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Dissemination of Slanderous, Malicious, False or Inflammatory Materials

By Weeden Nichols
Opinion | March 20, 2010

ELLIS, Kan. - First, I would like to clearly state my premise and reason for writing this piece. I believe it is always irresponsible to forward, publish, or publicly declare material that one knows to be malicious, false, and inflammatory. I further believe that it is also irresponsible to disseminate material that is inflammatory, even if the specific facts contained therein are technically correct, if by omission of some facts and over-emphasis of others, there is clear intent to arouse others to unjustified anger and potentially unjust action. I believe that a weak "small print" disclaimer accompanying such dissemination does not relieve one of responsibility.

A few years ago, at a Memorial Day observance at the Hays, Kansas, VFW, a local dignitary presented a "keynote" speech, in which he declared that we (the United States) had been "at war with Islam" for, at that time, 33 years. He cited a litany of events over the 33 years to "prove" his point.

He omitted that, like Christianity, Islam has a warlike and aggressive wing as well as a gently-pious wing. He omitted mention of Christianity's history of the Crusades, a protracted, violent, invasive campaign against Islam. ("Crusade" has positive connotations for many Christians, but it is part of a corporate memory of Islam involving images of injury, death, fear, occupation, and oppression, and, on the part of some, precipitating motives of revenge.) I was able to locate the same litany of incidents cited by the local dignitary, almost verbatim, readily available on the internet. I can only conclude that the substance of the local dignitary's speech was drawn from the internet source, though not credited.

During the months before Barack Obama became the chosen Democratic candidate for the presidency of the US, I received a forwarding from two high school friends (it has been well over 50 years since I was in high school). The forwarded item was "The Jihad Candidate" by Rich Carroll, 06/16/2008. The item was attributed in these forwardings to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The "Subject" line on the forwarding was "A Challenge from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram." In essence, the author stated with seeming certainty that Barack Obama was a "sleeper" planted in the US political scene by Muslim oil interests so that, when the time came, he could act for those oil powers and for Islam, against the interests of the United States. I was familiar with The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's overall editorial stance. The Star-Telegram was our dear Molly Ivins' journalistic home base. I finally succeeded in contacting a member of the Op-Ed Page editorial staff, and found that Rich Carroll's piece had never been published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Recently, I received a really slick, professionally-produced video forwarded by a friend who is a colleague of mine on a national board. (The forwarding obviously had no relationship to the business of the organization for which we are directors.) My friend, in his forwarding message stated that the content was true and that it was not propaganda. The content, citing "research," presented that Europe was now irrevocably lost to Islam, and that North America was threatened more than seriously. Toward the end, the narrator with the confidence-inspiring voice called the viewers to "action" (without specifying a particular action). I pointed out to my friend that, even if the facts were correct (which I did not concede), it was propaganda. I confronted him with the following questions:

1. Who sponsored this video?
2. Who prepared it?
3. The narrator cites "research" but does not say what research, by whom, by what methods. We must know this.
4. The narrator concludes with, "This is a call to action!" What action do you suppose is being suggested?

My friend was offended at my questions. He responded that he forwarded the video to me (and nearly a hundred others) "for your information." I was able to identify the responsible entity ("Christian Resistance") and look at their catalog, almost all of which is anti-Muslim. "Christian Resistance" reveals nothing about itself or about who is part of it, or about who funds it.

A couple of days ago I received one of those tiresome "Birther" forwardings that purport to state with authority that Barack Obama was not born in the US, and is thus ineligible to be president. The forwarder provided the following interesting disclaimer: "According to www.snopes.com the below information is INCORRECT. I DO NOT forward info that I receive from other people unless I check it out first on snopes." (The capitalizations were an original part of this disclaimer.) Obviously, this is contradictory, as he forwarded something www.snopes.com identified as incorrect. The secret, though, is that many readers would miss the small "in" in "incorrect," since the forwarder was forwarding the item, and had stated that he forwarded nothing that had not been verified by www.snopes.com.

I received another forwarding two weeks ago from a good friend. This one suggested that Obama is a "Manchurian Candidate" type sleeper planted, according to this scenario, by the Russians to act for their interests and against the interests of the US. She supplied this disclaimer: "I'm not enough of a contemporary historian to know if any of the forwarded message makes sense and thought I'd send it to you all for rebuttal if any." That's nice, but how many addressees will provide objective evaluation and appropriate rebuttal, and how many will absorb the purported negative message into the body of "knowledge" they assume to be true and correct?

This week, a friend of mine telephoned. He was upset by materials he had found on the internet regarding the proposed national health care legislation. The internet posting purported to be from a "judge" in Alabama. The part that upset my friend most was the purported mandatory end-of-life counseling every five years for all persons over 65 years of age. In order to assist my friend, and as a matter of my own interest, I read the pertinent part of the proposed legislation. Admittedly, legal writing is sometimes difficult for a lay person to read; however, a "judge" should have had sufficient background to sort it out. What I read in the proposed legislation itself was that persons over 65 would be entitled to a voluntary end-of-life consultation with a health care professional, billed as a health care expense, every five years. It was implicit that, if an individual wanted such counseling more often that every five years, he would have to pay for it himself. That is a long way from subjecting everyone over 65 to involuntary end-of-life sessions. My friend's indignation was genuine and innocent. Whoever wrote and posted the "judge's" missive was anything but innocent. That person intended an incendiary effect that would have citizens practically up-in-arms in protest. As I researched this matter, I encountered postings (some attributed to Fred Thompson), to the effect that older citizens would be subjected to mandatory euthanasia counseling.

There are myriads of other examples. What I would like to do is urge everyone to refrain from fanning the fires of hate and anger. I suggest that all of us should take full responsibility for the material we disseminate and its apparent intent. Most of us wish to live our lives in terms of ultimately being held responsible for what we have said and done in our lives.


2 Comments

Isn't it amazing how many supposedly educated people believe all the fwds, without even considering the source or likely hood of their authenticity. Many of those, I receive, even say they've checked them out on Snopes and encourage me to check for myself. What do you know? When I check them out, they are clearly identified by Snopes as false and most generally show where to find the truth. On the few occasions when I respond to all, I get several reply that they don't want to know whether the fwd was true or false. They just agree with the content because it agrees with their political or sectarian affiliation.


New Rule: If you use the internet, tweet or text-learn how to fact check.


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