Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 October 2017

Can You Spot It?

Do you know it when you see it?  Or hear it?

Ship spotting has been important for centuries. It behooved the captain of a 32-gun frigate to see the 58-gun ship of the line before the larger ship saw him. First detection made it easier to maneuver for attack or for immediate withdrawal. Discretion has often been the better part of valor.

Over the last 100 years, plane spotting has become more important, first with eyes, then with radar. Sound is surprisingly reliable with ears of experience (not a typo). But today, if you hear the sound of an enemy flyer, it may be too late.

In the over-hyped pop culture of today, celebrity spotting is a thing. Yes, there’s an app for that. And a quick look via your favorite search engine will reveal more links for finding celebs than anything else.

But what about truth spotting? How ya doin with that?

We have more facts, opinions, information, data, interpretations, theories, polls, studies, partial truths, omitted facts, skewed context, blithering noise, and emotional appeals than ever before. Spotting a lie can be tough.

A scary segment on tonight’s PBS Newshour (it is Halloween) reported on the staggering number of provocateurs that used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to post inflammatory and divisive content for naive consumption in 2016. Gullibility is nothing new. It’s been around forever. 

Fake news can have effects that range from disturbing to destructive. Today the effects can be more damaging than ever.

Think fake news is scary? Try false teaching. That’s the title of an excellent article by Jen Wilkin. She shines the light on what liars do best: muddling together “a heady cocktail of fact and fiction,” twisting words and context “to prey on fear and desire.” Spotting a liar can be tougher.

In the need-to-feel-good 21st Century, truth spotting can allay fear and pour cold water on desire. But it can also take an uncomfortable, inconvenient amount of effort – especially if the results don’t align with your feelings or what others want to feel. 

An old lesson: it’s still not about your feelings or what proves you’re right. It’s about the truth. The truth is out there. Look for it.  Study it. Develop eyes and ears of experience. 

Wilkin said, “We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth. Both fake news and false teaching bow to this principle.”

She is so right.



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