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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Jury

A news report the other day offered an insightful commentary on the state of our society. The article, reported in several reputable journals, concerned an analysis performed by a cyber security agency. By tracing the IP addresses of accounts posting on FB and other social media, the reposting chain, and other linkages, the agency concluded that the overwhelming majority of posts advocating an anti-vaccination agenda were created by just 12 entities. I say entities rather than people as the report and my own experience in developing heavily trafficked web sites suggest that among the dozen stirring the pot of social discord are at least one or more state run groups whose role it is to sow discord and fan the fires of disunity as part of a politically motivated calculated disinformation campaign.


Who then comprise the rest? While I do not know precisely who, I have my suspicions. I imagine that there may be a few individuals who for personal reasons—a life experience or pre-disposition to crusade for a cause who genuinely believe they are doing the Lord’s work, saving people from the dire outcomes they have come to believe are the result of vaccination. No amount of actual proof to the contrary will dissuade true believers from their self-appointed role. I met people like this early in my life when I ran a school for emotionally and neurologically impaired teens. They shared a common malady—their children were dysfunctional and often the causes were unclear. Absent something or someone to blame some parents became fierce advocates for some theory—often based on what can only be described as quackery from attention seeking quasi-professionals. The theories explained away autism, ADHD, emotional disturbance and more, directing anger and laying blame at the feet of any and everyone but themselves. Guilt played a large part in this behavior. Guilt that something a parent had done or not done led to their child’s condition. The greater the guilt, the greater the conviction that the theorized cause was the root of the evil, and often the greater the advocacy.


It isn’t hard to see how young parents, worried about doing everything right for their children could be gulled into aligning themselves with the beliefs of such tireless advocates. A by-product of access to undifferentiated information on the Internet aids and abets the hysteric turn to irrational responses. Yes, there are dozens of studies conducted by objective organizations according to rigorous scientific standards that have concluded vaccines are safe and crucial to eliminating diseases that scourged generations, but for every study there are dozens of largely made-up stories about how a vaccination led to horrible outcomes. Yet generations of children, myself included, received these vaccinations without harm or serious consequence. One might think common sense would prevail, but as one young mother confessed in an interview for a NPR story on the topic, fear is a powerful inducement, and once converted, fear is one of the few emotions that might prompt a reversal.


Who else might we find in the jury of twelve stirring the vaccination plot? Undoubtedly there are some whose objective is not unlike the state-run entities—to cause unrest for a political agenda. My surmise is that among this category are individuals who are cynically motivated or narcissistic, happy to shine a light on themselves and those who prefer to remain anonymous while enjoying the sense of control and power they have obtained by manipulating others.


Last but not least let’s suppose that there is at least one or more jurors who are disturbed individuals—genuinely possessed of a mental illness. In times past we might find them carrying placards on a street corner or standing up at a community or PTA meeting eager to turn everyone’s attention to their particular issue. Largely they would have been dismissed—seen in the light of day for what they were. But the speed, reach and anonymity of social media provide a powerful platform to insinuate their brand of insanity—not with guile but out of illness and imbalance. A cartoon in the New Yorker some years ago showed a picture of a canine sitting in front of a computer. The caption read, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”. Funny but true, it is not often who but why someone posts that should be our first clue as to their provenance.


Whenever I read anything, in print or online, or when I see or hear a story on commercial media I always ask myself three questions: Who is making this statement; What are the objective sources for the information they are providing; and what is their agenda? It isn’t an infallible filter, but the majority of the time it quickly unmasks fiction from fact. Sometimes I may need to do some sleuthing on my own—especially when a claim is made with suspect or no reliable source cited—and even then, I have found distortion either by omission or with intent. I am not trustful simply because something appears in a credible journal, or from a seemingly reliable source. Too often I have found a lie nakedly proffered as truth and readily discoverable if one takes the time to look. But most of us don’t—and many would not know how to search out the facts –it’s easier to recite the pre-packaged lies that support our biases and convictions.


So, whether it is a jury of twelve angry, disillusioned, crazy or nefarious men and women that are responsible for a form of mass hysteria or it is we the jury of ill informed, overly accepting, ignorant or lazy citizens who are responsible for convicting on the basis of lies, twisted facts or no evidence in the court of public opinion. What say you jury, innocent or guilty as charged?

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