How To Get Over Fake News
All media is opinion, it has a perspective, and a political purpose. Some are very transparent and honest. Others not so much. Either way, the media we consume is a reflection of our core personal values, not the other way around.
As you might have heard, Brazil 's population decided to blunder into the depths of blatant fascism last month. Aside from the nerve-wrecking concerns over physical safety, the environment (future of humanity), and basic human decency, we had to cope with the heart break of seeing family members come out of the ‘fascist-closet'. One popular coping mechanism has been to blame it all on Fake News. “They don't really think this way, they've been manipulated by viral lies. Trust me, Google Steve Bannon". Even though I want to believe this argument, all I can think as I hear it is: “Humans have amazing mental gymnastics abilities".
We want to believe the problem isn't Democracy, that it's Fake News meddling with Democracy. But Fake News is not news, and it's not new. Fake News is not something that will promote media literacy, it's something that distracts us from that. We've already been reproducing false information for political purposes since before Brazil was a country (in fact it might be the reason why we are a country at all).
What came first, the personal values or the forwarded WhatsApp message? It doesn't matter, because they depend on each other to exist, like the chicken and the egg. Or do they? Maybe I don't truly know how chickens are born, what are facts and where do I find them? Maybe Bolsonaro didn't really get stabbed, maybe the Gay Kit for school kids is real, who knows?
Scientific fact is based on consensus, and thanks to this we've been feeling pretty confident about things like chickens laying eggs and horses having hearts. Consensus and politics, on the other hand, seem to be concepts much, much further apart. The Democracy I've known has relied heavily on polarization, and regressive values, none of which are recent, or provoked by Fake News. The power to manipulate the population is something that can easily be framed as heroic; Google's Jigsaw, for example, came gallantly on horseback to save children from the evil dragon Isis. But the very same power of manipulation can just as easily be framed as inauthentic behavior by Russian villains.
It's possible to see, though, that there is a little something that holds the power to define what is a terrorist, who is the villain, who is the hero, and the victim. It's not the big They; those in Power. Well, not only... They are the values we've internalized from our ancestors, and the eyes we choose to see them through.
A friend recently told me a traditional Quilombola saying:
“Those who sleep with someone else's eyes, don't wake up when they want".
We all learn, we are influenced by things around and before us, we admire and we believe. But that doesn't have to mean blindly following, it means making decisions that reflect our political principals.
All media is opinion, it has a perspective, and a political purpose. Some are very transparent and honest. Others not so much. Either way, the media we consume is a reflection of our core personal values, not the other way around. But if we don't know what our values are, or how to recognize how these values are represented in all the media being constantly bombarded at us, is it because we're lazy, go-alongers, or bigots?
Let's say someone in your family is worried about homosexuality being promoted at schools and wants to vote for someone who says homosexuality can be solved with a good spanking early on in life. Either they're too lazy to find out whether this “promotion" is really happening, where, how, and what this means to children's sexuality, if homosexuality is “taught", etc. Maybe they are going along with people around them, and don't have the means to step out of the group-think. Or, they're simply homophobic and think we need to prevent homosexuality from spreading; they think the traditional family needs to be preserved, that gay practices are disturbing, and they just instantly relate to the message. Either way, the results are the same. Going through the effort of distinguishing between these seems like a waste of energy, and even potentially dangerous if you consider the rise in physical violence on the streets.
Unfortunately, believing in certain people's right to exist is a radical ideology as widespread as veganism. While some on the left are out there desperate trying to prove what's Fake, I'm here thinking that thanks to “Democracy" we can finally see how the lives of LGBTQIA+, indigenous, black, and poor people don't really matter to the majority of voters...
What do we do with this information?
One might say: “Not all of us have access to information, or the ability to process and analyze a message". Well, you are here now, reading and analyzing this. If you have a skill or resource, share it, because waiting for your Government to do it clearly isn't gonna work. Autonomous skill sharing is paramount for strong community building, and it doesn't mean to lecture others on personal political views.
One might say: “But who has the time to fact-check everything these days?". We seem to have plenty of time to scroll, read, watch, forward, click, click, click. But to spend a few minutes alone with our own thoughts seems like a daunting task. Take a moment to think for yourself. Harvest an idea.
Guerrilla From Within
When I took a moment to look inwards, to think about what I was looking at and through whose eyes, it felt like political therapy. Forget the piles and piles of information on-line, these are just useless things we hoard and get on our way. Instead, I looked at the information I gathered first hand: memories. Then I thought about how they made me feel. These feelings guide my political existence, and consequently my work with Gods and Radicals.
The fact that I work with media now is no arbitrary phenomenon, although it happened unexpectedly. I know first hand its power to move people, and people can (and should) make a movement to change the world. When we talk about the (ir)responsibility of other people who produce (Fake News) media, and our artlessness when we consume it, we tend to forget that when we share and talk about it, we are taking part in its production. In other words, in this technological landscape, we should all learn not only how to consume media responsibly, but also how to produce conscious and honest content.
Whenever I talk about the Patriarchy or anti-capitalism, it's not because I'm brainwashed by feminist or communist media. It's because men* have interacted with me sexually without my consent since before I knew what sex was. It's because I constantly see misery and poverty since much before I knew what “class" was. And this makes me feel an array of negative emotions. Media has helped me find the vocabulary to express and process how these memories and reoccurring experiences make me feel.
When I was 12, a group of about 8 boys came to the back of the bus and surrounded me. Some people stood up and moved to the front because they didn't want to be bothered or harassed. I stayed, listening to my Walkman. They started talking to me, saying I was beautiful, asking where I lived, where I was getting out, until one of them started masturbating under his t-shirt while the others laughed.
It wasn't until many years later that I realized how this event impacted me, and its relevance in the construction of my political principles. First of all, I only understood the sexual connotation of what he was doing later. But what impacted me the most was the class disparity in São Paulo. I was on that bus going home from school, where a girl's driver had dropped me off after some type of play date. The whole day hanging out at her house was a bizarre experience. She had big swimming pool, a tennis court, “Friends" in English on DVD, and basically her own section of a mansion. Then suddenly I was on a bus going back to my modest apartment, when these black boys showed up making me feel like my Walkman and the way I looked were extravagant luxuries.
I could easily imagine that they felt about me something similar to what I felt about that girl; a feeling of being from worlds divided by an abyss. A separation close enough we can wave at or insult each other from a distance, but deadly if we tried to come together. More disturbing than the public masturbation, was the fact that while some people have private tennis courts and an array of useless glittery objects, others need to sniff glue in order not to feel hungry, and sleep on the street.
From this point on, I could take the fight outwards. If I understand my own pain, I can easily imagine the pain of LGBTQI+ people; the rejection, the self-doubt, the threat at every corner, and the wide range of potential violence. We will fight side by side.
From that point on I can imagine the struggle of Indigenous people. The displacement, and forced assimilation framed as charity. I see first hand the racism, and neglect, no one needs to tell me, all it takes is looking around with my own eyes. All it takes is showing up and listening.
From that point on I can imagine what it must be like for black people. If my body has been used and abused, silenced and erased, how can I not listen and understand the particular, and even more brutal ways this has happened to them? All it takes is to listen the way I wish I was listened to.
Look, I can't guarantee where people's imagination will take them. Plenty of people will look inward and not be able to find principles like honesty and empathy, because they're buried deep under the desire for personal wealth, and repulsion for deviant behavior. But that's fine, because that's better than to deny; to deny the racism, to deny the genocide, to deny the violence we are inflicting on ourselves and our environment. This denial is the historical loop we can't seem to pull ourselves out of.
From that point on, we find safe ways to bridge the abyss to our comrades, and we find the strength to fight together against those who are a threat to our existence.
Rules don't have to guide us, integrity to our own principles can.
My body, people desire. My heart is squeezed for blood almost every day. It has hardened, and at my age it's no small effort to squeeze out one drop. I love it, because I love me. It took me 30 years to realize that my self-worth is the rope around the neck of the Patriarchy.
*- If you have an urge to react to the word “men" by saying something like “but women abuse too," think of all the times you have been abused by a woman, then use the feeling to try and relate to me, to how I felt when I was abused. Please refrain from using comments like these to correct me, or to point out how what I feel is wrong or invalid.
is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality, feminism, and anti-capitalism.