Did you see this picture last week? I saw it posted by a number of Democrats on Facebook in order to make fun of those stupid Tea Party types who hate Barack Obama. Here’s an example of one of the many sites that posted the picture after it went viral. Here’s what the caption told us about the picture:
Student’s sign mocking Obama provides compelling argument for education reform. Well, at least a dorm room at the University of Alabama has found its constipated-looking, grammatically challenged sorority girl. This passionately misspelled indictment of the commander-in-chief, which appears to have been scrawled on a discarded pizza box (the official protest medium of college students) makes a pretty effective case for Mitt Romney, but an even better case against Romney’s plan to slash the education budget. Come on, America. This girl is one more cut language arts program away from having the linguistic skills of a Chick-Fil-A cow.
There’s only one problem. None of this was true. A reporter for The Birmingham News saw the graphic and wanted to track down this alleged University of Alabama student. She’s not an Alabama conservative for Mitt Romney. She’s a Massachusetts liberal for Obama. Her name is Kim Stafford, and she grew up in Boston. She goes to a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, not to my alma mater.
The spelling errors? Satire. The sign itself? It was her way of making fun of her notion of what a Romney Tea Party supporter might create, although she claimed in the interview with the Birmingham News reporter that she knows not all Tea Party folks are idiots. Still, the sign was an indication of her own bigotry, but because her prejudice fit so nicely with what so many on the left believe about Republicans and conservatives, many of them accepted her satire as truth.
Stafford has actually started a Tumblr site to respond to the places she finds that posted the picture, but I don’t figure most people will ever see it.
It’s easy to write this off, because it’s just one of a million idiotic political graphics that gets passed around every day. Stafford was certainly bigoted and immature, but plenty of people make mistakes when they’re college students. (It’s not actually much different from white frat boys who dress up in blackface in order to satirize black stereotypes. The only difference is that such instances are routinely punished as racist on campuses today.) The real mistake in this story was made by all the people who were eager to believe and pass along this lie as being true — all because it seemed to confirm their ignorant biases.
And that’s the real point. If you see something that pushes all of your buttons, because it seems to so neatly confirm what you already believe, ask yourself what the source is. Just because you saw it on Facebook or on some website linked from Reddit or something similar doesn’t make it true. Look for a link to the original source. If the information is vague — and if an original source isn’t named — it’s probably not true. And you’re probably hurting someone by repeating a lie.
Stafford told The Birmingham News that her experience has taught her there are extremists of every political type.
“The party I’m a part of because I’m tolerant and I think that homosexuals should be able to get married — the group of people that I associate with — can be just as cruel as the people I disagree with,” she said.
Have enough respect for the truth and for your own integrity to find out whether something is true before you pass it along to friends by email or on Facebook. Especially if something seems too good to be true, remember that it’s probably made up. Just because a lot of people are dishonest about politics doesn’t mean you have to be. Set a higher standard for yourself.