Charles: Trust? Not until you verify

Last week my husband and I watched both Fyre Festival documentaries, one on Netflix, the other on Hulu.

If you’re not familiar with Fyre Festival, it was supposed to be a super exclusive, music and party festival on an exclusive Bahamian island marketed to millennials with apparently a lot of disposable income, and not a lot of common sense.

Fyre Festival was an unmitigated disaster. According to news reports and both documentaries, the source behind this ridiculous scam, an alleged young entrepreneur named Billy McFarland, apparently thought he could create a musical festival with top acts on an island with no supporting infrastructure, and even fewer resources, out of thin air. It was supposed to take place over two weekends in April and May of 2017. It hyped yachts, private villas, top musical talent and swimming with supermodels. It was the figment of all that social media has to offer in its imagination.

Yet there were thousands willing to shell out upwards of $50,000 to party like a rock star, only to land on the island, be herded onto yellow school buses, and eventually taken to FEMA disaster tents. Hardly luxurious.

Even though I admittedly lack empathy for people who are rich enough to decide to plunk down more than most people earn in a year’s time for a chance to party among the socially elite, I do sympathize with those among us who have become easily swayed by what they see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter et. al, and form their opinions on unverifiable sources.

Back in the ’60s and ’70s when the Beverly Hillbillies graced our television networks, one of the characters in this show about backwoods “hillbillies” who struck it mega rich when oil was discovered on their land, was the cousin, Jethro Bodine. He was educated, having gone as far as the sixth grade, and was a big handsome rube who liked comic books. He got it into his head that there were space maidens on the moon, having read about them in what we now call, ahem, “graphic novels.” When told that the idea of space maidens was ridiculous, he protested “they wouldn’t put it in a comic book if it wasn’t true!”

Guess what folks? We’re not that far removed from sweet, innocent, incredibly dumb Jethro.

Except instead of comic books, we trust, but don’t verify, anything on television. Our reality shows tell us that a woman, or man, can find true love, if just presented with enough suitors, a hot tub, and a few roses; we can “survive” on a desert island with only our brains, brawn, wit, and guile, ignoring the fact that there are camera crews everywhere and every challenge is artificially and carefully planned; that a man who has reneged on countless contracts, declared multiple bankruptcies, cheated on all three wives, and has been sued for numerous fraudulent enterprises, including a university in his name, is actually a successful businessman, who will successfully take this country back to the 1950s, at a time when it was great.

Journalists are taught to attribute everything, double and triple check their sources. “Everyone is saying,” “I heard,” “someone told me,” “I saw on Facebook,” are not reliable sources. Like editors (and detectives) say, “if your mom says she loves you, check it out.”

The Fyre Festival fraud happened because everyone needs to live online, out loud, in public. We live in a time of connection and disconnection simultaneously, where our demeanors are determined by the numbers of likes on our pictures and posts, and we spend too much time fine-tuning the life we want people to see, instead of living the life we have.

We don’t read, but we react. We don’t use the sources that are available on line to verify all sides, we only go as far as we need to justify our side. Any opposite opinion is ignored.

And we can’t blame it on the millennials. Baby boomers and Gen Xers have gotten lazier with reading, checking out and verifying too.

We would rather ingest what is put right before our eyes without putting forth any effort to see where it came from (Russian trolls knew this long before Americans did), or digging any deeper to see where these sources get their information. Just because it’s on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, doesn’t mean it’s true. And any time someone is trying to separate you from your money, your morals, or your integrity, it’s worth the extra few minutes to find out if you’re getting trusted information — or buying a huge vat of snake oil.

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