My father taught me the difference between truth and a lie when I was five. The story begins with a teddy bear, a tiny, plastic ornament that hung at the end of my toothbrush. I loved to watch it in the bathroom mirror, bouncing up and down as I cleaned my teeth. One day, the teddy bear disappeared. I was heartbroken. Later, while being hustled into the back seat of the family car, I saw my teddy bear, again. It was pinned to the visor on the driver’s side of the window. “Daddy, that’s my teddy bear,” I said as I pointed to the object above his head. My father didn’t look flustered, nor did he apologize. “That’s not your teddy bear,” he said, shaking his head. “You lost yours. This one is mine.”
That was the day, I learned children were to be truthful and take responsibility for their actions, but adults could play by different rules. Surprisingly, the knowledge didn’t make me cynical. Instead, I gained a greater reverence for honesty. Like beauty, of course, truth often lies in the eye of the beholder and can be as flexible as putty. Take the 2016 presidential election, for example. When Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters squared off on Facebook, their separate truths flew so fast and furious, I had little time to check sources.
Today, after the scandals on Facebook about fake news sources, we are all sadder and wiser people. So much information we shared came to us courtesy of Russian hackers. In an interview with the BBC, Theresa Wong, who helped shape Donald Trump’s presence on social media, admitted that “without Facebook we wouldn’t have won.” (Click) That truth, I’m sure, will haunt her and the rest of the nation for some time to come. (“The Reckoning,” by Virginia Heffernan, Wired, November 2017, pg. 16.)
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has a few regrets, too, I suspect. Certainly, he has gathered a number of critics. Virginia Heffernan makes her sour observation that, “Zuckerberg, as a bright man, would have done well to have finished his education.” (Ibid pg. 16.) Another bemoans the man’s naiveite. He lacked “a historical sense of things people are capable of doing to each other and the planet.” (Ibid pg. 16.)
For refusing to admit the vulnerability in his network, Zuckerberg deserves his licks. But, I hold myself accountable, too. Passing along questionable information when it supports my point of view isn’t illegal but it is a social crime. Distortions destroy trust, weaken relationships and our nation.
When my father stole my teddy bear, he taught me a valuable lesson. I’d do well to remember it.