| Losing Trust is a Good Thing - Here’s Why
|When did you quit believing everything you heard?
A recent spate of fake news has gotten everyone in a tizzy.
But, this isn’t news - phony stories have been around forever.
It’s just that the internet is delivering them faster, in greater
quantities, and to more people than ever before. Fake news is
a virus of the information age. We inoculate ourselves with
skepticism. The net result is that people have lost their trust in
authority. And, I believe this is a good thing.
The opportunity to deceive people online began almost
immediately. On July 5, 1993, The New Yorker magazine
published Peter Steiner’s cartoon of a dog sitting in front of a
computer with the now famous caption: "On the Internet, nobody
knows you're a dog." The anonymity of the web has enabled
many scams. Most of us have received an email from a Nigerian
prince who wants to transfer millions of dollars into our bank
accounts; or from a celebrity who we could only dream of
Some have been catfished. That’s when someone lies to you about
who they are on social media or dating sites; then work to build
your trust so they can take advantage of it. I have a friend who
met a man on a dating site, then after several weeks of phoning
and emailing back and forth, she fell in love. So, she drove
1000 miles in order to meet him. He looked nothing like his
pictures; in fact, they weren’t pictures of him at all. Devastated,
but wiser, she got back in her car and drove home.
Lately, I’ve been wondering when I first started to become
skeptical. A friend suggested it was when I learned that Santa
Claus wasn’t real. I remember the neighborhood kids telling me
that Santa was actually my parents. I didn’t believe them. I ran
home, distraught and confused, and demanded the truth from
my mother and father. When they confirmed it; I was shocked
that they would lie to me. I felt so deceived. Then my parents
explained that it was like a game, and ordered me to go along
with the pretense so that my sister wouldn’t find out until she
was older. Being included in the secret made me feel somewhat
Years later, when I was married (and before having children), I
told my wife I didn’t think we should introduce the fantasy of
Santa to our children. I said it was lying to them, and cheating
ourselves out of the credit for all the gifts they would get. She
disagreed, and said she wanted our kids to enjoy the fun and
magic of Christmas. She won; and when we had kids, I immersed
myself in the spirit of the season... and continued the deception.
We stop believing and trusting after we’ve been fooled, hoaxed,
or defrauded one time too many. I was curious when other
people first became skeptical and quit blindly accepting their
sources of information. So I ran an informal survey on social media
to get some specifics.
People told me they became cynical because of government lies,
false advertising, and fake news. Sadly the most heartbreaking
were those who told me they stopped trusting when friends and
family members lied to them, abused them, or otherwise betrayed
Government lies that disillusioned people included: the Warren
Commission’s implausible report on the John F. Kennedy
assassination; Lyndon Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin
incident to escalate the Vietnam War; Richard Nixon denying
knowledge of the Watergate break in; George W. Bush stating,
“We found the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]” when
there were none; and Barack Obama saying, “If you like the
[health care] plan you have, you can keep it” when that wasn’t
False advertising that duped some included: Volvo reinforcing
one of its cars before having a monster truck drive over it; Big
Tobacco citing bogus research that, “Cigarette smoking is no
more ‘addictive’ than coffee, tea or Twinkies”; Kashi Company
claiming its products were "All Natural" when they were actually
full of synthetic and processed ingredients; and Listerine and
Airborne’s claims that their products prevented colds when they
Fake news stories that conned people included: Dateline NBC
reporters rigging a GM truck in 1993 with explosives to
demonstrate that gas could leak from its fuel tank and cause a
dangerous fire after a crash. Others were hoodwinked by
reporters who were caught creating career-ending fake news
stories: Jayson Blair at the New York Times; Stephen Glass at
The New Republic; Dan Rather at CBS News; Brian Williams at
NBC News, and Sabrina Erdely at The Rolling Stone.
Some of the “click-bait” stories that suckered me included these
headlines on Facebook: "Woman Arrested for Defecating on
Boss's Desk After Winning the Lottery.” “Morgue Worker Arrested
After Giving Birth to a Dead Man’s Baby.” and “Billionaire
Founder of the Corona Beer Brewery Makes Everyone in the
Spanish Village Where He Grew up a Millionaire in His Will.”
Apparently there is a whole lot of lying going on in the world.
Even scientific research has come under scrutiny as many
“new findings” and “breakthroughs” cannot be duplicated or
reproduced. When something shatters our worldview, when
we lose faith, it’s our innocence that gets sold out for an
Recent polls by the Pew Research Center, Gallup, and CNN
show that Americans’ trust in government is at an all time low.
The CNN poll in 2014 showed that only 13% believe the
government can be trusted, while the Pew poll in 2015 put it
Nevertheless, all of this disbelief, distrust, and even suspicion is
good. Especially if it leads you to start challenging the status
quo and not accepting everything you’re told. Questioning
authority is one of the most important characteristics of an
innovator. It means you’re opening your mind to new possibilities.
Inquiry, examination, and debate stimulate curiosity and creative
thinking. You can’t come up with new ideas if you aren’t doubting
the old ways of doing things. Ask, “Why does it have to be this
way? Why can’t it be that way?” or
“Is this the best way to do _____? Perhaps we can do it another
There’s always room for improvement - whether it’s government,
business, or your personal life. Investigating deeper may even
enlighten you to problems before they occur. Don't buy a story
outright... raise an eyebrow instead.
© Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.