Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

Living as Flesh and Blood in a Virtual World

We are living in an age when calumny is king. It is becoming difficult to live as a flesh and blood being in a virtual world.

The Collision Between Reality and Narrative

This week, two stories captured my every waking moment.

One story may be familiar to you: teenagers waiting for a bus at the Lincoln Memorial were heckled by protestors, yet they became the target of the liberal media’s narrative ire by virtue of being white, male, Catholic, and at a pro-life rally.

I’m not going to rehash their story or the resulting backlash. Suffice to say that the media related the wrong narrative – spectacularly wrong, as the case may be. The boys did nothing wrong. They were at the wrong place, at the wrong time, surrounded by crazy, hate-filled adults who thought they were useful pawns in their own media narrative.

Once again, the media is caught grossly manipulating the facts in order to push a narrative that suits their purposes. It’s nothing new. It’s disingenuous to think it is something new that the media lies and manipulates facts to shape public opinion. It’s been going on as long as newspapers have been in existence.

But now we have the internet, which allows anyone to look at the full story themselves, if they so choose, and report the news.

Read the story here: The Abyss of Hate 

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Missouri, word spread rapidly by late Sunday that an online friend, a blogger and Catholic community member, had gone missing along with her 4-month-old daughter.  I knew “A” from her homesteading blog and her frequent updates on Instagram and Facebook of her beautiful family: newly-born C, her much longed-for daughter, and her five active boys. I loved seeing them in their homeschooling setting, I loved seeing the boys at swim practice and horseback riding lessons. I must admit, I lived a little vicariously through A. What a joy it must be, I often thought, to have that kind of life. 

The story unfolded that A had walked out of mass carrying her infant daughter and had not been seen since. Her family asked her online friends to keep quiet for a day or so while the police investigated. Then we were given the green light to share the post with her image and the phone number for the Kansas City police.

An odd thing happened once the post went viral…strangers, people who had never read her blog posts, communicated with her online, met her in person or knew anything about her began popping out of the woodwork to offer their version of events.

People began speculating on why a woman would leave. Accusations about abuse, about a hidden family somewhere, about abandoned former children emerged. Each statement became more spectacular. Every guess became fact.

I had never seen anything like it in my life.

Gossip spread like wildfire.

People released the names of her under-age children and their home address. People posted all sorts of rumors. Others decided to tell the police how to do their jobs, perhaps assuming that the Kansas City detectives needed some advice like “Look for video cameras nearby!” and “Where is her car?”

Note: Just because you watch Investigation Discovery doesn’t mean you’re qualified to second-guess the police force.

It was insane.

Two Stories. Same Reaction.

As of Saturday morning when I write this, A and 4-month old C have not been found. I am sure her family in Kansas City is worried sick about their safety.

Meanwhile, in Covington, Kentucky, the boys involved in the Lincoln Memorial incident are still feeling the brunt of public ire. Their parents have hired an attorney to push for libel charges against the media who spread the lies and hatred, inciting violence against their children and I don’t disagree with their decision to contact an attorney.  The school the teens attend was closed this week due to bomb threats. People called for the teenagers to be killed or beaten. The parents deserve any legal recourse they can get.

What are we to learn from these two seemingly different scenarios?

One is visibly public, splashed across The New York Times, the major media, and all social media.

One is private, known only to a circle of friends on social media who interacted with a woman and her family.

One involves a boy falsely accused and another involves the disappearance of a woman and child.

There is a thread weaving between both stories that connects them. It is the thread of how fast falsehoods spread online.

Instead of waiting for all the facts to be uncovered,  people leap into the information gap to fill it with their own stories. It’s as if we can’t stand not knowing the truth so we make up our own stories in the meantime. Or, if the stories we hear don’t fit our mental picture of what should be, we change them until they do.

A white boy wearing a MAGA hat at a pro-life rally nose to nose with an elderly Native American man? We warp the picture so it fits our frame. The boy must be the villain because to accuse the elder or the black protestors in the background would open us up to charges of racism.

A devout Catholic family with six children and a beautiful, doting mother? Impossible to believe anyone lives like this, the thinking goes. Something horrible must have pushed her to walk out, therefore it must be….{fill in your own horrible scenario here}.

In both cases, we are so uncomfortable with uncertainty that our minds create certainty and scenarios to soothe our discomfort. Our minds attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance so we feel secure again.

The problem occurs when we SHARE our false conclusions in the mad, mad virtual world. We live as flesh and blood in a virtual world where anyone may say anything at any time and share it with thousands, millions of people until it takes on a life of its own.

The unknown tantalizes us until it drives us crazy.  Our minds fill in the blanks left by the open-ended story so that the unknown becomes tamed, controlled with a narrative that fits our perception of the world. Then we feel safe once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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