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By Earl Coetzee

Digital Editor

Everyone should be on a fact-finding mission

While social media ignorance may appear harmless, 'alternative facts' are now a thing and causing killer diseases to make a comeback, among others.

Facts matter, they’re crucial. Now, more than ever, this message needs to be drilled into the head of every schoolchild, student, and young adult, lest we risk the entire planet devolving into the idiocracy we’re seeing in the “land of the free”, where people have become incapable of distinguishing between fact, opinion, or even glaring fiction.

We are living in a time when people share “fake news” and misinformed opinions, and then have the gall to dismiss anyone trying to correct them by either branding them shills for the mainstream media/big pharma/big GMO/ the Illuminati or with a polite “well, that’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it”.

Not only do people believe that their opinions are equal to verifiable facts, but they also believe these opinions deserve the same respect from subject experts and the general public as the facts do.

Being misinformed has become somewhat of a badge of honour, with those spreading their (un)enlightened opinions being hailed as “woke” and “deep” by their equally ignorant followers on social media.

A recent example of this was a post comparing the swiftness of the Constitutional Court’s judgment effectively legalising marijuana for personal use, with the long fight for free education.

What this woke social justice warrior neglected was that the fight to legalise weed was anything but swift and had been dragging for nearly 20 years. It also failed to distinguish between a judicial decision and the long, arduous legislative juggling act, which would have to source billions of rands from somewhere in order to fund the proposed free education.

Of course, the post received plenty of adulation from the social media masses, while those attempting to bring some sense to the debate were shut down as “typical potheads” and told to respect the poster’s opinion.

Another case involved a recent column, in which I quoted statistics from the British government, as well as an independent NGO, stating that more than 20% of the English population live in abject poverty.

One of our readers, touting his English citizenship as evidence of his expertise in demographics, disputed this figure and called for more accurate fact-checking on my part.

He also cited his perceptions of the English population, without actually considering that not all Queen Lizzy’s citizens may be as fortunate as he is, to hold dual citizenship, and move in the privileged circles as he does.

Without providing any evidence to dispute the quoted figures, he reminded us why anecdotal evidence is regarded as rather limited in any scientific or empirical value. This, however, means little to those on social media touting their lived experiences as superior or equivalent to empirical facts.

And while social media ignorance may appear harmless, we must remember that we now live in a world where “alternative facts” are a thing and killer diseases are making a comeback in nations where they had once been nearly eradicated, because people would rather believe a Playboy model than their paediatrician’s opinion on vaccines.

So, yeah, kids, facts matter. Facts are important. Your opinions aren’t.

But, hey, that’s just my opinion.

Earl Coetzee.

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