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notes on avoiding fake news and tabloidesque media sites
A member of the IDW shared a tweet from an account I’d never heard of—Breaking911, an aggregate news site. The tweet informed readers that Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunisation recommended prioritising race over age for Covid-19 vaccination roll-out. That’s an outright lie, as you can see from the graphic, pulled from the Government of Canada website.
Breaking911 goes on to tweet adults in "radicalized and marginalized communities" are in line to receive the vaccine before adults with underlying medical conditions at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Typo aside—again, a lie because they omitted the qualifying part of the recommendation— “racial and marginalised communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19”. So, this means communities such as Canada’s poorest postal code and home to one of the largest open drug scenes in the world, Vancouver’s DTES, which has already seen a vaccination roll-out.
The protocols prioritise communities which contain the conditions that would increase the likelihood of a severe outbreak of Covid-19, and communities which have experienced outbreaks. Those with underlying conditions in the under 60 age group will receive the vaccine in stage three. The protocols do not recommend, as the tweets imply, that race will govern who receives the vaccine first. First of all, such a recommendation would most certainly be unconstitutional, and second, it has no scientific basis.
I initially bought into the outrage because I consider the individual who shared it somewhat credible. However I decided to fact check before sharing on my facebook page. I discovered that Breaking911 had a reputation for providing misinformation, and wrote a Twitter thread about it. I feel humbly reminded to always do my due diligence and verify information passed on to me from a third source. Being a Muslim requires me to do my due diligence to never spread propaganda, misinformation or lies. I feel like being just a compassionate and considerate human being requires this very simple act. I often think, it’s a kind of devotion to being—a process you apply to everyday living.
Social media affords us access to so much, that’s the cool thing and also the drawback. What can we trust? How can we sift through the streams of information that come at us through the digital vortex? Stop. Investigate the claim. Find alternative sources. Trace back to original/primary sources. SIFT comes from Mike Caulfield’s website, and you can find out more here. Breaking911 frequently crops up in her research, says Kate Starbird, a scholar who studies misinformation. We need to begin to reconsider our relationship to expression in the digital world.
We need to revisit the concept of free speech from a practical perspective—something that extends beyond the primitive and myopic American First Amendment notion of freedom of speech—I can say anything I want to without any thought to the consequences. That’s not free speech, that’s pathological selfishness bordering on the antisocial—antisocial being disregard for the wellbeing of others. Simply put, speech which instigates, manipulates, deliberately elicits outrage—we call that propaganda and it isn’t free because it has a cost. Propaganda harms human beings and harms human society. Misinformation on the level of propaganda has negative social consequences. It harms discourse, it sews the seeds of dissension and mistrust. Egocentric, dopamine-driven opportunists seeking clicks and likes know stirring the outrage machine brings big payback. The more outrage, the more dopamine hits these Elliot Carver types get.
This all leads back to emotional intelligence and resilience—because without those we easily fall into the outrage circle-jerk vortex. Outrage can feel like crack—as a former crackhead and a former outrage junkie I can attest—this ain’t hyperbole. I learned for myself that outrage tends to come from nafsi/ego, and that when I quiet the nafsi I gain clarity. Physiologically speaking, when the amygdala drives the bus, we can’t really make much intellectual progress—we need the prefrontal cortex for that.
Right now feels like a unique and weird time to exist because the entire world has experienced some form of lockdown and life turned on its head. Everyone has some kind of dysregulation going on in response to the collective trauma, a global pandemic. History tells us pandemic quarantine and lockdown restrictions cause social unrest and have lasting effects on communities and populations. I think we forget that a sort of collective consciousness does indeed exist and it impacts the way we individually comport ourselves and react to our situations. The challenge becomes greater, then, to wade though the plethora of discourse generated by emotionally stunted megalomaniacs desperate for another dopamine hit to stuff in their outrage pipe. Would you like some brillo with your outrage?
So, I’m going to remember to SIFT through information that I encounter on Twitter. The IDW has proved itself not the most reliable information platform of late, having devolved into a sort of odd reactionary tribalistic identitarian club for polemicist intellectuals. It’s take on Foucault in particular amuses me and, having recently discovered the misleading nature of the IDW narrative vis à vis Foucault, I see that group of individuals and the collective consciousness which emerges from it in a different light.
Identitarians are really everywhere—as in across the political left-centre-right spectrum—like social landmines. It’s wildly amusing, and it speaks to a wider social issue regarding the dearth of emotional intelligence and the viral epidemic of egocentrism in our society. Take care to think twice before sharing that piece of information you just saw. Ask yourself, what are my intentions? Safi Kaskas, a Quranic scholar and one of the few intellectuals whom I consider a trusted teacher, once said that with every decision we make we face two choices: God—or truth for those who don’t believe in God—and ego. Omid Safi, a Sufi scholar and and another trusted intellectual I consider a teacher, remembered that black civil rights activist Vincent Harding said critique injustice, but always end on a message of hope.
An important lesson for me involved recognising that my character belongs to me and that I can choose how to react. Safi’s very simple statement triggered a lightbulb moment, seemed to fit with the intentionality work I began after my first Ramadan a few years ago, which I now engage. It helped me turn a corner in my activism work—completely changed how I engage with the subject matter and the players. The disempowerment narrative and the allure of victimhood as a currency distracts us from the real resilience building work of understanding and transforming. A faction of society seems to benefit from the victimhood culture which so cheaply turns out phrases such as cancel culture for anyone who will buy that bullsh1t sandwich. Sometimes it is McCarthyist cancel culture, sometimes it is consequences of past behaviour. Outrage purveyors don’t want you to think to much about what they’re feeding you, though.
So I will end with a reminder for myself and for my readers. Take your power back—character is your power and you need to own that, not let others circle-jerk and manipulate your emotions. Make that commitment to YOUR EMOTIONAL WELLBEING. So many messianic figures circling the wagon, waiting for a victim to make them a messiah. Be your own messiah. Build your emotional toolbox, everyday take the tools out, dust them off, take them for a spin, expand on them. I wrote an essay which inspired the above video reminder, it contains compassionate advice for how to wade through emotional fragility and engage resilience building, and it links to a lovely piece the amazing Josie George wrote a while back. Do buy her book, and follow her on Twitter—she is the very best thing about that place.
There’s so much disturbed and wrong with the world. There’s also so much joy and goodness and there are people who remind us of the goodness within ourselves. Vincent Harding and his generation approached their work with love and devotion and maybe we have forgotten those important pieces. Why are we here? What is our purpose? More than ever I feel as though America needs to remember these lessons and people right now. In the end—what we focus on grows and the darkness we suppress grows darker and more menacing. Fighting misinformation promoted by polemicists involves embracing emotional balance and steadfast devotion to due diligence. I don’t think we can compartmentalise the issue. The desire for outrage and the prevalence of misinformation has a direct link to emotional intelligence and resilience and the capacity or measured discourse.
Relief of human suffering requires us to practice emotional hygiene so we can maintain emotional resilience. Less than two centuries ago, we discovered that proper infection control reduces the spread of disease, perhaps we could think of emotions as contagions, and practice emotional hygiene skills to reduce the spread of psychological trauma, thereby building our collective and individual emotional resilience. —Rukhsana Sukhan