Congressman’s comments illustrate prevalence of misinformation

Travis Danner
Opinions/Managing Editor

If it’s a legitimate opinion, the Internet has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.

On August 19, 2012, sitting member of the United States House of Representatives and current US Senate candidate Todd Akin suggested that a “legitimate” rape rarely results in a woman getting pregnant — that a woman’s body has a way to “shut that whole thing down.” That so-called “whole thing” being her body’s natural reproductive process.

As troubling as the content of Mr. Akin’s opinions were by themselves, they’re part of a larger, more troubling trend. Welcome to the post-fact era, where anyone can logon to the internet for instant validation of their opinions.

The internet is now a place where the dumb find refuge from conventional morality and common sense. People can just believe whatever they feel like, whether or not it’s actually true.

For instance, according to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Akin’s beliefs on the topic of rape are based upon a 1972 article written by Dr. Fred Mecklenberg. Titled “The Indications of Induced Abortion: A Physician’s Perspective,” the piece argues that a woman who is raped “will not ovulate even if she is ‘scheduled’ to.”

It has long been quoted by pro-life activists who seek to criminalize abortion under any circumstance despite the writing itself being thoroughly debunked. But it’s influence lives on as abortion opponents all over the internet continue to use it to validate their particular worldview.

Crazies the world over now have a place to unite and misinform one another. Whether it’s the bat-fecal-matter crazy “truthers” who trade ideas that somehow the United States government was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and Capitol Building or the “birthers” who allege a conspiracy to conceal the fact that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii.

There’s even the decades old idea that the United Nations is going to conquer the United States in black helicopters to take everyone’s guns.

As an aside, none of those things is even remotely true, but I digress.

That people now have the ability to pick and choose their “facts” should be a disturbing enough thought by itself but often it takes someone like Todd Akin saying something truly beyond the pale of good taste or reason for anyone to notice the problem.

It would all amount to a cute little inconvenience if misinformation did not find its way into so many facets of our national discourse.

From birtherism, to trutherism, to UN black helicopters, to “legitimate” rape — craziness abounds.

Luckily, it’s often easily identified.

It’s the little white lies, such as Paul Ryan’s assertion at the Republican National Convention that President Obama’s policies lead to the closure of an auto plant in Wisconsin that are the most destructive.

The plant closed in 2008, when Obama was a senator from Illinois running for president and George W. Bush was in the White House. Despite being blatantly false, many will still believe it, as it fits in with their predetermined opinion on the President.

This is just one example. In this election season, lies and truth-stretching are commonplace from both Republicans and Democrats.

The next time you’re faced with someone angrily insisting something is true and you know it’s not — beat them at their own game. Get on the internet and look for the source of their information. Check it. Find another source and check that too. Do it again to be sure.

The old adage is that “knowledge is power.” Never has this been more true in this era where the truth is whatever a web site says that agrees with what the reader thinks.

If enough people arm themselves with the truth, even if they disagree with it, someday there will be a lot less Todd Akins running around.

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