If you're reading this and you have young, lefty friends, consider how many of them believe the following false things:

* Climate change will result in human extinction

* Nuclear power is the most dangerous form of energy production

* Every country in the developed world has a single payer healthcare system like Canada's

* Elon Musk's wealth started as inherited money from his father's blood mines in South Africa

* American politics is primarily determined by the buying and selling of votes in Congress by billionaires

* Building new apartments raises rents

If so, your friends are victims of misinformation. Free them from the lies!

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One similar trend I really supported early in the Trump years that I now think is actively dystopian is ‘fact checking.’

Trump lies so much that it made sense to me to clearly lay out the lack of basis for his claims. But the industry has just become labeling conservative claims either False (if they are wrong) or Mostly False (if they are right because they should have contextualized them more evenly). On the other hand progressive claims are either True (if they are right) or Mostly True (if they are wrong but the vibes are good. It’s embarrassing to read as someone with basic reading comprehension and just feeds the Ben Shapiro machine. Orgs should get rid of that function if they aren’t willing to reconceptualize it.

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Could it be said that this whole “misinformation” thing is actually misinformation?

I continually see articles that make it seem as if misinformation creation and distribution is a sophisticated and large industry, when after digging in it seems like 3 babies in a trench coat who shit post on Facebook.

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 20, 2022

The Democratic coalition is “smarter” than the current GOP one, but that certainly doesn’t seem to produce any more realistic discourse a lot of the time.

The topic currently sitting at the top of the thread is religion and patriotism; Democratic dislike of both, especially the latter, seems to have become so poisonous that a decent chunk of the coalition, disproportionately focused on the well-educated, genuinely believes that the US is both a horrible place to live for anyone up to the 95th percentile, and that we’re the most brutal empire to ever exist.

I’m not sure how to characterize those beliefs except “misinformation.”

And they have the additional benefit of being wildly unpopular, in addition to being false.

And that’s without getting into to the various mostly-wrong-but-with-a-glimmer-of-truth beliefs surrounding racism, racial history, and gender identity, all of which we’re supposed to hold as well-educated folk.

Maybe less stone-throwing, ya?

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 20, 2022

I’m sure misinformation is a problem at at least some scale, but trusting the Misinformation Experts to determine the scale of that problem means surrendering my sense of true and false to people I would struggle to trust to tell me the time of day.

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I'll use this piece as a chance to comment on my personal hobbyhorse, the increasingly widespread belief among Democrats that they only lose elections due to gerrymandering or other unfair Republican tactics. You could call it the Small Lie. How many Democrats know that Republicans won the House in 2010, 2014 and 2016 because they actually won a raw majority of total votes cast- about 51% in all three cases? How many Democrats know that according to political scientists the US actually has one of the fairer representative systems, as measured by the spread between votes cast & representatives seated? (Canada is over twice as bad!)

How many Democrats know that Republicans run the Wisconsin state legislature because they consistently win a raw majority of votes cast, year in and year out? I downloaded their 2020 electoral results and was pretty surprised to find that. I hear a lot of bleating about Wisconsin and how unfair it is there.

In general I think Dems not being honest with themselves about how popular Republicans are nationally is a low-key version of the Big Lie. Every electoral loss is due to gerrymandering, etc. (If you're concerned about Trump not conceding the election, try asking a Bernie supporter why he lost the primary twice. It wuz all a conspiracy, rigged, etc. etc.)

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 20, 2022

This is yet another urgent post in the ongoing Yglesias series, "Democrats, wake up! The ship is sinking! Stop complaining about esoterica and do something, fast!"

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I think what bothers a lot of Democrats is not that the total level of misinformation is higher than in the past; there's not much evidence that's the case. The problem is that nowadays there's more misinformation which harms their political prospects. "The government faked the moon landing" is an old-school conspiracy theory with no particular partisan valence. "The Democratic Party is controlled by satanists" is a new type of conspiracy theory which affects the outcome of elections.

But when you look at it this way you can see that partisan misinformation is mostly an effect, not a cause. Most normies don't pay much attention to politics and they evaluate the two main political parties using various heuristics, with cultural affinity being one of the most popular.

So if you start with some of the common perceptions of the two parties among low-information voters, e.g.:

"Republicans are normal people like us, who don't believe that women have penises. Democrats are different from us, and weirdly believe that some women do have penises":

it's easy to see why "Republicans are secret satanists" is a conspiracy theory nobody's going to fall for, whereas "Democrats are secret satanists" will get a certain amount of traction.

I'm not trying to defend the conservative position on trans issues here. The point is that you have to start by acknowledging that Democratic elites are further from the cultural mainstream than Republican elites. Under those circumstances, misinformation is always going to have a partisan bias in favor of the GOP.

There's no reason to think misinformation can be eliminated, so you have to address this by narrowing the culture gap. That doesn't necessarily mean moving to the right on cultural issues, although sometimes it might. But if you don't intend to do that, you have to present the progressive position on those issues in a way that doesn't sound bizarre: something like "Trans people deserve dignity and equal rights" rather than "Words don't mean what everyone thinks they mean".

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I think the major reason the Dems have lost minority ethnic and non-college grad support has been the culture wars, not misinformation. Lots of folks are truly frightened by LBGT & BLM rhetoric or the social changes they and immigrants have brought.

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 20, 2022

Sorry Matt - while you're right that Democrats need to look inward and find real solutions rather than try to work a nonexistent ref, denying the magnitude of misinformation out there shows that *you* might not be following your own advice and not talking to lots of 'normie' voters. Whether it be just in the course of my life with the more conservative or apolitical people I know, or while canvassing/doing political activities, I am constantly floored by the amount of crazy shit that's out there widespread and widely believed. The Joe Biden is a/covers for pedophiles thing was EVERYWHERE in 2020, repeated as an article of fact... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm constantly floored by how often I come across people who believe all kinds of crazy shit about local politics and politicians just because they saw it on Facebook or whatever. And not from crazy, raving rightwing lunatics who watch Fox all day, but just normal, nice enough people.

In fact, you even (correctly) point out yourself that a lot of people on the left are misinformed by "feelings-over-facts" takes about politics, stuff that becomes taken as fact because people see it enough times on social media. We've always had uninformed voters, but I can't imagine we had this level of people who are 'informed' by large amounts of nonsense.

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 20, 2022

Tl;dr the makers of the Bible poll probably haven’t read a page of the Bible (or biblical scholarship) in their life and are as ignorant (or more ignorant) than those who understand it through a theist lens.

An incidental note- the poll on the Bible is badly conducted as it allows for 3 options that are all false (or unprovable) by scholarly standards. In fact, anyone who bothered to read even a significant portion of the Bible will immediately realize it’s not a “book” in the modern sense but rather a collection of texts, some composed many centuries apart and in 3 different original languages. While *some* parts can be labeled as “fables” (loosely defined) others are clearly of many other genres including poetry, historiography, and ancient near eastern genres for which there is no good modern equivalent (e.g. Wisdom Literature). While parts of the Bible are certainly mythical/legendary, others offer accounts of genuine historical events, well-corroborated by archaeology and independent written literary and epigraphical sources (e.g much of the books(s) of Kings).

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I'm from Europe, so the most annoying thing for me in this misinformation conversation is socialism. I have seen many times organizations that are willing to fact check Trump's lies suddenly being unable to criticize DSA-affiliated politicians who describe strongly held beliefs of European conservatives (like universal healthcare) as socialism.

How many times have you seen the American media say something like "Actually, the Treaty of Lisbon bans member states from implementing any socialist policies, so European socialists are generally anti-EU."? How many times have you seen something like "Actually, Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist, so his policies can't have anything to do with Denmark."?

Joe Biden created joint policy groups with Bernie Sanders before the 2020 election. If you write an article about how it's fake news that Biden is a socialist and Latinos in Florida shouldn't freak out about Sanders, I also expect an article saying that none of the EU policies that Sanders supports are socialist.

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Tangential to this, but the noticeable decline in belief in biblical literalism amongst independents should call into question the progressive article of faith that independents are all just lying Republicans.

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Great piece. When I was growing up (in my 50s now as a Genx) people talked about Limousine liberals who essentially said things like "public schools and unions are the best" while sending their children to elite private schools that were not unionized. Little has changed with the DC Democratic elite (Sidwell Friends etc).

Today's elites from the Democratic Party are similar to those of my youth and there is now a level of condescending that voters can't ignore.

It is recorded and distributed online.

So when you call your opponents ignorant and a "basket of deplorables" in today's information environment, they will immediately know and they will not appreciate it.

And they will vote against you.

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Footnote 1:

[Say something here to placate the Christians by pissing off the Jews as well.]

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Two thoughts:

Being informed is work and stress with very little payoff. My realization at middle age is that life is mostly family, work and community. Understanding politics or policy rarely adds value, but often raises your blood pressure.

Human brains need simplifying narratives. Scientific explanations and religious ones provide the narrative. Religious events and memorials shape human lives and history as do scientific narratives, correct or not. The character of the narrative matters as much as the truth value. A truth can be communicated with ill intent (malicious gossip) and a fable can uplift and unite.

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