In my years of arguing with Trump supporters online, I’ve found that our arguments almost always end the same way: with them declaring that in our modern media landscape, there’s simply no way to know what’s true and what isn’t.
Furthermore, as my wife pointed out the other day, they seem to cynically bask in this conclusion, as if this stance is somehow an indicator of their contrarian intelligence and hard-earned life experience (“this isn’t my first rodeo!” and such).
For example, here are a couple direct quotes from a recent epic Facebook thread (in this case, both quotes are from evangelicals):
“My objective view syncs with the republican party more than the democrat one.”
“ALL journalism requires faith in the man/ woman. They all have their own personal views that get mixed in (human nature), especially now in our current political environment. Right now journalism rules are ignored. On all sides. I try to listen to both as much as I can, but in the end I have to go with which makes more sense to me.”
Yeah, I know, it kinda makes you want to sit down and just stare into the void for a bit. Take your time.
Back? Splashed some water on your face? Cool.
For real though, how did these people get to this point? Well, it certainly didn’t happen overnight, and obviously everyone’s journey is different. Based on my (too) many interactions, here’s my take on the different “nothing can be trusted” types that I’ve come across over the years (and I’m sure there are many more):
Team Players: Those that place loyalty to a political party or other group (often a religious organization) above the need to seek out truth. They’ll unquestioningly post anything for the validating dopamine hit they get as the likes start rolling in.
Easy Marks: Those without media literacy skills (either by virtue of growing up or growing older in a changing landscape, having being encouraged to avoid “the world” in evangelical settings or having been led down the primrose path over time to destinations like 4chan). These people have been burned before, but pride prevents them from ever admitting it, so they double down on what “feels” right, nihilistically arguing that nothing can be trusted anyway.
Mirror Smashers: Those that knowingly support and spread obvious lies to avoid having to do any painful self-reflection. They’re ashamed of bad life choices they’ve made, attractions they’re afraid to act on or jealously/hate they harbor in their heart. They choose to push others down as a twisted form of therapy.
I’ve found that the only way to combat all of this nonsense is to relentlessly and mercilessly dismantle their content with facts as often as you can (though with respect, which is something I often fail at). Ignoring it just lets it reach more eyes and ears. You may never get through to them, but you may reach those that are watching from the sidelines, or encourage other people that have been discouraged by the battle.
As an example, I received the following private message yesterday, which meant a great deal to me:
“You have no idea how extremely refreshing it is to know that there are actually people like you guys out there! Talking to many of my white friends, it’s like talking to a brick wall, where facts and evidence are meaningless, and up is down, and down is up.”
It’s not easy, and it often feels like spitting into the wind, but to those working to promote media literacy and fight dangerous misinformation post by post and comment by comment, my hat is off to you for your unceasing patience. The truth is out there!