Opinion: The common denominator driving misinformation is fear

Feb 9, 2022, 3:02 PM
Image of people helping each other climb a mountain. Photo credit: Canva.

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

The common denominator behind all of the misinformation you’ve heard in recent years is fear.

This week at the Utah legislature, concerned citizens showed up to protest a bill that would create a digital driver’s license program in the state. Why are these citizens against having a driver’s license in their phones? They believe the misinformation that it’s part of a dark United Nations plot to take over the world. 

It goes something like this. New technology that puts your I.D. in your phone and guarantees worldwide acceptance was a goal of the U.N. and, therefore, is bad by definition.

This is the same type of fear exhibited by those that believed the misinformation about online banking, online shopping, paying taxes online, or receiving refunds online. Going back further, folks didn’t want to use credit cards instead of checks, or checks instead of cash.

Each step in the progression of mankind has come with the requirement that we have a little courage to let go of the old and embrace the new. We cannot let our fears of what is new lead us down a path of boogeymen under the bed.

Distrust is the boogeyman

This leads me to the more important point – the boogeymen. What concerns me the most about misinformation, even more than the fear it is based on, is the distrust that is inherent in all of it.

The only way I could still believe the 2020 election was stolen is if I distrusted every secretary of state in every swing state in the country. They all have to be lying. I just don’t think that badly of my fellow human beings. Do you? 

I simply do not believe that some actors, who have never been charged with a crime, are killing babies and drinking their blood, like thousands of Q-Anon believers literally do.

I do not believe that George Soros is trying to ruin the world. Neither do I believe the Koch brothers are doing anything other than pursuing their interests and the interests of their companies. I’ve met hundreds of human beings in my life, maybe thousands, and with one or two exceptions, I believe they were good people.

I believe they were doing their best to be honest and hard-working, to take care of their families, to help their neighbors when needed. This is the thought that is in my mind when I listen to someone.

Trust can conquer misinformation

I come to every conversation with trust as my default position. Trust and no fear. I am not afraid that you are trying to hurt me. Not with your ideas, your politics or in any other way. I hope you would trust I am not trying to hurt you, either.

With that starting point, we can listen to each other. The United Nations was created after World War II. Fifty governments met in San Francisco to draft a charter with the goal of protecting world peace and security. Nothing about that scares me, in fact the absence of it might scare me.

No organization is without fault of some kind, but let us look for the good. It is there, too. 

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Opinion: The common denominator driving misinformation is fear