Prepping for a historic campaign of lies

I have bad news for you: the 2020 campaign season is ramping up.

In the past this has meant candidates saying stuff that was a bit exaggerated with the occasional whopper. But now it means literal troll farms spreading outright lies, which will be amplified by cable news, and even candidates. The apparent goal seems to be to undermine the very concept of truth, with so much “fake news” that the phrase will be applied to all news.

There are fact-checking sites, but the trolls have done their work so effectively that fact sites are constantly accused of bias. Use them, but be prepared for monkeys screaming “Fake News!”

To make matters worse, new technology called “DeepFake” can create videos of people saying things they never said. That’s going to make fact-checking even harder. What to do?

Here’s my tool kit. These are practical things I do to try stay in the orbit of reality:

  • Don’t watch TV news. Once upon a time, TV networks spent 23 hours preparing for a one-hour program. They weren’t perfect, but they took their work very seriously. Now teams of talking heads sit in front of a camera, reacting to stuff. This goes on all day and night. If you had a fire hose that sprayed bullshit, it would be cable news. Avoiding it will reduce factual pollution in your head.
  • Read books on factual topics that aren’t specifically related to current news events. As Mark Twain may have said; “History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes”. So reading history will help you spot patterns. And the physical world does indeed repeat itself, so invest some serious time in science and math. That way, when someone makes a claim that seems… improbable, it will stand out.
  • Think in terms of probability. The Mark Twain quote above can’t be confirmed, so it’s better to say he “may have” said it. This is a way of keeping an open mind without letting your brains fall out. Is a quote or action consistent with what you know about a person? Then OK, sure, maybe, until it’s confirmed, which means “high probability”. Not consistent? Then probably not. Probability as a proportionate output of consistency, which still leaves room for stuff you never saw coming.
  • Follow experts on social media. There are people you can follow today who are real experts in the actual field of study in question. Engineers, system designers, historians, specialist doctors, epidemiologists, geologists, climate scientists, space scientists, physicists… the important thing is that they are experts in a specific field.
  • And media people who refer to expertise. For example Bill Nye, a science guy, is a licensed engineer with more authority in engineering than other topics. But when he talks about gender expression or climate science, he consciously lines up with specialist science in those fields. Another example would be Greta Thunberg, whose message repeated like a warning buoy reads: “Don’t listen to me, listen to the science.”
  • Follow people who are not like you in some way. You can learn more in one day about the effects of gender law by following a transgender artist than you could in a year of watching cable news. This principle works in reverse, too; you would learn very little about Islam from your Christian legislator.
  • Realize that where you are is not the whole world. Is the weather nice where you are? Good. Is your community in good shape? That’s great. How’s the rest of the world? For that matter, how’s the rest of your state?
  • Watch out for bots and trolls online. Learn to recognize accounts that fit the profile of a bot farm account. This is a major industry now, with outputs on both sides of the major ideological divide. Their goal is confusion and discord. Check your followers list. When you spot one, block, don’t engage.
  • Watch out for logical fallacies. So an immigrant committed a crime, and people with an ax to grind are all over the news with it? Stop to ask yourself what that means for immigrants generally. (Spoiler alert: not much.)
  • Check things out, confirm, verify, measure, get out your calculator. Don’t stop with the first thing in print that confirms what you thought. Especially when someone makes a surprising claim that isn’t consistent with what you know. Dig, look up, open books, sit down and do some math. Pay attention to orders of magnitude. When you find out you made a mistake, don’t double-down; edit your post with an explicit correction.
Judge Claude Frollo from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame
This fucking guy

Finally, dial back the concept of absolute Truth. For practical purposes you can absolutely depend on the laws of thermodynamics, for instance, but when you get to talking about anything metaphysical, not so much. When someone’s going on about what God intended, ask how they know.

If you ask a scientist how they know something, they’ll start talking about experimental methodology, data collection, statistical techniques, and correlation with other fields of inquiry. And the conclusions they draw are “highly likely” or “an interesting result, calling for more study” but almost never claimed to be absolute Truth.

There are organized and even state-supported efforts to throw massive amounts of disinformation into the marketplace of ideas. This has the same effect on that marketplace that mass counterfeiting has on an economy, and should be countered with skepticism and scrutiny. Don’t let disinformation go unchallenged, and don’t pass it on yourself.

I won’t lie; this is exhausting work. Spend more time educating yourself than you do engaging online. And give your mind a break; get some rest, enjoy a fantasy story, do something pointless but fun.


Tom Scott’s 59-minute video about social media, lies and propaganda is well worth your time:

You will find disinformation on both sides of the ideological divide, but both sides are not the same.

White supremacists in Law Enforcement

Like a cancer patient in denial, America has a problem with white supremacists in law enforcement.

If you’re thinking; “No it doesn’t!”… set that thought aside for a moment and examine some evidence. There is ample documentation and both FBI and scholarly reference that it is true. These sources are linked in the list at the bottom of the page.

I am not being ‘anti-cop’ any more than a diagnosis of cancer is anti-health. I am “anti-racism” and “anti-white-supremacist.” Many police departments have not been compromised but some major departments have been. Think of the good cops you personally know, and how this situation places them in danger.

Police officer hands in pockets knee on George Floyd neck
Officer is pretty relaxed, watching George Floyd die. Occasionally looked up at the camera during the video. Officer behind him also had hands in pockets.

As of 31 May, 2020, following the cool, deliberate on-camera execution of George Floyd, protests are taking place all across the country. Some of them have turned violent, but it does not appear to be the actual protesters who instigate the violence. In some cases it has been instigators and in others, it has actually been the police. And behind all of this tumult, there is a root cause.

As far back as 2006, the FBI warned that white supremacists were infiltrating law enforcement:

In the 2006 bulletin, the FBI detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists. The bulletin was released during a period of scandal for many law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including a neo-Nazi gang formed by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who harassed black and Latino communities. Similar investigations revealed officers and entire agencies with hate group ties in IllinoisOhio and Texas.

Little was done. In 2019, the Lewis & Clark Law Review published a legal analysis of continued white supremacist influence in law enforcement titled “KKK in the PD”. The report reads:

Unfortunately, this significant rise in hate group membership and hate ideology is seen not just in the public but within law enforcement as well. Newer white supremacist organizations have focused on veterans,11 college students12 and infiltrating police departments.13 Communities of color feel they cannot seek safety by calling police. Many in communities of color already are afraid of police because of the killings of unarmed blacks and other minorities that have been making headlines for decades but particularly since the killings in Ferguson,14 Staten Island,15 Cincinnati16 and elsewhere.17

Social media has played its part. Several Facebook groups have been created where law enforcement can trade racist and Islamophobic material. Some police departments have been sifting through social media posts, deciding what to do.

I found a wealth of documentation regarding this trend, some of it too offensive to even consider posting. The field is large, and complex, and there are aspects I have not touched on. But as a country we need to align with our promise of liberty and justice for all.