Hoax – The Happy Hour Todcast

When I was on the old-people-in-politics beat for the Bayside Gazette, I had to cover a quarterly Town Hall meeting held by a member of the county government. I cannot impress upon you how much this sucked. At the last one I covered, the official, Judy Boggs, quoted Cicero, some bullshit about taxes and coffers and other nonsense. It didn’t scan for me. This is not because I’m a Cicero scholar but, rather, because I knew she was not. And I also knew in my heart, she wasn’t engaged in reading the kinds of things where a reliable author might quote Cicero on taxation.
Fortunately, I had Internet access. It took me less than five minutes to discover the taxation quote was talk-radio tripe.{{1}}[[1]]As an aside, if you listen to and are influenced by talk radio, please kill yourself.[[1]] It was a self-satisfied and self-satisfying moment as I realized everyone had unrestricted access to facts, the days of some halfwit credibly quoting Cicero were over. Liars and idiots would be exposed for the frauds they were and unicorns would return to befriend man.
None of those things happened.
In fact, after I published the story revealing her remarks were essentially stolen from some AM station hate monger (who probably stole or flat dead made them up) no one cared. I did not expect public outrage, but I was a little hurt that the story elicited no response.{{2}}[[2]]Full disclosure to make me feel a little better: Judy Boggs called me in October to see if I would cover an event. I had to report to her that I’d left the paper in May. Maybe literally no one ever read my writing.[[2]]
What occurred to me then, and what has been since confirmed by the meteoric rise of Facebook use since, is facts don’t matter so much as sentiment. In a room full of tea party idiots, an anti-tax statement attributed to FDR is an applause line. It is all about sentiment and rarely about source.

Almost.

If I, Tony Russo, say people are turning into morons because of technology, it is merely my opinion. Atribute that same claim to Einstein, and it is prescient and a fact. So, just briefly: If it is posted to Facebook and attributed to anyone who was a featured historical figure in any of the Bill and Ted movies, the quote is almost surely fabricated, dude. The Bill and Ted Rule , though, should be one of last resort. The best way to sort the Internet crap from the Internet inane is what some people call the Bullshit Detector. Just think about it, if a saying is outrageous and you agree with it A LOT or disagree with it A LOT, it is probably misattributed. The more exciting something is as far as bashing your ideological opposites, the more likely it is false.

But.

There are three psyches involved in the hoax culture.{{3}}[[3]]I shall now give them patronizingly general names because this is America, goddamn it![[3]] Bandwagoneers — People who feel strongly about stuff but don’t have their own words for it. Tamlands — People who also feel strongly about stuff but who don’t even know they don’t have their own words for it. Sisypheans — People who snopes the hell out of people numbers one and two.{{4}}[[4]] ’cause what this convoluted argument needs is more phrase coinage.[[4]]

The first two are almost self-explanatory. Bandwagoneers promote hoaxes primarily because they wish they were cleverer than they are. Regurgitation is their primary form of communication. Tamlands are mass regurgitates without a point. Like bloggers they are so desperate for attention they’ll repeat anything because it makes them feel as if they’re not figments of someone else’s imagination.

While it is easy to paint them as smarmy, told-you-so-machines, Sisypheans operate under the assumption that the truth can protect people from themselves. {{5}}[[5]]Plus, I am a smarmy, told-you-so machine and Sisypheans are never at the meetings.[[5]] As they see it, the issues at hand are attached to objective facts. Since many (all) of these facts are on the Internet, disputes about accuracy and veracity can be settled with some ease. Time after time they heal with the truth: “No, Einsten didn’t say this,” “No, Lincoln didn’t believe that,” “Of course Mitt Romney doesn’t eat Socialist Mexicans at barbecues for the uberwealthy,” only to have the tenuous peace destroyed by new “Birther” evidence.

Sisypheans don’t appreciate the disconnect between Internet access and promoting utter (and often obvious) falsehoods. It has to do with gratification, with having long-held suspicions or prejudices confirmed. People fall for hoaxes and further them because being in possession of “the real story” is about being right all along and therefore in control. Control is something people crave well above understanding, which is why they fall for bad memes and other hoaxes. Just as you can’t con and honest man, you can’t fool the open minded.

Based on The Big Picture discussion from the Todcast. Subscribe to the Happy Hour Todcast on iTunes, or listen to the latest episode here:

Tony Russo
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Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and destination websites including OceanCity.com and ShoreCraftBeer.com. Tony has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer (2014) and Delaware Beer (2016). He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable.