THE TRUTH sets one free but lies bring ruin and destruction. In an era where lies had been weaponized, unmasking it is a daunting challenge. Exposing lies in the age of mass information is a difficult and tricky business for one of the unintended consequences of the internet is the mass dispersion of lies and falsehoods.
In the virtual world, truth and lie coexist and in many instances, the line is blurred between them. A lie masquerades as truth and truth is distorted and made to look like a lie. In a time where lies seem ascendant, people are not actually helpless and there are ways to expose them. If democracy is to survive, the truth must be asserted and lies unmasked.
To counter lies and lying weasels, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin recently came up with a book “Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era.” His book is a helpful guide in navigating the virtual world full bad-data, half-truths, pseudo-facts, distortions, and fake news.
Levitin is alarmed that lies “are no longer just things that people can snark at or giggle over – they have become weapons.” As what the recent elections in the US, Europe and in the Philippines have shown lies are now used to serve a political agenda or end. The use of deception in politics is not new for it is as old as humanity but new technology like the internet has it made it possible for a lie to become a powerful tool to serve dark and sinister schemes. Mass deception at an unimaginable rate is now possible.
Lies today have many euphemisms – counterknowledge, half-truth, alt truth, alternative facts and fake news. For Levitin, the phrase “fake news” is a playful use of words. Fake news is not news. News is fact and there is no fake fact, only lie or falsehood. “Lies are an absence of facts and, in many cases a direct contradiction of them.” Fake news should be called for what it is, a lie. Mocha Uson should not be called “Fake News Queen” but “Queen of Lies” or better “Mother of Lies.”
There is only one antidote to fake news or lie, according to Levitin, and that is critical thinking. “Critical thinking doesn’t mean we disparage everything; it means that we try to distinguish between claims with evidence and those without. Critical thinking trains us to take a step back, to evaluate facts and form evidence-based conclusions.”
The internet today proliferates with lies packaged as facts. Unsuspecting minds are easily swayed by these lies especially those who are too lazy the scratch the surface. Only through critical thinking can one uncover the lies and expose them.
One of the most common ways to deceive people is the use of numbers and statistics. “Numbers don’t lie” is a common cliché. But it is important to remember that people produced these numbers or gathered the statistics. And people make mistake either deliberately or honestly when gathering the data. Just because numerical figures are cited, it does not that mean the figures are definitely correct. One way of evaluating the numbers is inquiring how are they gathered, who gathered them, and what is the method used in gathering them?
When Du30 inaugurated his bloody and brutal war against illegal drugs, he claimed that there 3 million drug addicts in the Philippines. A year later, Du30 said there are now 4 million drug addicts in the country and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Philippine has 7 million drug addicts. Fanatics gobble up the figures spun by their cult-god without question. But a person with a critical mind will always ask, how did Du30 and Cayetano come up with their figures? Was there a survey conducted on this and by whom?
A fact check reveals that recent data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) based on the agency’s latest survey show there are only 1.8 million drug dependents in the Philippines. Both Du30 and Cayetano did not even bother to cite the source of their information and firing the PDEA chief is not a way to validate Du30’s figures. It is clear that both Du30 and Cayetano were lying and they cited bogus data.
But translated into policy, the lie of Du30 has deadly consequences. Latest figures from the Philippine National Police (PNP) reveal that from July 2016 to November 2017, a total of 3,967 individuals were killed in police anti-drug operations and 16,355 deaths were under investigation. These deaths were perpetrated by vigilantes and death squads and most of the victims were suspected drug addicts/pushers in their communities as well as kids and teenagers killed as collateral damage.
Du30 weaponized lie to justify his murderous policies. “The best defense against sly prevaricators,” Levitin counsels, “the most reliable one is for every one of us to learn how to become critical thinkers.” To think critically is to use the scientific method in evaluating information.
Aside from asking how the numbers are collected, look also for overlooked, undervalued and alternative explanations. Be aware that people cherry-pick or cite only data that suit their bias or do selective windowing where the information is unrepresentative of the whole.
For Levitin to counter lies, people must be patient and must take time to separate truth from lies. “Critical thinking is not something you do once with an issue and then drop it. It is an active and ongoing process. It requires that we think like Bayesians, updating our knowledge as new information comes in.”
If a lie can be weaponized, so is the truth. Weaponized truth used through critical thinking is the best way to deal with the scourge of fake news, lies, and deception that flood the internet. People of good will should not give up the fight to paid trolls.
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