An OAN (One America News Network) YouTube video clip popped up on Facebook last week, which presented an argument that President Donald Trump would not face impeachment, because of “irrefutable evidence” that an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden was already under way, a long time before Mr Trump is alleged to have leaned on Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch such an investigation, pending the release of funding for an armaments package, and an Oval Office meeting.
In one fell swoop, OAN claimed that the impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives is now moot, and that even if impeachment acticles are drawn up and served on Mr Trump, a Senate trial will find him not guilty.
The clip did present apparently convincing evidence, with a number of key figures in the Ukranian adminstration “confirming” the assertions.
But who, or what, is OAN, and how reliable is this “report”?
A careful Google search reveals that OAN is “far right biased, based on story selection that consistently favours the right, and mixed for factual reporting, due to promotion of conspiracies, lack of sourcing and a few failed fact checks” (mediabiasfactcheck.com).
Posting this review of OAN elicited the response that “Google is deliberately steering you away from the truth towards lies about Trump and the Republicans” and a link is posted to an article by an apparent previous employee, who blows the whistle on how Google has been “hijacked by left wing forces”.
A subsequent Bing.com search – Microsoft’s competing search engine – results in exactly the same commentary on OAN, but from a different fact-checking website.
Posting this in the comment thread results in the assertion that because I am obviously “anti-Trump” I must be “in favour of what Jeffrey Epstein did, and Pizzagate”, the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory propagated during the 2016 American presidential election, that Hilary Clinton and other promiment Democrats ran a child sex and sacrifice ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington.
Inevitably, it is trotted out that Mr Trump “knows a lot” about a “lot of people” and that when he makes “it” known, heads will roll and he will be exonerated.
All the comments in the thread, save one, have since been deleted.
Which begs the question: what has happened to our ability as a society to subject what we see and hear, to critical evaluation before we accept it as fact?
What has happened to our ablity to avoid confirmation bias and to consider well-founded, evidence-based arguments that contradict our views on any particular issue?
The advent of the internet and social media was hailed as the great equaliser, heralding a time when everyone who has access, can have their say on whatever topic they choose.
The halcyon days of Twitter, Facebook and the by now ubiquitous personal blog, made everybody a citizen journalist.
But as time passed, it became evident that social media is both a blessing and a curse for that very reason: everybody is able to have their say about anything.
The gold standards in print journalism, multi-sourcing and fact-checking, were cast to the winds, and even some seasoned journalists committed the cardinal sin of disseminating news (via social media) without adequate fact-checking, in the rush to be first out there with a breaking news story.
The now much maligned “main stream media” is seen to be the enemy, wilfully distorting the truth, pandering to globalist left-wing agendas, hiding the massive conspiracy of silence in the scientific community, that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, climate change is a hoax, and that it is most definitely not anthropogenic.
As access to “news” has become instantaneous and all-pervasive, respected print media titles that endured for decades, either closed their doors, or resorted to online publication only, in an attempt to remain finacially sustainable.
The market for newspapers as a reliable source of news, declined proportionately to the rise of social media, and the die was finally cast in the 2016 American presidential election and the great Brexit debacle, when the likes of Cambridge Analytica deliberately manipulated millions of Facebook users in pursuit of a specific agenda.
And so we entered the post truth era.
Closer to home, we saw the rise of the myth of white monopoly capital, incarnated by the now defunct Bell Pottinger, with social media playing a pivotal role in the shaping of societal attitudes.
The outcome of these seismic shifts in dissemination of, access to, and manipulation of information, have resulted in the opposite of what was originally envisaged.
We are increasingly ideologially polarised, and the further apart we drive ourselves, the less likely we will be to consider the perspectives and views, of others.
It is a baby-and-bathwater time, a “you’re either with us or against us” time, as Mr Trump has so abundantly pointed out.
But neither the ideological right nor the ideological left has all the answers.
If the contestation of ideas is to render workable solutions to the terrifying challenges we face, we have a duty to consider conflicting views, while subjecting them to healthy scepticism and rigorous fact-checking, rather than succumbing to confirmation bias and accepting what makes us feel most comfortable.