Lies and the spreading of fake information / Photo concept by kentoh (Depositphotos)

Social Media: Truth and Lies

Social Media: Truth and Lies

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Commentary by Pete Haug | FāVS News

A reader recently requested my opinion about a video where an avuncular pitchman explains why we should develop more fossil fuels. It begins with a few seconds of upbeat music and graphics touting “an exciting, all-renewable energy future” to power “the world of tomorrow,” which “isn’t far off.”

Abruptly the narrative changes: “Time to wake up! You’re having a dream. Here’s the reality.”

The narrator emphasizes our dependence on fossil energy, explaining why we should continue, even increase, our development of fossil fuels. His spiel reminds me of the 1973-74 oil embargo when Appalachian Power’s full-page ads proclaimed, “We’ve got more coal than they have oil. Let’s dig it!”

Global warming was unheard of then, though some scientists worried about growing world population depleting natural resources and polluting environments. Today climate change is a clear and present danger.

My first profession was public relations; I understand how to slant information. This video offers upbeat promises, without verifiable evidence, that fossil-fuel development will solve our problems. It provides no way to check the science and statistics presented.

Who are the players?

The narrator is Mark Mills of Northwestern University’s engineering school. He’s also a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank focused on domestic policy and urban affairs. 

The video’s producer, misleadingly named PragerU, is a nonprofit advocacy group, not a university. PragerU’s videos “contain misleading or factually incorrect information,” according to Wikipedia. They promote climate change denial. Historians and political scientists have criticized PragerU’s videos for containing inaccurate information about slavery, racism, immigration and the history of fascism, as well as promoting anti-LGBTQ politics.

Conservative viewpoints sometimes provide information and perspectives I hadn’t considered, but my immediate reaction on watching this video was skepticism. Mills was rolling out information impossible to fact-check, as I do with written material. The Wikipedia descriptions of Mills and PragerU confirmed my suspicions.

Mills focused only on economics, never mentioning much-documented negative impacts of fossil fuel development and emissions. Such impacts include global warming and contingent harm to environments and peoples living in them, exacerbating economic hardships.

Why it matters

Despite many positive aspects of fossil fuels, scientists continue to discover interconnected negative effects. The United Nations established scientific, humanitarian and intergovernmental agencies to research how to mitigate these effects. This should be evidence enough, yet the predatory economic mindset thrives, churning out denialism videos like these.

Most people don’t have a Ph.D. in ecological modeling. I do. Though I’m not a climate scientist, I understand how science works. I spend hours scrutinizing information and evaluating claims about climate change and its Earth-embracing effects.

Truth can be inconvenient, but it’s essential.

Al Gore’s Nobel Prize-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” appeared nearly two decades ago. This wake-up call was jeered by detractors. Moneyed interests piled on, obfuscating the film’s message by highlighting what some considered errors. Yet the film’s information was based on findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared that Nobel.

“Conservation,” I learned in forestry school, means “wise use.” Most natural resource managers have, for decades, managed resources wisely, monitoring usage, modifying as necessary to conserve resources and reporting results — but usually on a small scale.

On the nature of truth

Our founding fathers cited “self-evident” truths in the Declaration of Independence. Truth has a strong list of supporters predating that Declaration by millennia. Hindu and Buddhist scriptures hold truth in high regard. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, beginning with the Ten Commandments, mandate truthfulness. As Jesus said, “…the truth will make you free.”

Far from freeing us, today’s social “influencers” spout half-truths, innuendo and bald-faced lies. The above-mentioned video provides a good example. The pleasant, friendly speaker seems knowledgeable. He wouldn’t lie. Would he? Most viewers don’t have the expertise to question such propaganda.

Truth is hard to define because it’s often in the eye of the beholder. It demands rigorous self-honesty to avoid rationalization justifying our behavior. As the founders of earlier faiths have done, Baha’u’llah and his son ‘Abdu’l-Baha commented unequivocally on truth and its role in society. Baha’u’llah called truthfulnessthe foundation of all the virtues of the human world … and without it prosperity and salvation are unattainable to any soul in all the worlds of God.”

He also wrote: “Fair speech and truthfulness, by reason of their lofty rank and position, are regarded as a sun shining above the horizon of knowledge.” And further, “Follow the path of truthfulness and turn not away from the needy.”

Foundation of evil

‘Abdu’l-Baha called lyingthe very foundation of all evil” and “the worst of all qualities and the most odious of all attributes” because “It brings all human perfections to naught and gives rise to countless vices.”  

I’m not lying.

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