Friday, February 15, 2019

How To Spot A Hoax

Well, one kind of hoax, anyway. I'm not a general hoax expert.

When the story is just too perfect, when it fits the stereotype that the perpetrator wants to believe, that's a big clue. Lots of people wanted it to be true that high school boys wearing MAGA hats were saying racist things and even looking a little violent and out of control. So a Native American says "I thought they were going to lynch those black people." Really?  You thought those 16-year-olds were going to pull out some rope and wade into a group of black adults, and start dragging them out one-by-one, looking for a tree branch or a light pole?

But it would just be so cool if they were like that.  I'll be they would be like that if they only had the chance.  It's not too far-fetched that they could conceivably do that... 

The racist note written to a black student having difficulties at Air Force Prep turn out to be written by - the victim. Yet that doesn't matter so much as the idea that it could have been written by someone else, and weneedtohaveamonologueCONVERSATIONaboutracism, because all those awful people keep denying that racism and sexism exist, so we will have to proceed as if those lacorsse players could have raped that black girl, or Emma Sulkowitz was really assaulted, that Haven Monahan really exists.  There's a new one, some actor, Smollet?  Justy Smollett?  The first I heard of the story, red flags.  Too perfect.  Most anti-semitic events are vandalism, and have a poetic beauty about their violence and threats.

Real hate crimes are usually crude: some jerk shoves someone while insulting them. Those happen.  Those are real sexism, homophobia, racism, whatever. But they aren't really interesting enough to make the newspapers.  They are over in a minute.  They might involve a possibility of real violence, but they just don't have the sexiness that a real stereotype-fulfilling story does.  The public demands that a gay martyrdom be real, not just a drug deal gone bad with some other guys who worked for the same pimp.

There was a great one last year, about a black doctor who had struggled under difficult conditions working for the poor all day, then some white bigot called him a racial epithet and squealed histirtes getting away in the parking garage, laughing.  My cousin posted it.  You know I am not tactful, but I worked really hard at gradually revealing that this was actually fiction.  I didn't use the words "fake news."  Not even at the end when my cousin insisted rather angrily (and another cousin unfriended me over the exchange) that even if it wasn't technically true it was true and important, because real black peopl go through things like this every day. Except, well, I actually do know a fair number of black doctors, and they all shook their heads and rolled their eyes when I relayed the story over the next tow weeks. It should be true, therefore its falseness is irrelevant.

Yesterday I had a beauty: a woman who claimed that she had encountered a Trump protestor in a MAGA hat and a red, white, & blue top that barely covered her torso - oh, there's a nice touch. Not that no Trump supporter ever dressed that way, but it was very obliging of the woman to be something unsavory as well as stupid in just the right way, isn't it? - who said "But he's our ruler.  We have to do what he says."

Uh, Trump supporters have the opposite problem.  They might say a lot of silly or obnoxious things, but I think we can fairly rule out the docile followers idea.  I've been in many arguments with them online, including here at my own site, and let me assure you, that is not their problem. What you will find are people who say they will refuse to do X, whether the government or even their favorite president says so, and you have to pull them quietly aside and say "Uh, Phil?  You actually do have to do that.  It's the law.  Just sayin'." But it would have been so cool if some trollop actually had said "He's our ruler. We have to do what he says." Those people are so easily led and certainly capable of it. So some woman somewhere - and probably a lot like that woman it the skimpy top who said something completely unrelated that doesn't fit my current narrative, but was really annoying - likely said that.  So we can call it true-ish.  True, really. Give me a break.  She's lying. No one said that.

I am going to guess at the motives or (ahem) reasoning, but I don't insist on these. We don't know others' motives all that well - we seldom even know all of even our own motives - and motives are mixed. Projection is likely. But I think there is this idea that A) they are right-wing, and therefore Justlikenazis not very far below the surface, and we know that real nazis acted like that in another country and completely different cultural context, so...you know... Okay, sure, when you start insisting on things like evidence in 20thC Europe, it was actually the communists who blindly followed leaders, yes.  Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy were actually highly factionalised countries just barely held together, okay.  But it just feels  like German nazis are the best comparison here, doesn't it?  Because it would be so cool if Trump's supporters turned out to be just like that. It would vindicate us.

Let me throw in a parenting reassurance for free, because there is a parallel.  When the school calls and says your kid is getting detention and is in trouble for X, you usually know immediately if this is off-the-wall.  All five of my sons were capable of earning a detention, but a few times, there would be this accusation and you would go - hmmm. Not my kid. There is something missing from this story. The school doesn't want to hear your protest, because they deal with parents who are clueless about their kid's misbehavior all the time.  Your protest that "This is not my kid's style of misbehavior" will fall on deaf ears.  But for good parents, you know.  My could could easily do A, or C, or G. But you are telling me he did E, and there's something wrong here.  Hold on.

Wait, this example is much fairer in reverse.  My children could have been told a story that "Your dad got in trouble for saying X to a ref." For some values of X, that would be quite possible.  Yet for others, my children would shake their head.  Nope.  Not my dad.  Not that one.  someone is making that up.

Once you know to look for poetic perfection as a disproof, the news becomes easier. Bush splitting from the Air National Guard?  Too perfect.  John Kerry getting hat from a CIA guys?  Too perfect.

Bonus extra credit.  Some autobiographies fit the mold.

10 comments:

Christopher B said...

I would add another flag - when the guy they've been calling a dirty liar forever suddenly becomes a saintly truth teller, and what he is saying just happens to support their side of the controversy. Yup, of course, he just decided to come clean now...

Sam L. said...

Too perfect is just WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY too perfect. I hear "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER" (something like that; I never watched that show).

ToWo said...

If a democrat moves his mouth ... it a hoax or a lie ....

RichardJohnson said...

I am reminded of the old saw that Demos consider Pubs evil, while Pubs consider Demos poorly informed. Because Demos consider Pubs evil, making up a story about evil Pubs is merely highlighting an underlying truth about them, say the Demos. Fake but true.

Hope said...

I'm confused by this statement: "Most anti-semitic events are vandalism, and have a poetic beauty about their violence and threats." Are you saying they're hoaxes?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The publicised anti-semitic events sometimes turn out to be hoaxes, yes, carried out by a Jewish person trying to make it look like there is persecution. The recent bomb threats are a good example. https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/anti-semitic-bomb-threats-hate-crimes-hoax/ This occurs at a lesser rate than for racial hoaxes, but it happens. I don't want to give any impression that most are hoaxes. However, the well-designed spectacular ones are more likely to be attempts to get one's cause into the news. A swastika painted on a synagogue is likely a real hate crime of vandalism. A swastika painted on a professor's door is less likely to be legit.

james said...

You mean the anti-semitic events in this country sometimes turn out to be hoaxes. They seem to be quite genuine in Germany and France.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think some here are quite genuine as well. I don't know that there are any hoaxes of same in Europe.

OhFrenchie! said...

Please hire a proofreader.

Arthur Brogden said...

My personal experience consists of being accused of having called a woman the "C" word. Of course there were NO witnesses. She had actually followed me out to my car screaming obscenities at me when I refused to engage in an argument with her in a local tavern. I was a regular there for many years and it was a word I simply DID NOT USE...EVER. EVER. Yet there were those who believed her because as the owner put it... "Based on her actions, that's what 90% of anyone else WOULD HAVE CALLED HER." The problem of course was her boyfriend who felt obligated to defend "Her Honor". People I had known for years split down the middle; with strangely the men believing her, but most women believing me.