7 times in history alternative facts fooled us and how we can avoid them in the future.

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," said press secretary Sean Spicer during his first time in the White House briefing room. That claim: totally false.

According to the D.C. Metro, "subway entries Friday, during President Trump’s inauguration, totaled about 570,557 in a 20-hour period," which is lower than the totals of the previous three presidential inaugurations. The Women's March, held the day after the inauguration, saw more than 1 million entries.

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that," said counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway in a heated interview with "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd.


Predictably, "alternative facts" have been all over the internet this week.

Even Merriam-Webster issued a brilliantly worded rebuttal to Conway's creation of "alternative facts."

"Alternative facts" aren't a new political tool. They've been used throughout history by people in power to maintain control and status. But each time we've been able to debunk these myths in the name of progress.

Here are seven times throughout history alternative facts were used — and later proven false:

1. Alternative fact: The world is flat.

Oftentimes alternative facts are accepted as truth until real facts and information can be sought out and proven, much like with the first global explorers who took to the seas in search of new lands.

What you see below was considered common knowledge during the Middle Ages. The Earth was "flat."

The Greeks discovered the Earth was round. Everyone outside of Europe believed it. It wasn't until the late Middle Ages that everyone inside of Europe finally caught up.

Washington Irving wrote “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus” in 1828. From the title, you'd think it's a biography but in reality, it was mostly fiction and said that "Europeans learned from Columbus’s trips to the New World that the planet was round."

Because of this storyline and others like it, children were taught that up until Columbus, everyone thought the world was flat.

Photo by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images.

Actual fact: The world is round.

Ancient Greek astronomer Eratosthenes is credited with discovering the spherical nature of the Earth in 240 B.C., 700 years before the Middle Ages and 2,000 years before Washington Irving picked up his first pen.

2. Alternative fact: Jesus was white.

The world's most famous refugee is often historically depicted as a blue-eyed, pale-skinned messiah:

"Sacred Heart of Jesus" via N. Currier/Library of Congress.

Actual fact: Jesus would not have been white.

Assuming Jesus existed, the BBC documentary "Son of God" used modern technology to show us what he would have actually looked like, based on ancient skulls of Semite people from the same era and geographical location.

Image from "Son of God," BBC.

3. Alternative fact: Slavery is a good thing.

In the 1820-30s, politicians in southern states defended slavery by professing the "positive good" of it and how important it was for the American economy. They claimed it allowed Africans to be civilized because white masters were letting them learn from them. (I did not make this up.)

Actual fact: Slavery is awful, inhumane, and wrong.

It took a bit longer in the U.S., but the British began the process of outlawing slavery and the slave trade in 1807. The moral ineptitude of treating humans like property and even valuing them as 3/5 of a person is a dark side of American history. It all finally came to a head with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. This eventually helped end the Civil War but claimed up to 750,000 lives, including Lincoln's.

Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

4. Alternative fact: Jews are the reason for Germany's problems.

Jospeh Goebbels was Hitler's minister of propaganda. Goebbels was a master of illusion and he used the murder of a German diplomat by a young Polish-Jew to launch the massive campaign to end Judaism. He did this by convincing the masses that the Jews were responsible for all of Germany's problems.

Image by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Actual fact: Germany needed an excuse to go to war in order to fix their economy that hadn't recovered from the last war.

The incarceration and murder of over 6 million Jews was the result of the German people looking the other way and believing in the above mentioned alternative facts. They had lost a lot of land in the previous global battle and were more than happy to launch into the worst war the world has ever seen. But we learned that lesson and hopefully will never let something like that happen again.

Image by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images.

5. Alternative fact: AIDS is a gay problem.

White House press secretaries shouldn't make fun of minority groups ... but in the '80s, Larry Speakes was caught on tape espousing crude homophobic jokes when asked about the AIDS crisis. This sentiment carried over to mainstream thinking, with people assuming only gay people got AIDS.

Actual fact: AIDS can be transmitted in many ways.

About half the people who have died from AIDS in the U.S. since the epidemic began were gay men. Is that a large percentage? Sure. But the alternative fact created the perception that HIV/AIDS was not only a disease solely among gay men, but also one that it was only sexually transmitted.

6. Alternative fact: Iraq had WMDs.

We have been at war for 15 years because of this alternative fact.

Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images.

Actual fact: Nope. They didn't.

"The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction reports that the intelligence community was 'dead wrong' in its assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the U.S. invasion," according to CNN.

7. Alternative fact:  Trump's inauguration had the largest, hugest, most "bigly" crowds ever.

Actual Fact: Photographic evidence.

Left photo by Lucas Jackson/Getty Images, right photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

Each of these examples was a heavily pushed alternative fact created by the ruling religion, class, race, military, or administration. But each was debunked.

Sometimes with technology. Sometimes with pure math. Sometimes with common sense, and sometimes with compassion. We are better off as a (round) planet because of it.

It's important to be critical of the media you consume and not listen to the loudest frequency on your social media feed (even if it is behind the seal of the president). With many unbiased, impartial news sources available at our fingertips through a free press, it's important to take advantage of them.

So next time the White House press secretary tells you something hilariously untrue, just know that in less than four years you can cast an alternative vote.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are feeling the weight of it growing heavier and heavier. We miss normal life. We miss our friends. We miss travel. We miss not having to mentally measure six feet everywhere we go.

Maybe that's what was on Edmund O'Leary's mind when he tweeted on Friday. Or maybe he had some personal issues or challenges he was dealing with. After all, it's not like people didn't struggle pre-COVID. Now, we just have the added stress of a pandemic on top of our normal mental and emotional upheavals.

Whatever it was, Edmund decided to reach out to Twitter and share what he was feeling.

"I am not ok," he wrote. "Feeling rock bottom. Please take a few seconds to say hello if you see this tweet. Thank you."

O'Leary didn't have a huge Twitter following, but somehow his tweet started getting around quickly. Response after response started flowing in from all over the world, even from some famous folks. Thousands of people seemed to resonate with Edmund's sweet and honest call for help and rallied to send him support and good cheer.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

The subject of late-term abortions has been brought up repeatedly during this election season, with President Trump making the outrageous claim that Democrats are in favor of executing babies.

This message grossly misrepresents what late-term abortion actually is, as well as what pro-choice advocates are actually "in favor of." No one is in favor of someone having a specific medical procedure—that would require being involved in someone's individual medical care—but rather they are in favor of keeping the government out of decisions about specific medical procedures.

Pete Buttigieg, who has become a media surrogate for the Biden campaign—and quite an effective one at that—addressed this issue in a Fox News town hall when he was on the campaign trail himself. When Chris Wallace asked him directly about late-term abortions, Buttigieg answered Wallace's questions is the best way possible.

"Do you believe, at any point in pregnancy, whether it's at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whenever, that there should be any limit on a woman's right to have an abortion?" Wallace asked.

Keep Reading Show less

When it comes to the topic of race, we all have questions. And sometimes, it honestly can be embarrassing to ask perfectly well-intentioned questions lest someone accuse you of being ignorant, or worse, racist, for simply admitting you don't know the answer.

America has a complicated history with race. For as long as we've been a country, our culture, politics and commerce have been structured in a way to deny our nation's past crimes, minimize the structural and systemic racism that still exists and make the entire discussion one that most people would rather simply not have.

For example, have you ever wondered what's really behind the term Black Pride? Is it an uplifting phrase for the Black community or a divisive term? Most people instinctively put the term "White Pride" in a negative context. Is there such a thing as non-racist, racial pride for white people? And while we're at it, what about Asian people, Native Americans, and so on?

Yes, a lot of people raise these questions with bad intent. But if you've ever genuinely wanted an answer, either for yourself or so that you best know how to handle the question when talking to someone with racist views, writer/director Michael McWhorter put together a short, simple and irrefutable video clip explaining why "White Pride" isn't a real thing, why "Black Pride" is and all the little details in between.


Keep Reading Show less