Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Network NOVA Friday Power Lunch recently focused on how little lies, or misinformation, can grow into bigger lies if they go unchecked.

Lowell Feld, editor of Blue Virginia, noted that the Washington Post made the case that one fifth of Democrats were being challenged by far left challengers in the 2021 House of Delegates primaries.

After analyzing the data, he found that there were only four challengers who were running to the left of the incumbents. He asserted that there is a common refrain in the media that the Democratic Party is at war with its “left wing/progressives” and this story fit the narrative. This “misrepresentation” can help shape a false narrative and impact other issues.

He also mentioned the idea of false equivalencies. For example, lies and misinformation spread through the radical conservative community and led to the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Furthermore, a ridiculous comparison was made between the attack and the earlier Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. The police response was much different for the BLM protests, and included tear gas, detentions and multiple arrests, which likely falsely fueled the public perception of the intent of the protestors.

When one side promotes racial justice and one side promotes white supremacy, we have to be clear that one is right and one is wrong. Yet, they were presented as if they were two equal sides of an issue, which also means that we feel we have to give them equal time and attention.

If gone unchallenged, this cycle changes how we think of the issue, and fuels supporters on the side of the “wrong” issue. It makes it harder for those on the side of the truth to recognize that they are in fact supporting the truth, and not just the opposite of the other side.

It’s obviously not always simple. For example, similar to any cause, there are some rogue Black activists who have strayed from the original BLM mission. Highlighting the few bad actors on any issue is a misrepresentation. It changes public perceptions, our individual conversations and thinking, and muddles policy.

Arlington is debating several issues as a community. We have already made a concerted effort to engage community voices as we reform our police practices, and are in the process of selecting a new police chief.  I challenge us all to remember why we are talking about police reform now, and push back if we see the coverage or conversations switch to a different narrative. We have also recognized a need to reform zoning laws through the Missing Middle Housing Study. Due to the history of housing discrimination and links to systemic racism, we know some may want to hold on to a system which has allowed them to thrive. As we continue to discuss these and other issues, it is important for us to check the facts, and challenge how views are presented in all forums.

The manner in which we handle each conversation, in addition to the outcome we seek, helps define who we are. A part of that process is expressing our views in a number of ways including through traditional media, social media, events, speeches and informal dialogue. We should all be aware of false equivalencies and misinformation that have insidiously shaped the narrative and coverage, and do our part to root out all lies, whether they are “sweet little lies”, or not.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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