much information as he can while maintaining protocol. The White House Press Pool are astute, and they leave no stone unturned. The briefing from the day following Fidel Castro’s death is a perfect example of this. It would have been a big deal if the President had sent an official delegation to the funeral, and Earnest had to deflect and dispel that notion with civility. If you are wondering whether the President has a comment about anything, this is the first place to look. Do a simple Ctrl+F (or Command+F on a Mac) and search for your term; “Affordable Care Act” for example. The Press Secretary cannot and will not shield, hide or peddle false information, because if he does, the Press Pool will hound him relentlessly.
- Politifact or FactCheck – Independently funded and devoid of special interest connections, these sites employ dozens of experienced and diligent fact-checkers who have the unenviable job of sifting through the bullshit. The problem isn’t that Trump feels like he can say that Hillary Clinton would allow 650 million illegal immigrants, it’s that people believed it when he said that. However, don’t just take the ratings of “mostly true” or “pants on fire” at face value. They provide context for their rankings, so read them. The one thing subjective about these sites is that they can say something is “half true” but you can determine it to be “mostly false.” You can email them too! Fact-checkers love to clarify things.
- ProPublica and FiveThirtyEight – These sites are run by journalist’s who write for journalism’s sake. Statistics are pretty hard to argue against, and they back up their information by applying proper context to the situation. Of course there are newspapers that are reliable and do good work. Contrary to what a certain sentient Cheeto would have you believe, the New York Times is one of them. Relieve yourself of the 24-hour news cycle, and focus on the reporters who care about the facts.
- GovTrack – Ever wondered exactly how your Senator or Congressperson voted on this bill or that ballot measure? You can find out! GovTrack’s site has the actual text of the bills as well. These are incredibly difficult things to read, and it won’t take long for your eyes to glaze over, but if you see an article which says a law up for vote will include a certain provision, you can use that handy Ctrl+F function to find it for sure.
- Google – The search-engine uses an algorithm which can delineate something reliable from something which is the exact opposite. Sure, sometimes dishonest information can appear first, but usually the return presents trustworthy pages. But again, check that these pages corroborate their story with sources and data. Speaking of data though, it’s easy to manipulate. Politicians try this all the time, and one that comes immediately to mind is when a few tried to dispel job growth under Obama by saying that more than 90 million people are unemployed. If you count babies and retirees, yes, 90 million people are unemployed. But of those citizens who are actually eligible to work, that number is less than 10 million.
The easiest way to avoid being swindled is to continually ask yourself questions. Do not be scared into believing something, and for God’s sake whatever you do, don’t, under any circumstance, share an article upon reading just the headline. This is dangerous and misleading.
For example, you may have heard from plenty of politicians that it’s too easy for refugees to get across our borders. The first thing that should pop into your mind upon hearing this is, “is it really, though?” Get your answers from reliable places; all I had to do was Google search “refugee process” and the third result down is this page from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services which spells out in great detail every piece of the nearly TWO YEAR process necessary to be accepted as a refugee in this country. Let me say that again:
It takes, on average, anywhere from 18-24 months – TWO FULL YEARS – to be accepted as a refugee in this country. Think about that the next time you hear some politician threaten to revoke sanctuary cities or try to use refugees and immigrants as a scapegoat. If you want to kick them out, then kick yourself out, because you’re an immigrant too.
Believe In Something
I hope you’ve made it this far. I’m not arrogant enough to think any of the words here will change things, but I want to help you wade through everything; just like Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s tiring – no, it’s downright exhausting – to keep up with the minutiae of everyday news and politics. But if you put in just a tiny bit of effort, you will feel so much more informed.
This is the part where I tell you to figure out what you believe in, and fight for it. You can call and write emails to your representatives, you can join a protest, you can write letters to the editor, you can just pay attention. Whatever you believe in, you can make sure that it stays the truth.
But some people believe that those who are LGBT should not be allowed to marry; some people believe that those who are not white are second-tier human beings; some people believe that those who are not Christian don’t deserve to safely practice their faith; some people believe that a woman should not be allowed to decide what she does with her own body; many people still voted for Trump despite what he said about the disabled, about women, about prisoners of war, about his opponents.
If you are one of those people, all I can say is: be better. The next time you see a protest, don’t just say “that’s not the right way to do that” or “the timing is wrong” because that’s dismissive. Listen to what the people are saying.
It’s a difficult job to be a voter, but the information I’ve provided here is not to help you vote; it’s to help you be a better person. If you understand the plight of another human being, then you can apply that knowledge to treat them equally. None of us will ever be perfect, but if we can just listen when another person is feeling like they have been disenfranchised, discriminated against or bullied, then we can make the world a better place. Disagreements will of course happen, but at least the discourse will be enlightened, rather than futile.
Change does not happen from the outside, it happens from within. There are a lot of bad people out there, but you don’t have to be one of them. Simply listening can go a long way to enacting positive change, and help the country as a whole strive forward rather than dig backwards.
Here is something to help you feel good. Happy Holidays everyone.