Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Is The Way We Spread The Smear

Over at Pajamas Media, Charlie Martin performs the service of drilling down into the sordid details of the emergence, spread, and perpetuation of a particular anti-Palin rumor (the one about how she "cut funding for the Special Olympics by half!" Which in reality refers to her having increased the budget...but by less than some desired). It is a worthwhile but sobering read, revealing a coherent --if not necessarily intentional-- mechanism whereby some scurrilous smear goes viral, surviving long after even the original sources have posted (largely-ignored, seldom-linked) corrections and retractions. It brings to mind the infamous "plastic turkey" meme which survives to this day, despite having been decisively roasted, stuffed and served up on steamer trays.

Now, I know enough about self-organizing dynamics of complex systems to grant that this sort of thing might simply emerge from the background noise of an increasingly noisome political ecosystem. I have a visceral revulsion toward undisciplined conspiracy-mongering, with its tedious penchant for raging cases of Occam's Razor-burn. I am perfectly willing to grant as the default position that this sort of national whispers-down-the-lane phenomenon is merely a case of replicative drift, amplified by the internet's lickety-split transmission of every idea, however corrupted.

Still, it bears mentioning that Martin's post links to analysis of the production and promulgation of a "viral" anti-Palin YouTube video (which falsely alleges the Palins belonged to the anti-American Alaskan Independence Party), tracking that video back to a PR firm with extensive links to the Democratic Party in general, and to the Obama campaign in particular. Might this be a case of astroturfing? The answer to that is kind of above my pay grade. Anyway, it's rather beside the point, that point being that it is incumbent on us as consumers of politically-relevant information to carefully and thoroughly vet that information, with full awareness that we are highly unlikely to encounter any such tidbits which originate from sources who do not have a dog in the fight.

In the case of Sarah Palin, the sheer histrionic toxicity of the discourse surrounding her should be prima facie evidence for any observer who even pretends to be interested in doing the work of formulating a rational opinion that they must exercise particular care. Nothing illuminates the GIGO doctrine more than a hotly contested election. Whether it is getting swept up in the blind, inanimate groupthink of a self-organizing rumor, or becoming the unwitting victims of a deviously crafted disinformation campaign, it is beneath the dignity of the participants in this Republic to suspend our critical thinking when making such portentous judgments.

Let us strive to have our vote be seen, and not herd.

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