Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Burden of Proof

In the court of law, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff, not the defendant.  This rule doesn't seem to apply in the court of public opinion in places like social media. People make outlandish claims expecting the defendants to prove them wrong.

There needs to be an understanding as to why this is true. When you look at people making false claims, they fall into two categories: People who are pushing an agenda and people who are misinformed.  It is imperative that we understand the difference.

The Ideologist


Someone who is beholden to an ideology doesn't care about facts. They will pick and choose which facts or opinions that validate their perspectives. They are not capable, critical thinkers and in most cases, they only seek to incite hostilities if they cannot sway people to their side of the issue.

It is easy to identify ideologists when you ask them for evidence to support their claims.  Here are the 3 most common reactions from a propaganda ideologist:

  1. A Waste of Time
    1. This type of propagandist chooses to make a false claim based on feelings without providing evidence or they will utilize evidence taken out of context. 
    2. When asked to provide proof of their claim, they will feign indifference and act like they either don't care enough to bother or claim that there's so much evidence that proves them right they don't have time to present every single piece.
  2. Fact Bombardment
    1. This type of propagandist is highly aggressive and will seek to suppress questions about their ideology by rapidly firing off a multitude of facts or present multiple new false claims in an attempt to suppress the presentation of facts.
    2. This falls under the needle in the haystack scenario where the facts that invalidate the false accusers claims get buried quickly.
  3. Name Calling
    1. Some propagandists will take offense immediately upon being questioned or asked for evidence. They will immediately make personal attacks against the inquirer to invalidate them before the evidence disarms their false claim.
    2. Other propagandists will use fact bombardment to suppress the question and if an inquirer provides facts that refute their claim, they will make a new false claim. When the inquirer attempts to bring them back to the false claim at hand, they will instigate personal attacks against the inquirer.
    3. Most commonly attacks are against the inquirer's intelligence or lack of knowledge.
  4. I'm the Victim
    1. As a final resort, the person making a false claim will react as if they are the one under attack.
    2. They are beholden to an ideology and firmly believe that everyone who disagrees with them ar wrong.  And not just wrong about one specific point, but to every viewpoint, the opposing opinion may hold.  This is why when you see people who disagree with one specific thing, suddenly the false claim maker disagrees with absolutely everything the opposing opinion has to say even if it isn't related to the original disagreement.
In most cases, you will not be able to present compelling evidence to an ideologist who is beholden to a preconceived notion.

The Misinformed


The second type of person that may make a false claim is someone who misunderstands. They have either not bothered to research beyond the surface claims they have been exposed to, such as the mainstream media or social media, or they do not consider the subject matter to be a high priority in their lives.

Present a pleasant tone and do not belittle the misinformed for not having the correct information. 

How to Present Facts

  1. Remain emotionally neutral. If you see a claim that upsets you, take a moment to breathe and relax.
  2. In a polite manner, inform a person who is making a false claim that they have not presented evidence to validate their claim.  If there is evidence in their initial claim, ask them to source their information.
  3. Do not present facts until they have either provided evidence or sourced the evidence.
  4. If bombarded with evidence, ask them to present the first piece of evidence and reciprocate with a fact.  This will initiate a dialogue.
  5. If a person stating a claim begins name calling or claims to be the victim, advise them that it was not your intent. Inform them they have a right to their opinions and beliefs, but if they want to make a claim about someone else, then the decent thing to do would be to support the claim with evidence.
  6. Do not present evidence that isn't sourced.
  7. If you do not have the time or you need to research evidence presented to support a false claim, do not rush. Explain that the facts matter to you and that you do not want to rush.  Set a reasonable time frame of 24 to 48 hours if you need.
  8. If you do not have enough time to present the full evidence within the timeframe, present what evidence you have and inform them you will continue to do more research.
  9. Be objective and willing to change your opinion based on the information you discover.  If the facts are in context and are true, willfully admit the error in your opinion.  You can't win every battle.  Sometimes, it takes time for all the facts of a situation to come to the surface.
  10. When breaking news generates false claims, I would advise withholding your opinion until the evidence come in.  Do not immediately turn to the breaking news for your evidence unless there is a history readily available about the issue.
  11. Finally, at any time you realize the person presenting the false claim has no interest in the fact, simply thank them for their participation in the discussion and let them know that you have no interest in changing their opinion. Your only goal was to set the record straight by presenting the facts.
In the end, you should not set out to change people's opinions to yours.  We all have a right to our own opinions.  We are also inclined to offer our opinions without evidence.  If asked for evidence, simply do the work.  This would be a good indication that you may not be fully informed if you cannot present the evidence.

People have deeply held beliefs.  They have been through many different experiences in their lives and those opinions were not formed by one or two events. People who make false claims are not bad people, not even the ideological ones.  They BELIEVE in what they are saying.  Most have good intentions.

You can never offer a compelling argument to someone you antagonize or someone you have insulted. Please be respectful and objective. Work hard and be honest so you can gather the trust of the opposing opinion holders.  Who knows?  You might be the one who doesn't have all the facts.  Be prepared to accept that.

This is by no means a fully detailed write up on how to address false claims.  Do not take on the burden of proof unless you are the person making a claim. Be sure to provide evidence that is sourced and if you need time to collect the evidence, give the facts the time and respect they deserve.

As you can see, when I present facts in a single article, I do research the information extensively. This is not a bombardment of facts. All facts relate to the existing claim and are presented in a clear, time linear fashion.  If additional information about the sources is required to understand the perspectives of the source, I strive to include the information at the end of the articles.

~Will

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