Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Going Viral, Just Like the Common Cold........and Harder to Cure

When I did some volunteer work making phone calls for a couple of candidates for the 2010 elections, my favorite question of the people I called was what was their most important issue in their choice of candidate for whom they would vote.

In looking at the list of false emails, the viral cyber disinformation campaign, I encountered a frightening number of people who believed these claims, although I could not always trace them to email.  I have one friend, Lynda, who makes a habit of routinely forwarding me her 'junk' viral emails on political and sometimes historical topics, just because she gets a kick out of my somewhat sarcastic debunking of them back to her.Well, the humor factor is part of it; the other part she gets out of doing so I hope carries over here  to Penigma readers -- having specific sources provided; Lynda says when she comes back to her other friends, family and work colleagues, she "looks smarter to them" for knowing the debunked accurate information,  (with sources, in case someone challenges her on this stuff).

If you look at the items I enlarged for emphasis, I believe you will see a connection to the preceding post I wrote on the recent University of Maryland study about Fox News, false beliefs, and the 2010 election outcomes.

From the latest Factcheck.org article, entitled the Viral Spiral of 2010;
There's a reason they call chain e-mails "viral" -- their transmission is swift, extensive and very hard to stop. They tend to contain indignant, outraged messages that are nearly always false and often malicious. We can't say exactly which virus these nasty messages resemble, but it isn't one whose effects go away on their own while you drink plenty of fluids.

In 2010 we continued to see new outbreaks of viruses that we first refuted years ago. And in addition, there were a large number of new infections. Despite what you may have been told [my emphasis added throughout - DG]

* It's not true that the White House is planning to tax all credit card transactions.

* Muslims are not being exempted from the new health care law.

* President Obama did not order up a private jet for the family's pet dog, Bo.

* Speaker Pelosi's spending for liquor on congressional trips isn't notably diffe9rent than that of her predecessor. And Pelosi herself doesn't even drink alcohol.

* The new health care law does not contain a 3.8 percent "sales tax" on the sale of all personal residences.(the figure I was encountering in making calls was 10%, not 3.8%; and more than a few people I spoke with claimed this was the assertion they heard and therefore believed, from their companies' insurance benefits annual presentation.)

* Obama did not cancel the National Day of Prayer nor did he participate in a Muslim prayer event at the Capitol.

Here are this year's most virulent and pestilential inbox-busters.

Ever since we first launched in late 2003, we’ve been fielding questions from our readers about anonymous e-mails that travel from inbox to inbox like some kind of plague. We get so many that we launched our Ask FactCheck feature three years ago. In 2008 we advised readers: "Assume all such messages are wrong, and you’ll be right most of the time." That advice still holds in 2010.
Sometimes these viral claims come from liberals maligning conservatives, as when President Bush was falsely accused in 2004 of wanting to bring back military conscription, or when Sarah Palin was falsely accused in 2008 of banning a long list of books from the Wasilla library, a list that included some books that had not even been published at the time. But most of the false claims we are asked about are authored by people attacking Democrats and liberals. We don’t know why.

and, continuing further down in the body of the same article from factcheck.org:

Home Sales Hooey

Also making both our list and the Snopes top 25: a claim that the health care law would impose a 3.8 percent tax on all home sales. This e-mail rumor sparked a flurry of panicked inquiries from our readers, who wanted to know whether it was safe for them to go on the housing market. "IF YOU SELL YOUR $400,000 HOME, THIS WILL BE A $15,200 TAX," the e-mail trumpeted. (Caps lock is a popular key among anonymous e-mail writers, who seem to have excitable left pinkies.) Actually, the tax on the sale of just about any $400,000 home would be exactly zero.

There is a new tax — the message is not a wholesale fabrication, like Pelosi’s windfall tax. But contrary to the example given in the message, the tax only applies to people who make more than $200,000 a year (or $250,000 for joint filers). Furthermore, the tax only applies to profits — not the selling price. And it only falls on those profits that exceed $250,000 ($500,000 for a couple) for primary residences. The tax would be applied to all profits on vacation homes of those upper-income earners. Still, the Tax Foundation estimated that this tax would apply to about 2 percent of families.

Our readers also worried about an e-mail claiming that they would not be able to put their homes on the market without an energy-efficiency license, which would require expensive modifications retrofitting homes to new efficiency requirements. In fact, the requirements would only have applied to newly built homes, and would not have required changes to existing homes. And even that requirement did not take effect. It was part of the cap-and-trade bill that was passed by the House, only to die in the Senate.
and, in aid of the Republican / Tea Partiers desire to make President Obama a one term president:
Still Sliming

A look at our inbox shows that the urge to slime President Barack Obama hasn’t really diminished since the 2008 campaign. Then, we dealt with false claims that he wouldn’t put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance; now, we have seen doctored photos purporting to show him using the wrong hand.
Don't you just LOVE photoshop? But doesn't someone using it in this way speak volumes about their integrity and their intentions?

And for those of my esteemed colleagues who are still skeptical about the causal correlation between the 2010 election results and deliberate efforts to disinform, I offer the following.  With the caveat, specifically, that you are seeking logic, and factual bases, to explain the last election.  That is a normal thing to do, a reasonable impulse.  We want events to make sense, we try to force sensible explanations out of events.  I would, respectfully, suggest that looking for fact-based explanations, or even usual logic to understand it, may  be the wrong solution.  Factcheck, politifact, snopes....a variety of the factcheckers and urban mythbusters have made the observation that this past election was more untruthful, more not-fact-based than other elections they observed and fact checked.  THIS recent election, more than previous elections, an important question - perhaps THE most important question - is  what role did disinformation play in the results?  Where did it work, and where was it overcome - and how?  Here is my last excerpt from a much longer factcheck.org article:
Congress and COLA
"SEND THE MESSAGE– You’re FIRED" enjoins this e-mail (there’s that caps lock again). Its anonymous author reminds recipients that "IN 2010 YOU WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO GET RID OF THE SITTING CONGRESS," and encourages them to do so. We’re all for exercising voting rights, though we prefer using lowercase. But this e-mail calls for members of Congress to be ousted based on spurious information.

First, the message claims that "U.S. House & Senate have voted themselves $4,700 and $5,300 raises" for 2010. That’s entirely made up. In fact, Congress voted to freeze members’ pay for 2010 and 2011, so they are not getting even scheduled, automatic increases.

The rest of the e-mail isn’t any better. The anonymous author goes on to say that Congress "voted to not give you a S.S. Cost of living raise in 2010 and 2011." There was no such vote. Social Security cost of living increases are based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which declined during the relevant periods after producing an unusually large 5.8 percent increase in 2008. That’s an automatic adjustment, not the result of any action by the current Congress. The e-mail also alleges a Medicaid premium increase, but Congress doesn’t set Medicaid premiums — states do that. (If the author meant Medicare, that’s still wrong — only a relatively few, high-income seniors will see any increase.)
Read the rest of this factcheck latest edition, and consider the rippling effects, the longer term results.

And then ask yourselves, each of you -- how much inaccuracy are you willing to accept, even seek out?  Why?  I hope you will join me in being regular visitors to the fact checking sources.  I hope I can persuade you, each of you, in spite of whatever political views you might hold, that this is important, fundamental, far more urgent than mere ideology.  We MUST operate from one set of facts, accurate and reliable facts.

Our challenges as a country, and as a culture, are too great not to do so.

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