Blog post

The Consumerization of Truth, Part II: Sandy Hook

By Tom Bittman | July 16, 2013 | 18 Comments


When I wrote The Consumerization of Truth, and Virtual Villages, little did I know that I was about to be thrust into the middle of wildly divergent worldviews. My blog post discussed how a connected world of people devolves into polarized and radicalized worldviews, as like-minded people confirm each other’s beliefs. Three days after my blog post, tragedy struck my school and neighbors.

Memorial We live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. My kids all attended Sandy Hook School. I was a cub scout leader there for ten years. My wife ran the school newspaper. We’ve lived in Sandy Hook for nearly two decades. This is our town, and our school. On December 14, twenty first graders and six adults lost their lives there in a mass shooting. We didn’t know all of them, but we knew many of them, and had connections to many others. We live in a small, rural town, and neighbors know and take care of their neighbors. So it wasn’t surprising when many of our neighbors immediately created meal circles, volunteered services, organized. With several friends, I co-founded Sandy Hook Promise, and focused my energies on helping the families of the victims in whatever way I could.

All of us wanted something positive to come from this tragedy, so it wasn’t long before we were looking at what should change in school safety, parenting, mental health and gun responsibility. We had to make what happened to us less likely. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves on a national stage, in the middle of very polarized worldviews on guns.

Different points of view are perfectly understandable . What shocked us was how our very horrible truth became someone else’s conspiracy. I had no idea that there were Americans who simply could not accept what we knew was true, and instead preferred to believe that we were actors, that no children died, that Sandy Hook was a staged event designed for one purpose – gun control. These Americans consider themselves patriotic, many consider themselves religious, and yet they abused the families of victims, with posts on Facebook, hours and hours of YouTube videos, web sites, phone calls, letters, and face-to-face “investigative” visits to Newtown.

There will be two kinds of people who read this: those who find their behavior abhorrent, immoral and out of touch with reality, and those who believe I am a part of the conspiracy.

How can this be?

Our connected world makes it so much easier to find people who think like you do. So a person who is already biased in their opinion will seek out others who think the same way, seek out information that matches their opinion, ignore information that doesn’t fit their worldview. It’s called confirmation bias (see some very interesting articles here and here). While it’s hard to understand how a person can believe something that is so out-of-touch with reality, it needs to be seen as a slippery slope. They likely didn’t start that way, but when two people start to question things, it amplifies. Now multiply it by hundreds, or even thousands. At one point, they weren’t sure. But when confirmed by others who weren’t sure, it becomes their truth. A virtual village is born.

Is there any way to avoid this divide? Will it get worse?

I don’t know. And that’s a scary statement about society.

I worry about the press becoming a mouthpiece for bias. I worry about an education system that continues to train people to be old-world bureaucrats and factory workers, when we need critical thinkers. It isn’t just important, it’s paramount that we make a tremendous effort to arm our children to be smarter information consumers.

As we say in Newtown, “Choose Love.” For the sake of our society, I can only hope that the bias that wins the day is a bias toward love, and grace. If it does, everything else will sort out – as long as we use our heads.

Leave a Comment


  • Carla Badten Stewart says:

    Thomas J. Bittman , I hope you know that you are amazing and that the world needs more people like you. Well said.

  • Thank you for contributing to this important topic, adding your personal imprint. After a couple of generations of abundant choice (schools, tv channels, fast food, media, fashion, on and on), we have lost or at least gravely minimized the importance of daily living with “the other” — those people with opinions and customs unlike our own. Many topics tightly bound here: media control, public school priorities, the transformative role of moral leaders, the process of seeking to “know what we don’t know” as the sourcespring of innovation (and national competitiveness), and much, much more. I hope you will return with a Part III and beyond.

  • Tina says:


    Am I the only one who finds this conversation useless?? I am a grade school teacher in Canada. I have looked at all the hoax theories, and the whole tragedy and my mind has trouble coping with it. Deep down I guess I wish all those children were really alive, I wish I could meet a professional like Dawn Hochsprung, but in reality we can not they are gone and are not coming back. Sometimes in my classroom I shutter at this happening in our schools, or to me, it terrifies me. I truly hope we do look at mental health, and gun control, but sadly I do not like the way some are blaming the Lanza parents. I am the parent of three children with Autism, and believe me they are hard to help, resources are scarce. I am thinking time is waisted on these hoaxs videos, and articles while we should be supporting parents with difficult children. It is brutal..I get angry when I see people trying to blame the parents, you have to see it is out of their control..can you honestly say if you were Adam’s parents you would act differently? Of course now you would because the tragedy in some morbid way has educated us. But still we choose to make a hoax out of it, or bash each other..very sad. Nancy was probably in some way ashamed of her son because he was different, you don’t understand the shame we feel when our kids are not normal. We are not accepted as much as our children are not. There is a starting point for change instead of blaming parents look for ways to include these families in your circle to prevent these parents from feeling like they have to be shutins. I am sorry for the people of newtown, very much so, but please do not be angry at the parents. Try to do one good thing for 26 days in honor of the beautiful citizens you lost…
    Good night

  • Anon says:

    Tom Bittman, I would just like to say thank you. This story has never sat well with me because of the “odd” and sometimes conflicting information that has been put out there. I have remained skeptical of the official story but at the same time have found the youtube videos and hoax stories ridiculous and unbelievable as well. Frankly, what you have written on this page is the first thing I have read that has sat well with me and rings true and has finally calmed my mind a bit. So I want to thank you for that and thank you for restoring a bit of faith that the official story is the the truth.

  • Stephen says:

    Thank you for this piece and your subsequent defense of the people of your community.
    I find the actions of some of the truthers to be extremely disgusting. I can understand people having issues with the government but these are ordinary, everyday people they’re smearing, people who have suffered the worst thing a parent can possibly experience.
    What happened at Sandy Hook at something I would never wish on anyone. I sincerely hope no other parent ever has to lose a child in such a manner (or any manner at all), but if God forbid it ever happens to one of these truthers, would they welcome the same kind of scrutiny they’re giving people like Robbie Parker? How would they feel if thousands of nutjobs with computers picked apart their every word, gesture, facial expression and action, looking for anything that could be interpreted as a telltale sign of fakery?
    I miss the old, pre internet days when these people just sat on park benches babbling to themselves.

  • Stephen says:

    Kelley, get help.

  • Stephen says:

    Kelly, people experience grief differently. The fact the guy may have smiled before making a statement means nothing. Somebody may have said something that brought back a good memory of his child. The guy was not used to public speaking and he was most likely very nervous. People laugh when they’re nervous sometimes.
    So tell me, if you ever lost a child, would your behavior hold up to the kind of scrutiny you’re giving these people?
    Want to know what really happened that day?
    Somebody with mental problems went into a school and killed a bunch of people.
    Yes, it’s really that simple.
    Now leave these people alone.

  • Lexi says:

    Great post Thomas. I find the concepts of the virtual village interesting and very on point with what seems to have happened here. Too bad the discussion erodes in the comments, but I guess that proves your point. Thank you for the post and for sharing your thoughts.

  • Tom Bittman says:

    For those who continue to post several times on a daily basis, my CIA handlers have asked me to tell you to please stop – they don’t have enough drones to monitor all of you, and unfortunately we are all out of chemtrail chemicals to coat your neighborhoods. No, I can’t explain everything, and I won’t try – it wouldn’t fit my cover story. All I can tell you is what I’m “supposed” to know. It also fits my cover that you’ve already done an excellent job to prove the point of my post, and no more examples are needed. So thank you, take your meds, move along.

  • Cass says:

    Its falling apart Tom.
    “I hope the people of Newtown dont have This crashing down on them later.” Dr. Wayne Carver

  • Tom Bittman says:

    Cass, get professional help. The fact is that the whole thing HAS BEEN crashing on the people on Newtown, as Carver predicted. He was talking about PTSD, secondary PTSD, and the possibility of pictures of the murdered children being released (which thankfully didn’t happen). In the real world in which most of us live, it is very sad when 20 of your neighbors’ children are violently murdered in an elementary school – and we see friends every single day whose children were murdered. Most of my Sandy Hook friends have talked to therapists, and most of my own family have, too. Cass, I’m not your therapist, and I can’t help you with your issues, so your future posts will simply be spammed.

  • Cass says:

    Dont worry Tom. I wont be visiting this blog any longer. Hope you make a lot of money, and I hope this cover up is worth it.

  • Tom Bittman says:

    Good riddance! Easy to find her posts on everything from vaccinations to fluoride to JFK to the Boston bombing to my elementary school – no conspiracy is too crazy for Cassie Moss Gilmore, pounding away angrily on her computer!

  • CW Wade says:

    I was just sent your article; thanks for the well written thoughts. I want to add that it is a mistake to underestimate these hoaxers.

    When the “hoaxers” began, yes, it was a few basement dwellers on youtube. It is now much more organized and financed complete and total fraud. THey literally manufacture and fabricate “evidence” out of whole choth and their followers swallow it down.

    They lie openly, for example, I have personally named the EMTS and Medics for Halbig, right to him on, and so have others, yet, he sat right in front of the school board and said “No EMTs” …he has had it explained to him about “presumption of death” vs “declaration of death” so this is the level of scam and farce. He says what he says to play to a certain class of gullible; it has nothing to do with Sandy Hook.

    “Sandy Hoax” is a separate event built on lies and farce… and they have active leadership and organized groups working on it. I can understand and respect the point of view that no one wants to give them attention; however, equally so, they are stealing the truth of that horrible day with a new form of media, in the same vein as this blog; I believe that needs to be fought.

    My heart is with Newtown and much regard,
    CW Wade

  • Tom Bittman says:

    CW, these people belong to a cult, most are gullible sheep, and have no idea. Several times I’ve seen hoaxers fall back on this: “No matter what, I know this was a hoax, but I just wish we could prove it” – which shows that they believe something without proof, because they WANT to. They call themselves critical thinkers, but they are exactly the opposite. Like Westboro Baptist Church, I don’t think we can argue with them. Most of the world has no idea they exist. We ignore them, and if they ever bother people in the real world, we revv our engines and drown out their despicable noise. I really want to believe that some of them will wake up and realize how evil they have been. But, that’s not how cults work. They’re immune to facts and logic.

  • Steve says:

    This type of conspiracy theory is a quasi religion, a belief system. That faith, as in all religion can never be wrong or misplaced. So they “ask questions” but all answers will be dismissed as part of the conspiracy. They demand evidence but refute it as “faked”. They call themselves “truthers” but hide from the truth. Arguing is a waste of time, you may just as well tell a Christian that their god doesn’t exist.

  • Tom Tolna says:

    I don’t believe this to be a hoax, for two reasons.

    I) I see no logical motive for seting up a hoax of this magnitude.
    2) I don’t believe anyone is that evil.

    However, I do understand why people think it might be set up (beyond confirmation bias due to it fitting their agenda). The events were strange, abnormal and horrific. This triggers denial in some people, and morbid fascination in others.

    The media’s coverage was, and is a mess of contradictions and bad information, They offered no retractions or corrected their dubious reporting. This didn’t help.

    No one who isn’t directly connected to the case has seen any real evidence. Columbine was plastered everywhere, but this has a complete void of tangable evidence anyone can use as a basis for reality. No CCTV, no witnesses….Nothing.

    As I said I don’t think it was a conspracy, but until a lot of questions surrounding the case get answered, think these theories will persist and grow.

  • Tom Bittman says:

    Tom, I agree, especially on the media. The media was late to the scene (Newtown was over in 15 minutes, and far from media outlets – Columbine is a suburb of Denver, and was surrounded by press DURING the event that took well over an hour). Then the media tripped over each other to say something new and different – which was often inaccurate. Mostly on day one. Lots of people were interviewed, including children, but I have seen plenty of hoaxer comments that think ALL of those interviews were fake. And the people prominently interviewed (like Gene Rosen) have endured unbelievable attacks on his character, unsolicited phone calls and visits to his house, and secret recordings of conversations. The key witnesses were mostly 6-year olds, and their parents are rightly trying to protect them. The staff who were wounded MIGHT be willing to be interviewed – but again, hardcore conspiracists will immediately call them actors. I personally wouldn’t mind pictures of a dead Lanza, or any pictures that don’t include the victims themselves (the authorities were SO sensitive to the desires of the parents that NOTHING graphic was shown – maybe to an extreme?). In the end, I’m not sure what questions are left (what specific questions do you have?), or what evidence will convince people who have already convinced themselves based on their beliefs. I mean, people are still claiming today that the school wasn’t operational – based on flimsy evidence, and countering 27,000 people who live in Newtown who are eyewitnesses to the reality, years of paper trails, etc. Bottom line, there is a large percentage of hoaxers who won’t be convinced by any evidence against their faith. In my opinion, these people are worth ignoring, and I would only care about people who actually want answers and information.