Your Parents Believe Everything They Read on the Internet

Or: How the Gen X’ers Get Away with Boomer Crimes

You really think someone would do that? Just go on the Internet and tell lies?

I remember the moment extraordinarily clearly. I was about 9 years old, I come out of my mom’s bedroom (where she kept the computer) and told her excitedly that I had won 10,000 dollars from a website. The look of horror on her face as she ran to her computer and saw, what can only be described as a fuckin’ ton of pop-up ads. Not only did I absolutely wreck that computer (not solely from this moment many trips to Limewire and any site that remotely looked like it was going to give me new games for free), but I also got a scolding “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet”. This phrase that intended to warn us of the dangers of online media, bad actors out to spread misinformation, or just trick us into clicking on ads. The phrase was really a hollow statement meant to keep us from believing strangers and doubting our parents. But I took it literally, I always thought that we weren’t supposed to believe everything on the internet. I mean hell the phrase was repeated to me by parents, teachers, and really any adult that had my fleeting attention. So why did they stop following their own advice?

Deepstate conspiracies and other ways to make your house guests leave early

We’ve all seen it, the terrible over exposed and pixelated memes that prevail on sites like Facebook. They are always rife with baseless claims of how “Obama was actually born in Kenya” a lie Donald Trump popularized or “Joe Biden is a pedophile”. Wild claims, rarely sourced, and when they do provide a source it’s to a website along the lines of “eagleflagamericabeer.info1. Or a YouTube video by someone who goes by the name “TruthTeller119”, who seems very credible, it’s in the name.

An altered image of a birth certificate incorrectly claiming Obama was not born in Hawaii

They always tend to lean on this false confidence intellectual argument. Cluing the viewer in on some greater conspiracy “if you just follow the signs”. This is always an attempt to grasp at the readers want to be “in the know”, this makes them feel like they know something everyone else doesn’t. It provides a sense of superiority that wraps them in a blanket in an ever increasingly hostile environment to their world views. Also, like, just a load of bigotry.

Your relatives are sharing these “memes” for a few reasons; It confirms a bias, they have poor media literacy, and they have inherit trust in the system. That last reason is especially poignant because I think it colors quite a lot of interactions you may have had with your parents over the years. They will immediately spout things like “The officer wouldn’t lie about the law, it’s their job. They would get fired if they were lying.” or “They are a doctor they know more about it”. Which, coincidentally, they will throw those arguments out if it doesn’t confirm a bias they may already have2.

The media literacy also comes from that place of inherit trust as well. Your parents come from a world with stricter FCC guidelines and Journalism standards3. An era where you would have to issue a retraction if you were wrong or you would have to step down from public office just for the implication you did something problematic. So they, incorrectly, believe that if it was wrong, it wouldn’t be allowed to exist. Inversely they also believe that if proof doesn’t exist it’s part of a conspiracy to hide the truth from you.

The landscape has since changed in the modern world. Nowadays you can just rely on the narcissist prayer4 and suddenly the problem just goes away, gone with the next media cycle.

“That didn’t happen.

And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.

And if it was, that’s not a big deal.

And if it is, that’s not my fault.

And if it was, I didn’t mean it.

And if I did, you deserved it.”

Some of you may read that and like me, recoil at how familiar it is to dealing with various people in your life. It’s an extremely on the nose description of the tactics narcissists use to defend their actions. It’s also the playbook modern Politicians and right wing talking heads have taken when dealing with controversies, if they aren’t down right ignoring it happened at all. You know who else this sounds like? Donald Trump.

When you’re famous they let you do it…

While misinformation and denial-ism have been around for a long time, the current form of it was really popularized by Donald Trump5. Or at least the version I personally so closely associate with the movement, if you want to call it that. And he’s been doing it for a really long time.

Check out this video from NBC News that breaks down his creation of the character Donald Trump.

He’s always been wheeling and dealing. Or at least that’s that image of himself he wants everyone to have at least. More accurately he has always been saying whatever he needs to in order to stay relevant and on peoples minds. You can see this with his various media stunts and appearances throughout the decades, as well as his multitude of buildings where he just rubs your face in it and puts his name on it so you can’t forget. But most importantly he is always trying to stay relevant so he can capture a market of rubes to rob with his next scheme. Look at his failed Trump University, or Trump Steaks? And whats more relevant that lying about the current presidents birth place on every platform you can get to look at you. Even further from that, if you became President they would have to listen to everything you have to say, and believe it.

Former President Trump’s entire tactic when dealing with the public was saying whatever thought popped into his head as quickly as possible. Like some sort of improv troupes word association game. You had to bring binoculars to the acrobatics in order to see all of the leaps he made between claims in one breath. Don’t watch the below video if you value your sanity but it’s a perfect example of the type of rhetoric he is spewing. Dis-proven lie after dis-proven lie moving at a clip so fast that while you were stewing about how wrong he was about the first thing he’s on to the 19th false claim about election fraud.

This is the same type of content that’s being shared online by people like your parents. They are keeping up with each claim he makes and believing it with their whole heart. Why? Because how could he lie? He’d be in jail if he lied, and if they did throw him in jail, it’s because they are afraid of his truth. That double edged logic allows you to wiggle out of any scenario none the wiser if you were actually wrong.

Cults are in your tv and Rugged Individualism ruins your brain

So why do people fall in with people like Trump? Well because he treats his followers like a Cult to put it bluntly. He tells them to believe him and only him. Even said at one point “Just remember: what you’re seeing and what you're reading is not what’s happening”. That is blatant “trust me everyone else is a liar” behavior. This is straight out of the Jim Jones guidebook on running a cult. But instead of a loudspeaker talking to them at all times reminding his followers of his presence he used Twitter and Fox News appearances.

He tells you out right not to trust people who counteract his version of the truth. And he gets to say this on the largest platform in the country.

People have this impression that cults have to be physically in one place or around a compound. But that’s from an era gone by in the last big Cult boom of the 70’s. Now, thanks to social media, you can create a closed community out in the open. Look to places like Telegram, Discord, Reddit, Twitter, etc. They all provide the ability to have small closed communities while existing globally and sharing your doctrine widely.

One of the behaviors that makes you predisposed to falling for a cult is a belief in “it couldn’t happen to me”, this belief that you are impervious to these attempts is what makes you even more susceptible to it. Some of this same idea of “I don’t need help I am self sufficient” that’s called “Rugged Individualism”. This self isolating mindset puts you in a bubble all on your own. This belief pits you against the government and makes you trust anyone critical of the government. A weapon the right uses with extreme effectiveness to strip away your rights under the guise of “getting the other”. It allows you to double down on what you believe and then use the cult programming to stop paying attention to what dissenting information is presented to you.

It’s not your fault it’s theirs…kind of

So given everything above I think we should establish that this isn’t anyone’s fault but their own. They were given all the same tools they gave us and just decided they didn’t want to put them in action. Call it age, despondency, or just plain willful ignorance, the core of it is our parents just stopped practicing the core principles of critical thought and common sense that they so often preached at us from a young age. However, it would be extremely unfair to really blame them fully, no, I think that blame gets to fall squarely on 2 places in particular. Fox News and Facebook, the deadly duo of misinformation. There are plenty of other places they could have gotten this information from but these two places specifically did more damage than we can count. They have concocted over the years the perfect poison pill of conspiracy cult that allows them to guarantee a perpetually angry and emotional audience that glues to the screen for every broadcast. A marvel of modern propaganda and cult rhetoric if I ever saw one. A fascists wet dream.The system has failed us, and them. Because the system never truly worked. Over the last decade we have seen the evidence presented to us time and time again. The things we thought were not allowed were simply based on “tradition” rather than laws. There is nothing aside from civil lawsuits that can stop Fox News from claiming whatever they want. There is nothing stopping Mitch McConnell from halting a Supreme Court nomination. Or republicans from attempting to throw out votes in favor of their guy. Too many pieces of our fragile government was built upon a set of expectations and tradition that we just stopped expecting someone would be brazen enough to break it.

I don’t think anyone is expecting you personally to deprogram your parents. Unfortunately the only thing I think we can do is vote. Vote for people who matter. Vet your local politicians with as much passion as you care about the presidency. Because if we ever want to make real change, we will need to have the support of local government. We need systems in place with real authority to stop misinformation. And more than that we need accountability for those who are proven to spread it.

Well thats it for this post! This was not intended to be my first newsletter but I felt really driven to write this and put thoughts to page. Going forward my intended schedule is weekly free newsletters and then likely monthly or even bi-weekly indepth analysis which will be paid since they are more time consuming.

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