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K.A. Bachus

March 12, 2022

Searching for Truth

When there is too much information, much of it false or irrelevant, it can make you so cynical you decide not to hazard any opinion at all. While this can be a wise approach when facing a new issue, it is not healthy for an open society when cynicism causes large numbers of the population to shy away from important questions. Democracy depends on a thinking, educated and engaged population.

Last week my blog entry gave you an initial approach to new information based on understanding biases, both your own and others. This is an important preliminary skill in finding truth.

Let’s use the first example given in last week’s post. A picture of a dead child causes a visceral reaction, but before you allow your emotions to dictate your response, it is important to verify that the picture itself is what it purports to be.

The Internet and social media have done some damage to our ability to know what is true, not by withholding information, but rather by inundating us with it. At the same time, modern information systems also provide a powerful means of verification at the ordinary citizen’s fingertips. It's called a search engine.

Whichever search engine you prefer to use, start there. Describe the photo. Include the source or the purported source. Check the dates on the information that comes up. Many emotional appeals are based on old information. Next, notice who is talking about it. Does it appear to be discussed by only one ideological faction? Check with various fact checking organizations like or Snopes. It may turn out  the picture is ten years old, from a different war, from a different region or even from a movie.

If nothing results from your search, it could be either too new an event or entirely untrue. If what you are looking for is timely and topical, you should see a list of different organizations reporting the incident. Begin with a well established, preferably large and primarily centrist organization. Traditional journalism requires procedural safeguards against one-sided or fanciful reporting. Yes, they do get it wrong, but an established and ethical news organization tries to limit mistakes and issues corrections.

Armed with basic facts from a centrist source, move on to respected sources and with differing viewpoints. Remember the difference between fact and opinion. Opinions are useful in the interpretation of facts but are not the same as facts and can affect a news story in subtle ways. Also, an organization’s editorial policy will determine which story is even covered, how prominantly it is featured, and how the basic facts are presented.

In the case of our example concerning the dead child, I was able to find an article from CNN dated February 28, 2022 about the tragedy. It included the disturbing picture I had seen. In addition to CNN, that particular story was also covered by NBC, News EU, and The Sun, among others.

Other indicators of the story's reliability include the name of the Associated Press photo journalist at the scene, references to witnesses, and important details like the date and place it happened.

Could it all be fabricated? Yes of course. But the level of cynicism that requires disbelief in well documented evidence of trauma during an invasion is higher than that required to believe the earth is flat. Motivations and causes set aside, it happened. There are still plenty of ethical, emotional and political aspects to be argued about, but the simple, unclassified fact of the incident itself cannot be disputed.

Next week, and exploration of how truth can be used to deceive in a misinformation campaign.