In the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, I started reading some of the blog posts Scott Adams would publish on Dilbert.com. Typically I skipped these, instead visiting the site just for the comics, but some of the titles and audacious statements in the snippet that appeared on the site had me click to read more, fully expecting that a smart statement refuting the initial paragraph would quickly make an appearance. There were no reversals and, sometime around August, the "alt-reality" articles were enough to keep me off the site.
Earlier this week I was sent a link to a Dilbert comic involving Asok, one of my favourite characters, speaking nonsensical jargon. Under that three-panel strip was a blog post attesting that the President of Syria did not release poison gas on the citizens of the country he rules. He goes on to make the following claims:
- the attack was "too Hollywood" because "a little too perfect to be natural"
- President Trump "knows this smells fishy" and so responds to "a fake war crime" with "fake response" ... and that makes him smart
Now I'm going to admit that I was not in the town of Khan Sheikhun when the bombs were dropping. I was not in Syria. Heck, I haven't even been within 5,000km of that country at any time in my life. Perhaps the whole thing was made up in a Wag the Dog fashion by certain powerful interests in order to force Trump's hand to see if he would appear weak on war crimes. But this would require one heck of a coordinated effort by a lot of people to keep the truth under wraps.
I don't know how multi-lingual Mr. Adams might be, but I typically get my news from a few different sources in order to try and have a semi-balanced view of the world. I read The Guardian based out of the UK and The National Post out of Canada. I read The Japanese versions of The Asahi Shinbun and The Daily Yomiuri from Japan. For some things, I even read the Yonhap News in English and The Chosun Ilbo in Korean out of South Korea. I do this because it's very easy to fall into an echo chamber, and having different views of the same events around the world can give a person the perspective to identify which elements of a story are probably accurate and which ones are questionable or otherwise conjecture. The amount of effort that would be required to coordinate all of these news sources to report generally the same story would be a massive undertaking.
Let's break down some of the reasons:
- many of these news organizations have their own reporters on the ground in and around Syria
- creating fake reporters with active social media presences is certainly doable, but very hard to maintain long-term
- timing would be absolutely critical to ensure a news outlet did not accidentally release a story an hour or two ahead of others
- how many journalists would not salivate at the prospect of breaking the story that dozens ... hundreds ... thousands of news outlets around the world are colluding to keep the general population of the planet unaware of what's happening while simultaneously rewriting history to favour the agendas of certain individuals or religious groups?
- the fucking UN, other governments, along with dozens of organizations send people in afterwards to provide aid and other support. Is every human that risks their lives by going into an active war zone complicit with the supposed lies as well?
Secrets typically do not stay as such for very long when a lot of people are involved.
What's most telling about the blog post from Scott Adams is the lack of evidence backing up his belief. He links to an article on the New York Times cushioning his conspiracy theories by saying the news organization is "alleging" the historically hostile Syrian government has used a nerve agent on its own citizens. He says that the mainstream media "has been wrong about almost everything for a solid 18 months in a row" without backing it up. And he says that Bashar al-Assad would never do such a thing because it would constitute "Suicide-by-Trump" despite the very real fact that Trump's people basically said two days before the gas attacks that the U.S. was not going to interfere in the civil war that has wreaked havoc throughout Syria over the last six years.
Of course, if you ask for evidence from conspiracy theorists, the answer is often along the lines of "Open your eyes, man! Google that shit!" as though it's a valid response. Even if I did invest more time into researching views that contradict my understanding of the world, who's to say I would find the "right" conspiracy theories that match whatever Mr. Adams might have me believe?
I do not for a minute believe everything I read in the papers or see on TV. This is why I get news from different countries, different outlets, and in different languages. This ensure the information is "filtered" by different editors with different biases, different cultures, different backgrounds, and different agendas. Is it a perfect way to get the news? Hell, no. It's time consuming as fuck and requires me to really invest myself into understanding just how complex the political, societal, historical, and sociological problems we face today really are.
Having different opinions from various news sources is fine. Heck, it's absolutely essential if an informed populace is to keep news organizations accountable. Spewing conspiracy theories without backing up those claims with verifiable facts, however, is just downright irresponsible.