We see these headlines on social media all the time saying something outrageous. This guy wants to ban breathing air. That guy wants to force everyone to drink Diet Coke for breakfast. Suitably outraged, we click ‘Share’ or ‘Retweet’ and thus join the ranks of all right-thinking people who actually like breathing, and would rather drink Diet Pepsi. So we shake our head at the idiocy of our public servants that they would try to do such a thing.
Now I’m not going to suggest they’re not idiots. They probably are. But I will suggest that the truth of the matter isn’t really what the headline, the meme or the tweet says it is. But why would they misrepresent the facts?
Bob’s Third Law of Politics:
Bob’s Third Law of Politics states, “Politicians count on you to be uninformed, and to fashion your opinions on sound bites and social media posts. They know that in the court of public opinion, outrage wins out over quiet approval, so they will try to outrage you.”
Case In Point:
I’m not here to take a position on the bill in question, but rather to use it to illustrate a point. A recent bill introduced in the Tennessee state legislature was intended to reinforce the First Amendment on college campuses. It would prohibit schools from collecting information or taking action against a student for legal speech that did not include a threat or harassment. It was in response to some schools who created systems to allow students to report other students for legal speech that the listener considered to be triggering, or a microagression.
An opponent of the bill asked during the introduction, “Does this protect all speech? Does this mean someone could stand in the middle of campus and tell people to join ISIS?”
Since that’s legal speech, the sponsor said yes.
And boom. A potential social media firestorm is born: “Lawmaker: ISIS Should Be Able to Recruit on College Campuses”
The bill is dead.
So when you see that a town banned a solar farm because it would suck up all the sunlight (truth was one crackpot in the town said that during open discussion) or that a Tennessee legislator wants to let ISIS recruit on campus, don’t fall for the outrage trolling. That’s what they want you to do. Read the article. Inform yourself. Then decide.