Maybe I should flag it and move on.
March 21, 2013 3:45 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when you see a cause you sympathize with being potentially harmed by the well-meaning incompetence/laziness of its nominal voice?

There is a political/social cause I take some interest in and am sympathetic to; what it is is not important for the purposes of the question -- I am trying to avoid a derail into the merits of the cause -- but suffice it to say that it is something only mildly controversial and one which quite a few mefites are on record as being on board with. For sake of argument, let us say it is slowing ballooning post-secondary tuitions.

There are a few Facebook pages devoted to this and one recently posted a piece centering around a damning quote from a conservative newspaper to the effect that, if anything, tuition fees should go up faster. The quote was from decades ago and the gist of the presented piece was that this battle has been going on for years. There was a whole lot of mockery in the comments about the shortsightedness of the newspaper's editors and a thousand or so people clicked "Like."

The trouble is, the nominal date for the quote was well before the newspaper existed. I pointed this out in the comments and was given a glib and incorrect rejoinder to the effect that $CurrentlyExistingNewspaper used to be called $DefunctNewspaper. I pointed out that no, this was incorrect, and others took it a step further and checked the archives of $DefunctNewspaper to point out that in any event, the quote does not appear in that day's edition either.

The Facebook page editors shrugged and said it was submitted as part of an entry into a video contest to raise awareness about rising tuition costs (a link to this video on YouTube was also on their page). They said they would check with the creator of the video, but two weeks later, there is no further word.

The contest for the video submissions was held by a national organization (let us say the Canadian Federation of Students) and is posted on YouTube under their account. I looked at their website for the number of their social media person, called their offices, and mentioned that while a number of the video entries posted online were quite good and effective (true), one of the entries had an entirely invented fact as its centrepiece. The social media person told me, "Oh, we do not check those for content." I was a little rattled, but pointed out that it was still online under the CFS name, and offered easy ammunition for any opponent who wanted to say they were inventing facts to suit themselves and falsely attributing quotes to their opponents. She laughed, "Oh, there is quite a lineup of people doing that already." Okay, then. At that point I let it go, figuring I had done all I could do.

I am not a student and I have no particular dog in this fight, but I would rather not see the next generation of students be in debt for twenty years. And if there is an organization that nominally represents the interests of students and they are posting easily disprovable lies to support their cause, it pains me, although I am in sympathy with the cause. They do face criticisms from conservatives: why give their critics more ammo?

How do others get past this frustration with institutions -- particularly institutions you support -- not giving a damn about reality, but shrugging and figuring that the truth does not matter?
posted by ricochet biscuit to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what one can do. Back during the Bush II administration I remember defending "truthiness" in one of my social circles, being called out on it by one of the members of that circle (and generally defended by others), and it wasn't until I saw people doing the same thing to members of the Obama administration that I realized how wrong I had been.

(I had a huge personal political shift happen in the late '90s and early naughties, so I don't have a good reference for my own views previous to that.)

The most effective way I've found to change minds is to point out that when "the other side" discovers those misrepresentations, the existence of one falsehood makes it easier to discredit the entire argument.

But it's still one mind at a time. We very much like to advance credibility to "facts" which reinforce our prejudices.
posted by straw at 4:16 PM on March 21, 2013

I don't really understand what you're asking here. Perhaps if you are sufficiently concerned about an organization whose position you support, you can found your own organization with similar positions and promulgate your views that way.
posted by dfriedman at 4:39 PM on March 21, 2013

I got past this by accepting that it was inevitable in movements and by reading The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. Good causes and bad causes both attract this stuff.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:45 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have been supporting this institution financially, stop doing so, and send a brief letter to the organization outlining how much money you've contributed, and why you will no longer be doing so. Emphasis on "brief."

If you have only been supporting this institution emotionally, walk away, and find another organization to support (ideally also financially) to help them gain a louder voice.
posted by davejay at 4:48 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Political activism is not particularly effective at changing minds. People are wary of politicized information, and are slow to accept information that conflicts with their underlying beliefs from organizations they distrust.

Activism is to energize the base, while changing minds happen in personal conversations and other areas where people lower their guard and trust the source. Activism is not particularly good at energizing the base when they're having to bog down platitudes with a bunch of qualifiers to the rallying cry.

I personally don't think that activism exists change minds. It exists to enact political change when the demographics shift to support that political belief. For example, I don't think HRC does much to convince folks that gay marriage should be legal. I think time is passing, and folks are realizing they don't have to be scared of this new social norm. The benefit of HRC is to constantly remind people that the law doesn't reflect this social norm, so legislation doesn't just sit on the back burner until 50 years later we're embarrased we forgot to legalize gay marriage.

So while I am a cynic and don't think those activists are saving the world, crushing dumb hateful ideas where they stand, I think it's still an incredibly important job that needs to be done by someone.

Thinking of activism in that sort of framework helps me remember that it's okay that activists tend to be really young and idealistic and put forward a view of the world that I find really simplistic, full of holes, and occasionally using bad facts to support their case. Those people have the energy and passion that a more cynical person would really struggle to find. And their flaws aren't really doing much harm in the big picture.
posted by politikitty at 5:03 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a big belever in "light one small candle rather than curse the dark." It is quite hard to do anything really well without stepping in the doodoo somewhere. Trying to figure out how in the hell to get it right myself is consuming enough to leave me little time, energy or motivation for criticizing the shortcomings of others.

So, for example, I started a website to put together info on homeless resources for San Diego cuz I was homeless in San Diego and was frustrated with all the glaring problems and shortcomings of all the programs and especially info sources. And the website is pathetic and never lived up to my fantasies of making the information more complete, user-friendly, useful, and error free than the paper print-outs I was getting from various programs. I never added all the photos and maps I thought would be neato keen because, gee, that's actually a lot of work and the website really doesn't make money and I need money. And there is probably no money to be made from helping homeless people. I have largely abandoned it. I find that I am also reluctant to give let-er-rip, detailed ugly criticisms of programs I might yet need again before my problems are resolved for fear they might learn it's me and say "go the hell away, bitch" at a time when that might mean starvation. Duh.

Knowing that I have a jillion criticisms but honest to god can't be bothered to do something better, much less Do It Right, By God!, helps keep my big fat mouth shut. It helps me go "I am glad someone else is doing all this work, even though it is not perfect, and I am glad I benefit and I think I will say nice things about the good and useful parts if anyone asks."

If I am in a position to do some small, useful thing for someone else, I give it my best shot. If I ever figure out a Real Solution for various problems I see in the world, I will put it forth. Until then, I mostly try to butt out. My general rule of thumb is to roll up my sleeves and do something (volunteer, donate, get a job in that field, whatever) or try to keep my mouth shut. Not that I always succeed but that's what I shoot for.

Since you asked, I am recommending the same for you: If you really think it matters and wouldn't be that hard to do it better/right, then start your own web portal of high quality info on the topic. Or let it go.
posted by Michele in California at 5:24 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know, someone is wrong on the internets. This sort of thing makes me crazy, because I assume that any cause I support should have the integrity and the brains to make sure they're not making shit up. Sadly, it's not the case. Sometimes people are too busy, don't know how to actually fact-check things, or just don't care. You have to let it go, I think. If you can present a substitute quote that's actually correct, maybe post that and go on your way.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:29 PM on March 21, 2013

Don't worry about it. If the "lower tuition" cause has successfully developed into a sophisticated political movement, there are probably five other groups who are well aware of this group's strengths and weaknesses (and vice versa). Different groups excel at different strategies and tactics. You should try to find a group affiliated with the movement whose strengths are research and policy expertise, and fund them.
posted by slidell at 10:38 PM on March 21, 2013

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