I’m not a confrontational kind of person. Having to tell someone they are wrong about something usually leads to a kind of sick feeling in my stomach and anxiety that plagues me for days. My usually approach when people are misinformed is just to let them be wrong, I figure their misinformed state is not my problem. Plus, most people don’t actually want their minds changed anyway. Our confirmation biases are such that I could throw mountains of evidence to the contrary at them and they wouldn’t believe me, preferring to rely on the one source that tells them what they want to hear.
Yet more and more often I am finding myself in situations where I feel compelled to challenge the information being provided and it usually involves people posting misinformation online. I’m trying to figure out why. I don’t know if it is because the posting of misinformation is more frequent, whether what is being posted is more blatantly false, or whether the misinformation is more harmful. There is a lot of stuff out there at the moment that seems almost designed to stir up hate and by generating hate to increase the power and influence of certain groups of people who are promising action.
I am struggling with this one a little bit, because a part of me wants to say that I have no moral obligation regarding other people’s ignorance. I want to be able to say that everyone has an obligation to be aware of their own biases and to check the accuracy of information before they forward it on or rely on the information to form opinions. But…in saying that am I just indulging my own preference for non-confrontation? Is it something that I actually do myself? I know I try to, but like a lot of people I don’t always have time.
There are certainly some situations where I would be morally obliged to inform people of their misinformed state. For example, if a person was under the impression that they were about to drink a tasty drink but I knew it was poison I would generally think I am obliged to tell them its poison. Is the obligation to tell them any less just because the harms from the misinformation are less imminent or felt by society as a whole?
If I do have an obligation to correct the misinformed, how much time, effort and energy am I required to spend on it? Given the amount of misinformation out there at the moment, it would be a full-time job. More than a full time job and tricky because I am probably wrong just as often as everyone else. I think that is part of the problem, people are coming across vast amounts of information everyday and they need some way of deciding what to believe. Usually people just go with their guts, or with a source they trust. The problem is our guts are often wrong and the people we think are trustworthy are playing us for fools.
So, after that rather lengthy ramble I am no closer to a solution. It’s not really one of those things that one person can actually fix on their own. It needs a critical mass of people to change their behaviour. All I can do as an individual is set the truth as the standard I aim for and hope that enough people come along for the ride.