Well, the 2012 election season has begun and it looks as though the 2012 presidential election once again will be one of misinformation aimed at appealing to voters fears, hates, and prejudices. What has prompted this blog post was a conversation that took place at breakfast this past Sunday with a group of friends and in-laws. I am not sure if my in-laws are my friends or not anymore because I quite often cannot restrain myself and I make statements that sometimes strike a sensitive nerve. I don’t intentionally try to stir things up but every so often I just have to point out seems to me to be a fundamental truth. The topic of discussion this particular Sunday was an email that one of those present had forwarded to the others.
The email was purportedly sent by an official of Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of Alabama. The email went on to state that under what some refer to as Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, that the 2014 Medicare Part B premium would more than double to $247 a month. I didn’t say a lot at the time, just a mild remark that I was a little skeptical in that an increase like that seemed excessive and then I let it go. But when I got home I decided to find out for myself ; I fired up my computer and set about exploring the web for information.
My first stop on the worldwide web was at www.medicare.gov . I couldn’t find a single mention of the rate for 2014 at the official Medicare website. Since I couldn’t find any information at the Medicare website, I decided to simply goggle “Medicare part B premium 2014”. The first non-sponsored hit on the list of hits that came up was one entitled “Myth of the $247 Medicare Part B Premium” from www.aarp.org/ . Myth? Hmmm, seems as though my skepticism might have been justified. As I scrolled further down the page it seemed that there was an overwhelming consensus that this email was a hoax aimed at frightening senior citizens, most likely with the intention of persuading them to vote against president Obama in the 2012 presidential election. Turns out the reason I couldn’t find out the 2014 rates on the Medicare website is that those rates have not been set yet. But several other websites had educated estimates of what the 2014 rate might be and all of those placed the figure somewhere around $115 a month; a far cry from $247.
Now I don’t have an axe to grind and I don‘t intend to try to influence anyone on how to vote. I am pretty much disheartened by both candidates for president. I only somewhat tongue in cheek wrote about this in my blog: I'm Voting for None of the Above. But, I do feel that it is imperative that we not be swayed by the falsehoods that are perpetrated by an unscrupulous group of people with the intention of scaring people into voting for one candidate in favor of another. It is imperative that we examine closely the claims put forth on all sides.
First of all, whenever you get an email such as the one I mentioned earlier read it closely and determine if what the email claims seems a little over the top. If something doesn’t seem quite plausible or even if you just want to learn more, seek out a definitive source of information on the subject at hand. In the case I mentioned I went directly to the Medicare website. Use Google to your advantage. Use multiple searches using different keywords in order to see what reliable information is available. Question the source websites that you visit. Are they an established, well known, and reputable website offering well researched information?
There are a variety of websites that are generally known to offer unbiased reviews of news and hoaxes such as the ones encountered in emails, TV and radio ads. Two of the most widely used fact checking websites are www.snopes.com and www.factcheck.org . Check out www.politifact.org : it is a website that deals exclusively with checking the facts concerning the American political scene. Politifact also has several websites devoted to issues in some individual states such as Ohio: www.politifact.org/ohio/ .
The use of the hoax email has been around for more than a decade now. But the use of hoax emails has exploded ever since Karl Rove and the republicans found out during the 2000 presidential campaign that they could influence large numbers of voters by appealing to every and any splinter group in the country by playing to those groups greatest fears and self-interests. Ineffective campaign spending election laws have given rise to largely unregulated Political Action Committees (PAC) and Super PACs that raise huge amounts of money with little accountability. Many of these PACs and Super PACs on both sides finance slick television and print ads attacking candidates, spreading false information, and using peoples fears in an effort to influence an election and it is my feeling that they almost certainly are the main generators of hoax emails.
But hoax emails are not just limited to PAC’s, political parties and other partisan organizations. Individuals such as you and I can also generate our own hoax emails. It is a simple process to cut legitimate corporate logos and paste them into an email along with photos that were doctored using your photo software. The trick is to be able to hide where the emails originated from. I don’t know how to do that myself, but I am pretty sure that to large numbers of tech savvy people it is a simple process.
I for one feel insulted when I receive emails that are blatantly false. When I receive a blatantly false email I feel that the sender has insulted my intelligence and I get a little mad. But unfortunately there are plenty of people who accept any email that appeals to their personal prejudices as being gospel. Take off those hate colored glasses and closely examine any and all such emails you receive. Look for the truth. Take the effort to find out the facts and then decided for yourself if that email has any validity or not.