Donna Frye: How to Reduce Misinformation and Political Polarization

by on February 11, 2021 · 24 comments

in Media, San Diego

By Donna Frye / San Diego Union-Tribune / Feb. 8, 2021

The political polarization facing our country today is not a new thing. People have been fighting about their differing points of view for as long as anyone can remember.

What is relatively new, however, is the speed at which massive amounts of information can be disseminated to millions of people at the same time.

Not that long ago, people generally relied upon the newspaper, television or radio to find out what was happening both locally and nationally. Those were also the venues people used to communicate their points of view, especially to the public at large.

People sent letters to the editor or called radio programs. Sometimes days passed before their response was received and published. In other words, there was time between the information being received and the response being sent.

That’s not how it works today. Simply pressing the send icon on a phone or computer instantaneously releases information far and wide. The ability to get immediate, widespread public attention is adding to our political polarization because the information can be wrong and give people false impressions and beliefs. Worse, it can create a dangerous situation that not only scares people but also puts other people’s lives at great risk.

There’s a lot of sending going on, but not the equivalent amount of reading, comprehending or fact-checking before doing so.

Sending out misinformation, either unwittingly or deliberately, helps fuel hate and mistrust. Too many people believe that if it’s online it must be true, especially if Mister X or Madame Y says it.

And, unfortunately, there are people who use that blind faith and misplaced trust to their advantage and your disadvantage.

They know exactly what they are doing when they misinform and incite people, and they really don’t care. It is a nefarious and intentional act designed to get people riled up and feeling hateful and angry. The goal is to advance a specific cause or agenda, while encouraging people to blindly follow along without any thought, questioning or simple comprehension of their own.

Time is of the essence because it allows the information to spread quickly and create the resulting and intended chaos before the facts can get checked.

But leaping before you look is never a good idea, and there are some simple things each of us can do right now to help reduce the amount of misinformation being shared.

For starters, read what you receive all the way to the end of each page. Think about it for seven minutes. See who it is from and ask yourself whether that person or source is reliable. Don’t assume just because it’s from someone you know it’s accurate or worth sending to anyone else. And definitely don’t assume that because it’s online the information is accurate or worth sharing.

I am not suggesting that this simple action will solve the problem and make it all go away. It won’t. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s gonna be a long time gone.”

But for those who feel there is nothing they can do as an individual because the problem is too big, this might be one small way to take back some control. At the very least, if we take a moment to think before we send, it could stop things from getting worse.

Donna Frye is a former San Diego councilmember who lives in Clairemont, a friend of Ocean Beach and the OB Rag, a staunch defender of the environment and water quality;  and is the ‘woman who should have been mayor.’

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

sealintheSelkirks February 13, 2021 at 2:06 am

This is a two-edged sword.

When the majority of information was only accessible by newspaper it was still controlled mainly by the wealthy powerful who owned those information outlets. There were a lot of different owners but in general that was the Think the US invasion of Mexico which was more about Confederate slave-owning Southerners living in Mexico fighting against Mexico when it outlawed slavery. Remember the Alamo! was about owning SLAVES… Or the Hearst-owned newspapers who screamed for war on Spain with the “Remember the Maine” yellow journalism lies (blown up by its own boiler!). Just like now, the newspapers generally followed what the government told them to.

Radio and television didn’t change that hence the drama of the Sen. Joe McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s… and all the rest of the madness since that has a far wider dissemination in the general population with the advent of the taxpayer-funded invention of the Internet. Which, of course, has been for the most part completely taken over by corporations that charge us for the privilege of using it!

Think of the NY Times Judith Miller and her lies about Iraq that so many still believe! She was following the dictates of the propaganda machine coming from VP Dick Cheney & wbush regime. Modern Yellow Journalism! with the US destruction of Iraq that is still going on with well over a MILLION dead Iraqis…blood on our collective hands. Just like Viet Nam and all those lies we were fed. Yet due to the Internet there was the largest anti-war protest against the coming destruction of Iraq across the world in history. That the regime in power didn’t listen to the facts…

Doesn’t matter the medium, Donna, it’s the people who own, control, and manipulate the narrative for their own benefit that is the problem. And they are a ridiculously small minority!

We are now down to five (5!!) corporations owning the vast majority of the MSM, and an estimated 85% of the population gets their news from television last figure I read. Does anybody think the wealthy 1% that own all the news are going to go against their own profits? What are the political views of those few? How is their ideology going to impact what you see or DON’T see or hear?

I agree with you about people not paying attention. All this info available out there and…it’s just that they don’t freaking read or really care or what?



Chris February 15, 2021 at 11:10 am

I have to admit Seal I sort of agree with you. I know plenty of veterans from all the wars you mentioned. Some of them (though they won’t go into specifics) have in a round about way said it’s amazing they themselves are not rotting away in a prison cell, either because of actions they took or looked the other way. Good people do bad things. Off topic from the article but it’s really heartbreaking how poorly the military itself helps them adjust or assist them transitioning into civilian life with the help they desperately need.


Peter from South O February 15, 2021 at 1:46 pm

Two quick points, Chris: If you hear a vet telling you anything about their service where they “won’t go into specifics” is what we vets refer to as a “no sh***er”. If a person relates second-hand information as fact he or she had better have a stronger quote than one qualified with “have in a round about way said . . .”; it just SCREAMS authoritative reporting.
And on your last: your statement belies ignorance about what the VA has in placed to transition people to civilian life, the limitations in funding and legislation preventing them from being more effective and inclusive.
In my case, Chris, I speak with a bit more authority of information, being a Viet Nam vet and having spent the entire rest of my life getting my health care from the VA, actually sitting next to my brothers from wars dating back to WW I (yeah, do the math; there aren’t any of THOSE guys left now). The one thing that, like cream, always rose to the top in any conversation about the PRESENT incarnation of the agency was that the US was doing an unbelievable job of handling the transition from weapon of war to civilian behavior compared to when we each received our discharges.
So don’t throw stones at a significant part of the citizenry and the support systems they depend upon until you have more than hearsay to back yourself up; that behavior is counterproductive to reasonable discourse.


Chris February 15, 2021 at 3:22 pm

Peter, you may not know this about me but I’m a vet too. 20 years and retired in 2006. My branch was Navy and my rate was PN. My last duty station before retiring from active duty was Balboa. And I still work in the same job as a Civilian GS. So between people I got to know at Balboa, the time I have spent at the VA (overall I think they suck which is why I rarly use them) and a few times where I was a guest at the VFW (PB, OB, Barrio Logan) I have talked to people and heard stories. Whether or not these guys were full of s**t I can’t really say, but I know a bit more that you might think. For many years in my civil service career I was a sort of liaison for members gong through the disability evaluation system to determine if they were fit or unfit to remain in the Navy and if found unfit, whether or not they would get a medical retirement.


Peter from South O February 15, 2021 at 4:19 pm

Chris: Based upon that background info my opinion of your source material is even more the negative. Disability claims are rife with entrenched bias on both sides of what today has become a negotiation instead of an equitable decision.
See? Just my opinion, but unsupported by facts. Infuriating, isn’t it?
The service members that have been prosecuted for war crimes are few and far between, but going all the way back to William Calley at Mai Lai so many individuals in a unit have to conspire to get away with such behavior that the probabilities alone should convince you that most of what you hear over the bar at a VFW are “no sh***rs”.
Nevertheless, thank you for your service.
P. S. You might not want to go around badmouthing the VA without supporting evidence. Those people who “suck” have saved my life twice.


Chris February 15, 2021 at 5:39 pm

And thank you for your service too.


Chris February 15, 2021 at 5:39 pm

I suppose war stories @ the VFW bar are one thing. Sort of like fishing stories, but one way things have changed. Younger generations since Vietnam are are more apt to talk openly about their experience. That may or may not be a good idea but I think it happens more than in previous generations. And I think it’s safe to say there were probably many war crimes (in all wars) that went unreported. But hey, my job was for the most part was a desk job. My only war time experience consisted of sitting in the ship’s personnel office while in the middle of the Persian Gulf. 900 miles away from actual fighting. So what do I know? The only thing less exciting than my job were those of the cooks bragging about how many pancakes they could flip.
As to the VA. To be clear, I wasn’t saying all people who work for them are are bad at their jobs (individually I don’t they any are) or that the VA hasn’t done good (like saving your life) but there are LOTS and LOTS of instances where that’s just not been the case.


Geoff Page February 16, 2021 at 11:21 am

Peter, when you say you are a Viet Nam vet, can you be more specific as to what your involvement was and why you were there?


Peter from South O February 17, 2021 at 4:45 am

Do a web search on Operation Frequent Wind and the USS KIRK. A book was written about it and published by the USNI Press: “The Lucky Few”. PBS did a three-parter on our involvement, but here is one of the exciting early episodes during the evacuation proper:

Sometimes you do something early in life that changes you a lot. And before anyone claims that that experience does not make me a Vietnam Vet, the USN has a different opinion; I even got combat pay for a month. Actually, the last war of involvement is how vets define their “era”.


Chris February 17, 2021 at 12:26 pm

I don’t think anyone questions that. It’s like me. I’m a vet of Operation Enduring Freedom but I too was onboard ship. I still tell people I’m a vet of that war despite not being boots on the ground combat.


Geoff Page February 17, 2021 at 8:37 pm

I appreciate that you answered my question openly like that, Peter. I also see the question made you a bit defensive. That was not my intent but I’m guessing this is a sore spot. You don’t need to explain anything to me, just relating your involvement was enough. You clearly had a unique and memorable Viet Nam experience. Being a part of something like that would have a profound effect on a very young man.

I was lucky, I was in the second lottery and got number 284. After one year of draft eligibility, I got a 1H classification and never had to worry again. I spent my time protesting the war along with lots of others. It was hard to enjoy eluding the war when people were still needlessly dying over there, on both sides.

I always tell people that we all had Viet Nam experiences, that war affected everyone in some way. And those who went to Viet Nam all had different experiences too. The fact is that almost everyone of our age range has a Viet Nam related memory, so hearing them is interesting to us all. I’m glad you had a chance to tell your story.


Peter from South O February 17, 2021 at 11:46 pm

You mistook a vet’s natural response to a challenge, however well intentioned, to his statements of where and how service was performed. Stolen valor is a thing, it relates to core honor, and you would get the same response from anyone of my vintage.


Geoff Page February 18, 2021 at 11:56 am

I’m gonna have to disagree with you again, Peter. My question was not a challenge, you interpreted it that way probably because of past experiences. And, I have talked with many Viet Nam vets over the years and this was the first time anyone got defensive as you did. It was just a question.


Peter from South O February 18, 2021 at 12:05 pm

Geoff, I interpreted it that way because it was a short, curt challenge. You are on the outside looking in to a military cultural thing.
Talking to a vet face to face is hardly an equivalence to a public written discussion.


Geoff Page February 18, 2021 at 12:42 pm

Peter, I deliberately worded my question to be as neutral as possible so as not to produce any such reaction. But, you reacted anyway as if it was a challenge and it was not. You are too defensive and my guess is you’ve been challenged on that experience. I’m not doing that and would not. I grew up as the son of a Navy officer, I have a pretty good idea of what the military culture is.


sealintheSelkirks February 18, 2021 at 3:10 pm

Peter, I agree with Geoff on this. I didn’t read his question as an attack or challenge, either, but just as curiosity.

I’m also not of ‘the military culture’ being just young enough to get that ugly ‘report for physical’ notice in the mail that my Uncle Kenny warned his big sister/my stepmom about not responding to. He came back from Viet Nam in a shoebox. Then the draft ended when I turned 19 in ’73. She had talked about sending me to Canada when I was 15 though my dad didn’t like it being a life-long Republican having been in that military culture. By 1972 he switched parties and voted against Nixon and the war which was a monumental change for him…

I consider myself lucky as my stepmom was a Peace & Freedom Party activist because of that, so I, too, protested against the ‘police action’ as a young teen. I related some of this in my summer of ’67 Rag piece ‘memories of a little surfer kid from ocean beach’.

The one letter I really remember from him before he was blown up said “Don’t let him come over here and see what I’ve seen, smell what I’ve smelled, or do what I’ve done.” That has stuck in my head for fifty years. I have a picture of him still, the only one, in-country wearing a dirty Army uniform in front of a giant truck he drove (supply) in a jungle. Might even be the one he was blown up in. What a haunted look on his young face…

But my dad was a corporal during the Korean ‘police action’ and he struggle to get out of that ‘military culture’ box. Both my step-grandpas were front line combat in the Pacific WWII. Grandpa Harold awarded a Bronze Star for single-handedly charging a machine gun nest on an island to save his buddies and wiping it out. My oldest paternal grandpa was WWI in the trenches in France, so there’s a lot of military in my family. So curiosity is not always a challenge. Deep breath, dude.

I read the piece you posted, amazingly good story. Be proud your ship saved lives not took them.

And now we’re buried in never-ending wars in the Middle East over oil and other resources started by Republicans but continued by Democrats. Read the link below. As the Talking Heads sang; Same As It Ever Was.

Diverse Coalition Calls on Congress to End ‘Forever Wars’ and ‘Unaccountable, Interventionist’ US Foreign Policy


Peter from South O February 18, 2021 at 4:52 pm

Being a military dependent does not give you an insight into actual military culture; that is an oft-championed argument and sounds silly to those who served. Just because I am son of plumber does not mean I know how a septic tank works.
Your inquiry was personal, my response was personal; you now are trying to convince me that it was just idle curiosity? Bullpucky, Geoff. You are HIGHLY opinionated and don’t engage in idle chit-chat.
I will never convince you of this, so I will shut the heck up now.

Chris February 18, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Oh geese!!


Geoff Page February 19, 2021 at 11:46 am

Well Peter, I tried but you clearly have a chip on your shoulder. I don’t know if you grew up a military dependent or not, but don’t tell me dependents who grew up in military families don’t have insight into military culture. That very claim makes me think you did not grow up as I, and millions of other kids, did.

You need to take a close look at yourself and figure out why you are so defensive about being asked such a question.

Chris February 19, 2021 at 2:34 pm

Monty Python, more than they realized were very very ahead of their time. They knew about internet thread arguments before they knew there would be such a thing as the internet:

And here I go still participating in said argument.

Peter, Geoff gave what I thought was a sincere heartfelt apology but you seem bound and determined to not let it go. Your veteran perspective does not represent the perspective of all vets, and that includes other Vietnam vets. If he would have asked me about my involvement in Operation Enduring Freedom I would have simply answered and not taken it in any other way other than a question to satisfy a curiosity. Granted I don’t have the Vietnam experience that you do but I think it’s safe to say not all vets of that war would react the same you did to Geoff’s questions. And likewise, some would be even more defensive than you.
As to comparing the understanding of military culture of a military dependent family member to the uniformed service member. Dependents understand it a heluva lot more than other civilians. You can’t deny that. Also, dependent family members have an experience of their own that a service member dons’t. I’m a perfect example. I was lucky in that I was able to do all of my 20 years of active duty right here in San Diego (in the 80s and 80s it was easy to do that because of the cost savings to the DOD). I deployed many times but was always home-ported right here. I never had the experience of a spouse having to quit her/his job because of a PCS move. Or in many instances not be able to find a job because of the reluctance of employers to even hire a military spouse in the first place. I never had to experience the worry the spouse and kids go through just wondering if their husband/wife/mother/father will get killed or come back severely wounded and changed. Or just not knowing when they’ll come back. I never had to experience being pulled out of school and leaving my friends because my dad/mom got PCS orders to a new location and having to start all over again. Or for that matter just feeling like a bit of an outsider for being a military spouse/brat.


Geoff Page February 19, 2021 at 3:37 pm

Very well said, Chris, most especially that last sentence.

I would have loved it if my dad had been stationed here for 20 years, or anywhere for 20 years, just to have a real home. That’s great you were able to do that.

The Monty Python bit was perfect, thanks for the laugh.

Chris February 15, 2021 at 11:14 am

I fully agree with Donna on all of this and I think it’s safe to say that some of the blame weighs on the shoulders of the individuals who buy into the conspiracies. How to make them be better at due diligence is the challenge.


sealintheSelkirks February 15, 2021 at 1:20 pm

Another thought on this…

Our government hides everything from us by treating our right to know what our government is actually doing, you know a ‘democracy’ by the people, as if we are stupid. It’s like they’re growing mushrooms and we’re all stuck in poop in the dark. With all the ‘State Secrecy’ laws that literally hide their crimes by threatening those that expose them starting with the 1917 Espionage Act that is still being used to attack truthtellers that expose their lies.

The torture of Julian Assange for publishing the absolute facts of US war crimes in Iraq by the Cheney/Wbush regime is a case in point. Our government does not dispute it, they hide behind the noisy on-going campaign of Assange being a ‘traitor’ to the US (but he isn’t a US citizen so he cannot be a traitor) instead of dealing with the real problem which is the US is committing war crimes! I mean, really, nobody is paying attention?

It’s not that there aren’t any conspiracies, there are many many of them perpetrated by our so-called leaders, but those usually don’t come out for years sometimes decades after the horrendous crimes have been committed (Operation Paperclip that brought in thousands of Nazis to work for our government after WWII, the Nazi spy chief-designed CIA, it’s Operation MK-Ultra in the 60s, Iran/Contra during Reagan, etc etc too many to list that have been proven true).

The really unfortunate part is that our population is so under-educated and incurious that there is a distinct lack of critical thinking skills along with almost no motivation to spend the time to do the research of where and who the information came from, and who funded such. Nobody seems to know much of our own colonialist history much less how that ties in with the rest of the world. Corporations owned by wealthy right wing zealots using multiple shells and so-called ‘think tanks’ to hide their funding is pretty damned common, and they get the attention of a confused propagandized population with their lies that pound on people over and over from multiple sources that are all ultimately funded by the same people. The Big Lie technique works.

There are still ‘stop the steal’ signs on houses around here, still confederate flags hanging from porches, still Trump signs posted. People here are going under financially and they’re scared. They believe the lies that the wealthy rightwingers that own the corporations put out about how immigrants are taking their jobs because they don’t remember that all the good jobs of our grandfathers were moved by those same corporations to poor 3rd World countries to boost their profit margins. We know that really got a boost from Reagan in the 80s with the move to the maquiladoras factories in Mexico while the feds paid the damn moving costs of those same US corporations with our tax dollars, but it isn’t talked about.

How do we start teaching critical thinking skills? Is it just too late? I don’t have an answer to that.



Chris February 15, 2021 at 3:33 pm

“The torture of Julian Assange for publishing the absolute facts of US war crimes in Iraq by the Cheney/Wbush regime is a case in point. Our government does not dispute it, they hide behind the noisy on-going campaign of Assange being a ‘traitor’ to the US (but he isn’t a US citizen so he cannot be a traitor) instead of dealing with the real problem which is the US is committing war crimes! I mean, really, nobody is paying attention?”

I don’t personally know anyone who isn’t aware of that. The simple sad truth is that amongst all those who ARE very much aware, there are those who are perfectly ok with it.


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