Editor’s Note: The Empire is publishing a weekly column from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters leading up to this year’s municipal election, in the hopes that it will help inform voters about the process. Stay tuned for the next column in next Wednesday’s paper.
Okay, I admit I am a Facebook junkie. I get news from posts that originated with reliable media sources and can also watch the Stephen Colbert opening monologue in the morning the day after. And I pride myself on my growing ability to identify trolling bot “people” and marvel at the sameness of “their” responses.
But I have also had my feelings hurt when I tried to make what seemed to me sane comments. Let me provide some examples. I recently tuned in to find that No Labels had a running poll on whether a certain Congressman should run for the Speaker of the House. No Labels started as an effort to get away from political party labeling, a positive move actually. So I proceeded to vote, explaining my vote with the suggestion that we need elected officials who can compromise and not be ruled by rigid ideologies. Well, that did not sit well with some, despite the comment’s five “likes.” Fellow Facebookies, you know what I mean. A man I will call Dick immediately responded: “What is his rigid ideology? You don’t even know what you are talking about.” He (I am imaging here) admired his comment for a minute, found it lacking, and then added a second comment: “Go back to bed old lady. It’s almost dinner time.” Actually I was just having breakfast, but I did respond with one example of rigid thinking on this candidate’s part. Unfortunately that wasn’t to the liking of the next commenter I will call Bertie: “no compromise please … we have had nothing but backing down with compromise … get back dem … we don’t want you.” Well, so much for No Labels. But I am in awe of Dick and Bertie’s use of the Ad Hominem logical fallacy.
The Ad Hominem attack on the person — name calling, mudslinging — relieves the commenter from having to defend his/her position. Mounting a credible defense requires some facts and hard thinking. It is easier to cry “old woman,” “dirty socialist,” “Nazi,” or “fascist” rather than taking the time to research an issue and determine a defense with credible information. What Dick was trying to do was avoid thinking by insulting me instead.
Facebook commenters abuse logic with more than personal attacks. They are also guilty of using an either-or-approach in defending their positions. After recently writing a comment on the need for fair immigration laws and compassion for those seeking asylum, I was told by a Facebook commenter that if I didn’t like the way things were being done, I should move to another country. I was given only two options when in fact there is at least one other option — to make things better by advocating for change. And that advocacy can have many facets — running for office, lobbying elected officials with emails and phone calls (always polite), registering voters and voting oneself. In a democracy, this is the expectation — to curve the arc of justice in the fairest direction.
Another way to avoid the hard work of thinking is an appeal to emotion through the use of religion, patriotism, fear, love, anger and authority. In the 2016 election cycle, Russian cyberspies ran an ad/image on Facebook of a line of border patrol agents in uniform mounted on horses on a flat, grassy plain with bolts of lightning splitting the sky behind them. The top heading said “Don’t Mess With TX Border Patrol” and the bottom “Always Guided By God.” The photo, in sepia tones, accented the bolts of lightning and the white hats of the agents. The image was preceded by several paragraphs of narrative about “dangerous immigrants.” This ad hit all the emotional buttons of an appeal to emotion. The white-hatted border patrol are the authority to be trusted, a pure authority devoted to God. As guards against “dangerous” immigrants they are showing their patriotism by protecting those who are afraid of the Other.
We continue to hear that cyberspies are at it again. We must read carefully and widely and be alert for logical fallacies. Only three fallacies are mentioned here; there are many more out there. Research and then practice identifying them in advertising, conversations, and, most importantly, political news from both sides of the political spectrum. And vote!
• Judy Andree is a member of the League of Women Voters Juneau. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.