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The Threat Lies and Disinformation has on our Democracy

As a college student, I am constantly being asked, “What’s the most pressing issue that your generation cares about?” I immediately think to myself: climate change, gun violence, student loans, health care, and economic inequality.

 

 However, after thinking about this question some more, I have realized that the most urgent issue is that we live in a world where facts are not respected, and the truth is being suppressed. 

 

No problem can ever be solved if we don’t collectively understand that certain things are real and cannot be debated or ignored. Fake news and widespread disinformation amongst social media sites is a growing problem that is waiting to be addressed, and we must act now.

 

Though President Trump has lost the election, disinformation, lies, and dangerous conspiracy theories are being flushed out of right-wing media outlets and social media websites. A good portion of this country believes that the “most secure election in history” was somehow stolen by Democrats. It is made increasingly worse because the President of the United States and his allies are spreading that lie, but the consequence of this chaos hits us right at our core — the sanctity of our 200-year-old democracy. 

 

When we begin to challenge what is objectively true, we lose any attempt to solve a larger issue. A common trait within the various dictatorships and authoritarian governments we have seen is that they have forcefully suppressed the truth and those who try to shed light on it. The foundation of democracy is built on the exchange of ideas and the empowerment of truth. Nevertheless, with misinformation flooding social media sites at alarming rates, we have seen real-world consequences that chip away at our democracy. 

 

Let’s take a brief look at the kind of misinformation that has been spread by President Donald Trump for years. Before he even began his run for office, he peddled the racist birther conspiracy theory against former President Barack Obama. In the wake of protests calling for a reformed criminal justice system and the end to police brutality, Trump pushed false claims such as the idea that “thugs” will soon be infiltrating suburban neighborhoods. President Trump misled the country’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic by stating it would be gone by April and stated the virus is like the “flu”; despite being well aware of its lethality, as shown by the Woodward tapes. Trump has made over 20,000 false or misleading claims as president. During the final days of his 2020 presidential campaign, President Trump packed his Twitter account with tweets that originate from horrifying and deranged QAnon conspiracy theories. We must also acknowledge the right-wing media’s prominent role in the proliferation of these baseless theories and lies mostly seen on Facebook and Twitter. 

 

You might be wondering why I bring this up, considering that he will not serve as President for another term. See, widespread misinformation has precluded Trump and will outlast him. However, throughout the past four years, he has expedited it and given it a platform in our current media landscape. Over the next four years and so forth, we will probably continue to see lies peddled on social media and by bad actors. The question posed to us is: shouldn’t we, as an electorate, demand better from our leaders? The truth is that in order to preserve the longevity of our democracy, we cannot become accustomed to widespread disinformation, even when it comes from the President of the United States.

 

Without a mere consensus of what is fact and what is fiction, we cannot make progress, whether it be climate change, women’s rights, or systemic racism. Facts matter, and we must hold our leaders accountable for what they say and do in order to solve the most pressing issues our country faces. Simply put, there is no legitimate democracy without respect for the truth. There will always be malicious forces trying to mislead voters. But, we cannot allow our elected leaders and those with a platform to welcome and accelerate that issue. As President Barack Obama says in a recent interview with The Atlantic, “If we do not distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition, the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition, our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.” 

 

Frankly, the truth and what is fact is not debatable, and no matter your political affiliation, that idea should hold for you. So what can you do? You have control over what media you consume and what kind of information you pass on to others. Take the extra step and have more than one reputable news source that you read, watch, or listen to. Fact check your information before sending it to others, and be careful about what you read and spread on social media. A more informed electorate proves for a healthier democracy. 

 

The loss of truth is the loss of democracy. If we want to keep our democracy legitimate, then we must take it upon ourselves to hold our elected officials and those with immense power responsible when they spew misinformation and question the authenticity of facts. If we don’t acknowledge what is true and what is false, we will lose our integrity as a nation.

Juhi Doshi is a freshman at Chapman University studying Political Science and Journalism. Juhi also currently writes for her university’s newspaper, The Panther, as the assistant news editor. Juhi is the assistant editor of the Her Campus Chapman chapter. Additionally, her work has appeared in Now Simplified, The Cramm, 60 Seconds Magazine, and Brown Girl Magazine. She has experience working in a District Office for a California Assemblyman, counseling high-school students with mental health issues, and teaching young girls a classical Indian dance form known as “Bharatanatyam.” Juhi has a passion for all forms of journalism—-broadcast, print, digital, and photojournalism. She is profoundly interested in political science and hopes to eventually work as a national political correspondent for a major news outlet.
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