The country has been gripped with the aftermath of the Presidential election, marred with accusations of massive voter fraud altering the outcome of the election. As contributing factors emerge to paint a clearer picture of what led up to the historic second impeachment of the 45th President, we should recognize that all of us as citizens have a responsibility to contribute to a truth-based culture in the United States.
As a public official responsible for conducting elections in Inyo County, California, I experienced firsthand how manipulated facts fueled a national crisis that culminated at the Capitol on January 6th. For many citizens, this was the first time experiencing the damage that false accusations can cause.
Having been directly exposed to a conspiracy prior to this election, I view misinformation and disinformation as much more menacing to our culture than this single tragic incident. A few years ago, I found myself at the heart of a small conspiracy when I agreed to help a local family in crisis after their child went missing. Many people who volunteered to help were doxxed, maliciously reported to law enforcement, had their private conversations shared publicly without permission, had false reports made to their jobs, all of which pales in comparison to the stalking and harassment the family continues to endure. It was very emotional and confusing since I had never experienced anything like it before.
I am not a mental health professional, but I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my own experiences. In my opinion, we need to invest much more research into how the Internet is contributing to a less stable society. In the meantime, as individuals, we should develop strategies to deal with harassing behaviors online, and to protect ourselves from unintentionally participating in it. I would encourage readers to do their own research and seek professional support if they find themselves involved in conspiratorial thinking.
According to medical hypotheses, delusions are mistaken and unfounded personal beliefs, when there is superior evidence to the contrary. Once in a delusion, depending on how convinced the person is of the fictitious reality, they will cling to their false beliefs even when presented with conflicting evidence. We see this in politics where officials blame each other for problems, ignoring their own actions leading to current events.
In the situations that I experienced, only parts of relevant information were widely shared. Other evidence was misrepresented, with attempts to set the record straight either ignored or further twisted to feed false narratives.
People often see patterns and connections that are simply not there. We have all likely experienced a form of this at some point in our life – whether it be an insecurity, a paranoia or leaps in logic that do not add up but play into our biases. In the digital world, these tendencies can increase if they are reinforced by others that have similar beliefs. If gone unchallenged, these delusions can feed into a mass hysteria. This is a circumstance where many people in a group believe in a delusion, reinforcing each other in their false convictions.
When I found myself mistreated because of rumors and lies, it sometimes felt like nothing that I could do or say could dispel the fabrications. In large part, this was true. Once someone has made up their mind, it can be difficult to convince them otherwise. In the case of elections, I can show public evidence, but people may still choose not to believe it. In the sensitive case of a missing person, there are many things unknown, so the truth is much harder to discern.
In both cases, I chose to approach the skeptics with compassion and empathy. It is easy to take false accusations personally. After all, most of us are not used to being lied about by strangers. In any case, the perceptions of the accusers are real, even if the facts do not support their conclusions. Learning to recognize that many abusive behaviors online are complex and could be the result of underlying mental health disorders might help you refrain from the impulse to participate in the collective trauma. I asked gentle, logical, and clarifying questions when I felt that someone was acting in good faith and tried to be non-confrontational with those who did not seem to be acting rationally. It is important to be able to recognize real threats and separate that from critical or hurtful comments.
Having people publicly accuse me of motives that I did not possess or thoughts I never considered is likely a result of the perplexing phenomenon known as psychological projection.
According to everydayhealth.com: “Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions. Psychological projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings. Have you ever disliked someone only to become convinced that the person had a vendetta against you? This is a common example of psychological projection.”
No one can know what another person is thinking unless they explicitly tell you. Even then, it may only be what the person believes at that moment in time, if they are even being truthful in the first place. Just because someone said something in the past, we should not assume that they are incapable of changing their minds, especially if more information materializes. An example is the current health crisis, where it would be illogical to rely on reports from 11 months ago, prior to the emergence of more recent scientific studies.
All of us should make conscious efforts not to assign motives to others or share deceptive information. If you have, it is okay to seek forgiveness if the situation warrants it. We all make mistakes. However, if we fail to recognize our own responsibility to be honest, instead placing the blame at the feet of others, we lose our opportunity to promote a more genuine humanity. Simple things, like taking the ProTruth Pledge, can remind others that speaking the truth matters. It may seem like such a monumental problem that one person’s actions could never make a difference. But, like a pebble dropped into a pond, although the catalyst of dropping the pebble may seem like one small act, collectively the ripple effect can create powerful waves with significant impacts. If we all commit to this simple philosophy – to hold ourselves responsible for telling the truth – my hope is that we can collectively manifest a more positive and truthful world.
Photo Credit: ocean.flynn, licenced under Creative Commons
About the author: Kammi Foote is currently serving her third term as the elected Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters, responsible for overseeing elections in Inyo County, California. She is a frequent invited speaker regarding election integrity and has testified on measures to improve the administration of elections before the California Senate and the Little Hoover Commission. In addition, she is a board member of several nonprofits that focus on civil rights, sustainable water and environmental policies, and leadership development.