What Are The Consequences For Misreporting & Pushing A False Narrative, If Any?


A few days ago, a gunman opened fire in a grocery store, resulting in the deaths of 10 people.

This tragedy followed another mass shooting earlier in March, where there were 8 deaths.

Before police and reporters had time to investigate and release information, people immediately jumped to designate motive.

They pushed a narrative about white supremacy without waiting for the facts. When the suspect was not someone that fit their narrative and shattered their reality, they quietly retracted their tweets.

While I do not wish to target any specific individuals, the people who push false narratives and thereby create more division should be held responsible for their actions.

Obviously I am not calling for censorship or waterboarding. But how do we deliver social consequences that deter motivation to spread misinformation? It seems that people are incentivized more than ever to jump the gun and spouse a political narrative that people can readily gobble up rather than seek the truth.

If we allow people to spread misleading information when emotions are heightened, and let them escape quietly through the backdoor when things have cooled down and it actually turns out to be false, who is to say that they will not engage in the same behavior in future events?

We all certainly make mistakes. Perhaps people who jumped the gun in this event learned that they should not rush to conclusions and wait for more information before declaring the reality of a given situation.

As more information was revealed, some chose to delete their tweets and even followed up with a clarification.

While I respect that Meena (shown below) took the time to craft a clarification, I also see a sleight of hand — admitting her mistake but now shifting the focus to another argument, which sort of reads like: “I was wrong this time, but I’m not sorry because most other times I will be right.”

Fair enough, but it certainly brings into question the sincerity of her apology.

It would also help if she would cite her sources for her last claim, though I feel that most people would implicitly agree given the prevalence of such tragedies over the past few decades.

Asking for sources is not a denial of the proposition— it is just a request to be able to look at the data myself to determine the truth of this claim.

To prevent occurrences like this from becoming common practice, shouldn’t we demand higher standards from people who are in positions of authority, who have the capacity to persuade?

Shouldn’t there be forms of consequences for pushing divisive falsehoods, especially during a tragedy where more emotional distress is unnecessary?

The question of who is to be judge and deliverer of punishments naturally follows, which is up to the decision of media platform arbiters.

Role Of Journalists and Individuals In Society

What is the role of a journalist in society? They serve to distribute information to the people, but they should do their best to refrain from inserting their political beliefs.

Their purpose is to lay out the facts in a detached manner, not to deliver subjective interpretations. The readers are to take the facts and interpret them as they see fit.

If readers were looking for deeper/professional analysis, they could head on over to the editorial page. But this line has been blurred due to the nature of social media — the subjective and objective exist in the same space, making it difficult for the reader to differentiate between the two.

For when journalists inject subjective beliefs into assumed objective reporting, they betray their integrity as the informational messengers of society.

So while I give journalists a hard time, I’d say we must point the fingers toward ourselves.

Perhaps the bulk of the responsibility lies within each individual to educate themselves and become more attentive when following the news.

When an all encompassing, simplistic narrative is being pushed by the writer, the reader should question rather than accept. The reader should do their best to separate the objective from subjective, rather than accepting a convenient and simple explanation for a complex situation.

We like to believe that we understand ourselves and others, and we like to believe that we can understand why we do what we do.

But the reality is, we are extremely complex and we often find that we don’t know why we think certain thoughts or act in certain ways. We are all incredibly unique and different because of natural and social reasons.

Understanding this, we should take caution when we try to understand the world through simple, unidimensional theories. Rationality, our highest faculty as humans with consciousness, is a double edged sword.

It is simultaneously our greatest strength and weakness. It could be utilized to explore the complexities of the world, strive to understand them, and produce solutions to problems. It could also be utilized to trap us inside rigid, all encompassing realities and subject us to live within them.

The rational mind tends to fall in love with it’s own productions.

— Jordan Peterson

The truth is, we’ll never know why these individuals chose to engage in senseless murder sprees.

We like to offer up all kinds of hypotheses, and gather evidence that supports them. And in some ways, we could be right.

But we also have to treat each of these mass shooters as individual cases. They were all different humans with different lives and reasons for why they chose to do what they did.

To group them collectively, factor out similarities (white, male), and claim that these are the factors that predisposed them to act in malicious ways is not addressing or helping the issue.

Antagonizing and shaming people who have these immutable characteristics will only divide and perhaps, I would argue, even increase the chances of future tragedies.

What happens when you shame a collective for qualities that are out of their control? What happens when you demand them to take responsibility for actions undertaken by individuals who are dissimilar to them in all ways except skin color?

Not everyone in the collective will take the misdirected hate lightly and apologetically. We are seeing a reaction from the collective, which people have identified as “alt-right” and “neo-Nazis”.

Was the genesis of this radical group natural, consisting of inherently racist and nationalistic individuals, or was it due to a reaction of the increasing animosity toward white people?

I won’t claim that I know the answer, but I would argue that the latter only helped increase the proliferation of recruits.

Takeaways From This Article

  1. Wait for more facts to come out instead of claiming motive and pushing a political narrative with incomplete set of facts
  2. Think about social consequences should people who report false information receive?
  3. Raise the standards of reporting — demand higher standards from writers, while also demanding higher standards from ourselves to seek facts rather than information that confirms our previously held beliefs
  4. Refrain from explaining complex humans and situations with all encompassing, simple arguments like “white supremacy”
  5. Refrain from claiming to understand the motivations and actions of complex humans and treat each situation as independent

Let’s not rush to make political legislation by capitalizing on heightened emotions.

When we rush, we tend to make mistakes. And those mistakes may have unintended consequences that we weren’t able to account for when we were influenced by emotions.

If you want to ask me a question or simply want to talk: @ohc.william@gmail.com. Check out my publication — https://medium.com/sapere-aude-incipe