Where are we headed? Why are we so susceptible to fake information and so inclined to believe with little or no effort to check facts? We don’t want facts, we want reinforcement of what we already believe; facts, even real solutions to problems are secondary.
Whether the Russian web brigades actually affected the outcome of the presidential election, or any other, is impossible to tell. The fake news, false identities, cyberattacks and other tactics outlined in the Justice Department indictment last week seemed aimed at people who probably already got that sort of ranting from plenty of zany, homegrown sources.
But therein lies the true danger: that the polarization in American politics, society and life has become so yawning that people on the far right, and to some degree on the left, are prepared to accept the most appalling and transparent lies to bolster their beliefs. As Amanda Taub and Max Fisher wrote in “The Interpreter” column in The Times on Sunday, “The false information and political advertisements that the Russians are accused of spreading could ring true only to those already predisposed to suspect the worst.”
Not so many years ago, fake quotes like one in which Hillary Clinton praises Shariah law, or reports suggesting that Black Lives Matter activists are killing police officers, would have been dismissed as the rants of sick extremists. That they evidently find credence in at least a part of the population says far more about the state of public discourse than about Russia. New York Times editorial 2-22-18.