The news about the Russian infiltration of our United States political system spurred me to think deeply about media literacy. Media literacy is the ability to understand what you read and hear in media. How to analyze and digest what comes at you in writing, on television, social media and the Internet.
In 1960 before the Internet, cell phones, text messages, cable television, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the 24 hour opinion and news cycle, our high school history teacher taught us about reading the newspaper. Okay, so you read your news on the Internet. I do too. The following advice still applies. Maybe even more given the nature of the Internet. It also applies in person.
Our teacher said something very profound. In words similar to this, she taught us to “Look beyond the words. Why are they saying what they write? What are their motives? Political viewpoint? Agenda? And who are they beholden to? Look at the people who advertise in their paper.”
It’s an interesting concept, really, to think deeply about what you read and hear. To not assume. And absolutely to not take everything at face value.
A few years ago, I watched, read about, and studied online bullying campaigns. They were not simple. Instead online bullying includes gaslighting, lying, and extensively diminishing the value of other people.
I began to wonder about the activity, motives, honesty, and agendas. Who is doing what to whom and why? I researched the academic literature about online and electronic bullying and deception. People who lie online, in text messages, blogs, chat rooms and so on for all manner of self-gratifying reasons.
It reminds me of a number of incidents that happened while I was at the University. These incidents reverberate with the reality of Russian information campaigns in the American political process. This is not new.
These are called false flag operations. Campaigns designed to deceive and create uproar. Then to make it look like someone else did it.
I attended the university from 1963-1967 for my Bachelor’s Degree. Some of the politically wild years for us so-called “radicals”. I see a strong connection between what is happening now and what happened then.
You youngsters are impressive in your very practical political activism. You give me more hope than I’ve had in decades. Young people deciding to run for political office. Young people marching in protest for the things they believe. And young people speaking their truths in eloquent dignity.
Incident # 1
My boyfriend/eventual ex-husband, nameless, organized a large on-campus rally to end the Vietnam war. It was a burn your draft card event. I didn’t know him as well as I did over the course of our relationship, thus his ex-husband status.
Other people burned their draft cards, he burned his library card. Burning a draft card was against federal law with potential jail time. Other people protested the war. He played at protesting war. Instead, he was manipulating everyone. He enjoyed his power over others. He was laughing at the people who participated. Much like the motives of online trolls, he got off on manipulating people and creating chaos.
Incident # 2
An older man, a long-haired hippie attended our sociology classes. His hair was greasy. He was dirty. Wearing sandals no matter the weather, his feet were filthy. Looking back the stereotyping is glaring. But I didn’t know that then. He passed out communist propaganda against the Vietnam War for at least 3 years.
I assumed [remember ass/u/me] he was a communist and believed in the material he was passing out. At his graduation party, I was shocked at how he looked. Gone was the hair, the dirt, the sandals and the propaganda.
Naively, I asked him about it. He explained that he was not a communist. Instead, Russians paid his tuition in exchange for his political activities. He now went to work for the local social services department and dressed accordingly.
What if people took him seriously? Picked up the propaganda and found themselves led down a rabbit hole they didn’t know was there?
There were a lot of dangerous choices back then. Wrong turns led some of us to tragic places. Sadly, we don’t know if the people who led them there were authentic or malicious. How many violent marches were staged? How many interrupted or taken off track? We’ll never know.
Incident # 3
There was another older man in our sociology classes. He threw wild parties for us, youngsters, where most of us got rip roaring wasted. I liked him. I loved his parties. I especially loved free booze. My mind couldn’t quite wrap around the facts. He clearly stated he was an alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous and did not drink, but loved giving parties.
After we all graduated, he told us the truth. He was at school, studying sociology, partying with us because the DEA or FBI had arrested his son. He was spying on us, writing up whatever he saw for them to save his son from punishment.
This one, people used drugs at his house. People got so wasted, they couldn’t walk. Some revealed private information to him under these circumstances. All of that was reported. I don’t know what happened to most people, except…One man left the country. A woman entered a mental health facility. Some of us eventually ended up in substance abuse recovery programs.
Incident # 4
Today I wondered aloud to my husband about his return from Vietnam all those many years ago. I wonder, truly, if those people who spit on him were really who they pretended to be. What if the outrageous treatment of our veterans was instigated by foreign actors?
My point today is the same one my high school history teacher gave us years ago. Think about what you read or hear.
Do this in person too. Look at the people you affiliate with. Use your critical mind and think carefully about your decisions. Make your own decisions and choices. You deserve it.
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