The Firehose of Lies
Before we talk about the firehose, let’s look at some numbers.
There’s a chart that floated through social media that claimed an estimated 2,818,527 people will die in the U.S. in 2020, and that the death count is on par with 2018 and 2019. While some of the numbers in the chart are accurate and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the other numbers are a bit of a mystery. One is close, but not quite, the CDC’s unfinalized count for 2019 (2,855,000), and the number from 2020 “as of November 16th” is not only unapologetically leaves out more than a month of the end of 2020, it also leaves out several weeks from the beginning of 2020.
In less than three weeks, the CDC has actually increased that preliminary number by nearly 300,000. If that rate continues, there will be more than 3,000,000 deaths in the United States this year, well over the estimate on the false chart circulating online.
According to the CDC, “As of October 15, 216,025 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the United States; however, this might underestimate the total impact of the pandemic on mortality.”
If you don’t like the boiled down version, I’d encourage you to take a look at their work.
I’d also like to introduce a graphic the CDC made that more accurately represents what has been occurring in 2020.
I recommend sharing it widely, and not just because it is important in itself.
It’s about the firehose of lies.
For years, people have been subject to an absolute deluge of falsehoods like this, perpetrated through social and traditional media. A whisper on a forum gets repeated here, and then there, and then leaps to Facebook, circulates through Twitter, is reported on cable TV, and before we know it the President is repeating it from a podium in the White House rose garden.
The falsehoods are easy to invent, tell, and share, and as you can see (especially if you followed that CDC link), difficult to correct.
Journalists and reporters spend hours upon hours correcting things like this, only to be called “biased” for working so hard uncovering the real evidence.
People with great ideas, ideas that could be great for everyone, are driven out of the public discourse because they see it awash with falsehoods. Why would they want to be a part of that?
And most unfortunately, people with the best of intentions for their neighbors and communities actually believe these things, without looking critically at their source or logic, and then try to make good decisions based on faulty data.
That happened here in Houghton County this December, as one of the county commissioners quoted the chart with false information before casting his vote on a resolution. In this case, the vote was unanimous and the decision was likely unaffected, but this is just one lie on social media. There are so many more.
Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t assert itself. Just as the constitution and rule of law need its defenders, so does truth.
The ‘firehose of lies’ is a metaphor, comparing the current deluge of misinformation to the fire hoses used to disperse protestors, particularly in the 1960s. While not doing as much physical harm as a bullet or a billy club, it’s purpose is to disperse, degrade and subdue. It pushes people out of the public square and removes them from the public discussion. And unfortunately, it has been working.
Please, stand together against that firehose. Check your facts before sharing memes, and call a lie a lie when you see one. Most importantly, share the truth.
Nobody is expected to face the firehose alone, but if we aren’t willing to at least get wet, then those wielding the firehose will have complete control of the public square.