Friday, June 1, 2018

Just say no to RT and mysterious "grass roots" progressive groups

It's fun to mock folks that get all their information from Fox News - I've certainly done it and delighted in doing so.

But finding out so many friends are getting their info from RT, a channel controlled by the Russian government, has been a real wakeup call for me. Too many on the progressive left are doing the same things as folks on the right: looking for "news" outlets that say what makes us feel good, that buttress our beliefs - and what we want to believe. And that means we are falling for misinformation and repeating it. 

This "news" organization is set up to justify things like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russia's mistreatment of Muslims there, chemical weapons use in Syria, the rolling back of human rights in Russia (like decriminalizing spousal abuse and criminalizing speech by people who are gay), and on and on. RT is all about amplifying stories to make citizens mistrust their government - in the USA, in Sweden and across Europe Why are some of my friends watching RT and sharing its status updates on Facebook? Because of RT's aggressive anti-Hillary Clinton coverage, its amplification of stories like Wikileaks data dump of Democratic Party emails - highly altered though they were - and any story that makes us want to doubt our institutions.

Bloomberg News put it best:

RT America’s coverage of issues such as mass incarceration and domestic surveillance wouldn’t have been out of place on Al Jazeera America or MSNBC. But the overarching aim of making the U.S. look unstable or undemocratic gave the productions a hyped-up, amateurish quality. Republicans and Democrats alike were portrayed as corporatist tools; during the 2012 election, RT America rallied behind Ron Paul.

Also see this excellent article in the Daily Beast which details just how close Jill Stein and RT have been in the past and other ways RT works to appeal to both the extreme right and the far left.

Are you triangulating everything you read before you believe it and share it? Are you looking at who is saying whatever it is that has your blood boiling? I'm trying really hard myself - and it is really hard. But I don't post anything without actually reading the article, without clicking on the links, without looking at the source and without finding another source confirming the information or quote - gads, especially the quotes. We have got to demand transparency from everyone, including news sources and political groups we like.

In May, we had a primary here in Oregon. I was looking over the web page for one of the candidates I supported and saw that she had been endorsed by a group called The Criminal Justice League of Washington County. I'd never heard of them, but I was intrigued by the name - certainly sounds like something I should support! So I looked it up. Much of what is said on its oh-so-slickly-designed web site I agree with. But there's no information about who this "League" is. When was it founded? Who makes up the "League"? How did they create their list of candidates to support? Who paid for the web site? None of this information is on the site. I sent an email via the web site and got a response - it turned out someone I have met face-to-face in a non-political setting is one of the members of the "League." She said they were new and would put more information up "soon." But she didn't answer any of my questions, and as of the time I'm posting this blog, the web site remains vague about who is behind it.

I'm going to continue to demand the same transparency from groups I agree with that I want for groups I don't. I'm going to keep sending out these questioning emails. It's only a matter of time before I get accused of being a right wing troll. 

Every time we post something that turns out to be false, it undermines our credibility. Every time we blindly click "like" or just assume a group is a grassroots group because of the name, it undermines our credibility. We're going to lose in November 2018 if we don't do better. And even worse, we're going to lose in November 2020. And that will be a catastrophe.

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