I’m not a fan of trust. In my line of business, cybersecurity, it gets virtually everyone into trouble at some point in their lives. We open infected documents or images we think are legitimate, we click or tap on links that get our identities stolen or our devices infected, and we even support revolutions that Nigerian princes seem to be waging every other day.
We are raising an entire generation ensconced in technology who believes that wireless infrastructure is there to support them wherever they may find it. Most don’t realize that one of the easiest ways we hackers get into your phone or laptop is getting you to trust our fake wireless access point at your local coffee shop. Conversely, the oldest generation also grew up in a society that trusted, though in different ways. Walter Cronkite was trusted to deliver accurate news, corporations kept workers for decades and had pension plans that are virtually non-existent anymore. Despite possible different political leanings, that generation also knew and trusted their neighbors.
At some point, the world changed. As technology became more efficient, and humans were able to communicate with each other at a level never before witnessed by humanity, we lost the ability to trust.
Historically, both modern major political parties have agreed on the problem but disagreed regarding the solution. Both understood that regardless of which party was in power at the moment, the trust that the loyal opposition would be consulted and that both sides would work in good faith for the betterment of the country was there. This is no longer the case and there are modern technological advancements to blame.
The 24/7 news cycle that exploded onto the scene in the 1990s focused on the sensational rather than the substantive and pitted neighbor against neighbor. O.J. Simpson, President Clinton’s “blue dress,” Tanya Harding, and other 1990s news stories helped to drive a wedge into society beyond simple debate. Essentially, technology upset the apple cart for the entire nation. During this time Americans were starting to also get a glimpse, thanks to personally owned video cameras, of the disparity between cultures regarding their interactions with the law enforcement wing of the government. Rodney King was mercilessly beaten by officers in Los Angeles who were later acquitted despite the video evidence which ended up with parts of L.A. being burned down as days of violence ensued.
This was the backdrop that birthed social media: a society already divided by politically leaning news sources they could read, watch or listen to constantly while viewing the other side of the aisle as misinformed. Now, these closed ecosystems would be complete as social media connected individuals to like-minded friends while algorithms figured out those like-minded news articles, videos, and links that would reinforce their views all while making Facebook and other platforms billions of dollars annually.
Prior to the social media revolution, conspiracy theories were also kept in healthy check. Yes, there was a Flat Earth movement in society, but there were only a few thousand of them at their height before the internet, message boards, and eventually social media. Before computers, this had the positive net effect of keeping the conspiracy theorists in check as they were surrounded by friends and family that typically did not adhere to their beliefs.
Now, literally anyone with an internet connection can publish any type of official-looking post and stake a claim as an authority when they are clearly not. Most recently, the world saw multiple chiropractors attract millions of views, likes, and shares of their content on the virology of the coronavirus and why vaccines aren’t needed. Combine this with the confirmation bias of their followers who reinforce this belief within their population in Facebook groups and other platforms and it’s no wonder the United States has serious problems with “alternative facts.”
Society’s foundation is trust above everything else. Studies have shown that the mistrust between both sides of the American political spectrum is so deep for some that people would disown relatives that dated or married a person of the opposite belief.
The government’s job is to ensure that the roads are operational and the bridges won’t collapse on us when we drive over them. They provide basic services like education, assurances of safety from crime or when we travel abroad on their passport. However, for this to work there must be a general sense that those who lead the country can be trusted to have our best interests at heart. That they were elected to serve society and not themselves above all else. The people voting for leaders cannot see them as infallible or, conversely, Satan incarnate when their candidate loses the election.
With demonstrably false information being spoon-fed to an electorate that will vote for those who not only believe the fake news but also spread this societal poison, how do we come back together? That answer must be rooted in trust. If this slide into distrust through disinformation is “death by a thousand cuts” then its repair is revival through a thousand band-aids. Those moments of agreement on both sides have to be held up as what should be the norm throughout all media and platforms while we strive to educate the masses on how to actually research, check credentials and spot fake news.
A large study shows us that small minorities on both the left and right of the political spectrum are the loudest and most vocal. The “Exhausted Majority,” as the study states, are fed up with the polarization. Yet, this polarization is still growing and making the situation worse. Fortunately for us, there is hope; however, it’s not really being reported in the media. Outrage is often more newsworthy.
Here is the way out of this predicament: Bills that pass through Congress and are signed into law without partisan opposition should be heralded as what should always be. In December of 2020, while the news media was embroiled in the election and allegations of fraud, Congress passed an IoT Security bill and it was signed into law by then-President Trump. It had no opposition according to Rep. Robin Kelley of Illinois, the Democrat who led the charge with Republican Will Hurd of Texas. I had the honor of interviewing her on that bill for my radio show and it shouldn’t have been as amazing as it was that both sides came together like this.
More recently in early June of this year, Congress passed a quarter-trillion-dollar bill to bolster the nation’s economic competitiveness against China. Unbeknownst
to most of the country, the bill was the largest piece of industrial policy the U.S. has seen in decades – and it passed by a 68-32 Senate vote.
The path to rebuilding trust in society is a long one but it can be accomplished. Holding up bipartisan efforts like the IoT Security bill or commending the Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, vote together, and not attack each other’s campaigns, is an excellent start. As politics here in the United States begins to resemble a religion with worship of leaders, the rhetoric needs to change back to what it was years ago. The primary driver of the wedge is Facebook and other social media companies, and we need to better educate ourselves on spotting fake news. However, I fear that ship has sailed.
We are all in this one together. We cannot abandon those with who we disagree, nor dismiss them as simply misinformed. These are our friends, relatives, neighbors, and villages and we all must live with one another despite disagreements. Change of this manner starts with finding common ground and ends with everyone being legitimately ok that we can all disagree. Without this trust, America will be lost.