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Thom Barker: Do the ends ever justify the memes?

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Submitted

Is honesty the best policy?

Do the ends justify the means?

These are big, weighty, philosophical subjects, but they are also simple questions that we individually face pretty much every day.

I am not an absolutist with respect to these axioms. I do not condemn, nor am I above, an occasional white lie to save someone’s feelings, for example.

And, obviously, if an end is good and noble, and the means to get there are also good and noble, the end may justify the means.

Without getting too far into the weeds—obviously “good and noble” can be subjective and sometimes even distasteful means may be justifiable on balance—my personal line in the sand is spreading disinformation.

It is worth making a distinction with misinformation here. Disinformation is the deliberate dissemination of intentionally false or inaccurate information.

But more insidious, perhaps, is misinformation, the spreading of false information by otherwise well-meaning people.

Three Facebook posts from last week inspired this discussion. The first was an alleged quote by Justin Trudeau:

“The very concept of a nation founded by European settlers is offensive to me. Old stock White Canadians are an unpleasant relic, and quite frankly, replaceable. And we will replace them."

On its face, this is laughable. You would have to desperately want to believe the absolute worst about the prime minister to not question its veracity. At the very least, Trudeau is a politician who has proven himself loathe to alienate voters of any kind. Plus, Trudeau’s family is the very definition of “old stock” dating back to the 1600s in Quebec.

The makers of this meme obviously want to undermine Trudeau and count on well-meaning people to pass it on without really thinking about it.

The second was a claim that “a study” showed vaping is 10 times more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco. Again, this is laughable on its face. It seems very likely that vaping is dangerous, maybe even as dangerous as smoking, but 10 times as bad? The evidence simply doesn’t exist.

It is a little more nebulous what the end here is, but again, the disinformation creator counts on the misinformation spreader. I may be unlikely to fall for this from some naturopathic purveyor of nonsense, but I may believe, or at least not question, someone I know and trust.

Finally, there is a quote from Andrew Scheer, the federal Conservative Party leader.

“Law-abiding Canadians should not have to justify to the government why they need a firearm,” he said.

In fact, Scheer really did say this. It is nevertheless, giving him the benefit of the doubt, disingenuous at best and misinformation at least.

I just went through the process of getting my firearms licence (PAL). I had to take a safety course. I had to prove (by submitting to a background check) that I am a responsible, law-abiding, mentally healthy adult. I had to present my licence to the vendor when I bought my guns, but at no time did I have to justify to anyone why I wanted them.

In all three of these cases, it took me about a minute to debunk the misinformation.

In each of these cases, the person who shared it said they had wondered about the meme’s veracity when they shared it.

In none of these cases, did they remove the post.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe in a relativistic world, the ends justify the memes.

I personally don’t think so, but as a journalist, truth and accuracy are my stock in trade. Disinformation is always wrong and misinformation should always be corrected.

thom@thombarker.ca


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