[T]hese 50-, 60-, and 70-year old Internauts, having grown up in the age of print, never figured out that most of what you read online is made up. So when their sister-in-law's hairdresser sends them something shocking, they uncriticially pass it on to their friends.
This explains why many middleaged people and senior citizens I meet are actually more misinformed and radicalized than their children. Many Tea Party fanatics, in particular, are older white people who have cobbled a political philosophy together from nonsense Internet stories claiming that Barack Obama is Muslim, that global warming has been "debunked" or that universal health care means sending grandma to a "death panel."
Canada's Jewish community, I've found, is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. Thanks to the dense electronic civil society that binds together Jewish study groups, synagogue congregations and pro-Israel NGOs - call it "Bubbie-and-Zeyda-Net" - any story involving anti-Semitism tends to spread like wildfire. A few months ago, for instance, a rumour started that Delta Airlines was going to exclude Jews from its flights because of its commercial relationship with a Saudi airline. The story was completely bogus, but dozens of people sent it to me anyway. To this day, variations on it still land in my inbox.
It's time to stop the cycle of e-hysteria. And I'm asking young people to be part of the solution. It's great that you're going to spend part of Thanksgiving weekend unpacking Bubbie or Zeyda's new computer, and setting them up with a Gmail account. But your job isn't done until you've taught them the three magic words they should tell themselves when someone emails them something that sounds too shocking to be true: "It probably is."...Yeah, it's only those "old people" who believe crap. Whereas when "young'un" Kay conflates anti-jihadist essayist David Solway with "truthers" who think 9/11 was an inside job (as he does in his book, which I just finished reading) that's supposed to be an example of sound reasoning. (Actually, I put it down to Kay casting his net as widely as possible, catching both left-and-right-wing "extremists," in the hopes of appealing to a broader audience than the one which reads his paper, and because his latest shtick is to situate himself as the centrist eye in a hurricane of kooks. I don't know if it has worked--that is, if it has resulted in more book sales--but I do know that viewing practically everything through the filter--the distorting lens--of conspiracism hasn't done Kay's critical thinking skills much good. Might I suggest his kids try to keep him away from it for a while?)