It Must be True. I Read it on the Internet!


Pinocchio or the new sports columnist for the Washington Post?

Here are a few things that I’ve learned on the Internet:

  • President Obama was born in Kenya and is not an American citizen
  • The Holocaust never happened.
  • The Democrats tried to create “death panels” for the elderly in their health care overhaul bill
  • The September 11 terrorist attacks were plotted and by the Bush administration so we could go to war in the Middle East
  • The British royal family assassinated Princess Diana

I know these things are true because I read them on the Internet.  And the Internet would never lie.  Would it?

I’m being facetious, of course.

The Internet isn’t a news source, but unfortunately, many people view it that way.  We rely too much on search engines directing us to the information we need without fully vetting where the information is coming from.  Just because it is written down on a website doesn’t mean the information is truthful or accurate.

That’s why everyone should be wary from relying on information from unknown sources.  It is one reason that the mainstream media will remain an important aspect of news gathering and journalism.  Say what you will about newspapers and news magazines, but they do an excellent job of vetting the information they publish.  They try – and don’t always succeed – in checking and double checking their facts before publication.  The reason it doesn’t always work is because it is extremely difficult work.

Blogs, Facebook status updates, tweets, and other websites don’t necessarily go through this same vetting process.  So the information they carry might not be factual.  That’s not to say that the posters are lying or deliberately trying to mislead – they simply may have made a mistake or relied on faulty information themselves.  That said there are also plenty of people and “sources” out there willing to purposefully mislead – or outright lie (hello, birthers).

When you come across information on a website you should approach it with skepticism and ask the following questions:

  • Who operates the website?  Who are they and what is their agenda?
  • Did they research the information themselves or rely on another source?  Where is the information coming from?
  • Why is the website publishing the information?

That’s why the news this week that Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise purposefully lied in several tweets was so disappointing.  Wise said he executing an experiment to see how quickly misinformation could be spread online (as if we needed an experiment for that).  So he wrote several tweets that he made-up.  And, yes, people believed his lies.  What Wise failed to understand was that his readers and followers trusted him as a source for sports news because of who he is and where he works.

Why wouldn’t they believe him?  He was a journalist for a respected national newspaper.

There’s already too much misinformation on the Internet.  We don’t need our trusted news sources stooping to these levels and further undermining legitimate journalism – which is already under attack from many quarters.

The Post suspended Wise for a month.  He’s lucky to still have a job.  Lying is severe offense for a journalist.

How do you approach information you get from the Internet?  And what is your take on Wise and his “experiment”?

Links:

Top 10 Internet-fueled Conspiracies (via Salon)

Washington Post Suspends Columnist for Twitter Hoax (via New York Times)

Photo by Camera Obscurist (via Flickr)

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8 Responses to “It Must be True. I Read it on the Internet!”

  1. I ask by big brother :-)

  2. Smart move there!

  3. George
    I had a vivid experience of what you describe. I unfortunately got into a big bike crash and got hurt. As I was worried about my wounds, I search for “bike crash wound infection”. My god! I read horror stories over horror stories. Not that they were not true but not necessarily representatives of the reality on this subject.
    We still need a doctor ;-).
    Laurent

  4. If ‘traditional’ mainstream media want to continue to be respected as trustworthy sources, they can’t engage in these types of games. This was a poor decision on the part of the journalist.

  5. Glad you’re not still hospitalized, Laurent!

    Hi Amanda:
    Indeed, the lure of social media has been strong on the traditional press, but they have to keep up their high standards even with things like tweeting and Facebook updates if they want to maintain quality.

  6. and don't call me shirley. December 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    “I’m being facetious, of course.”
    no, sorry. that’s the 1st thing I’ve ever read on the internet that i can’t believe.

    PS. I’m still waiting for that non-taxable cash from the assistant rear minister of treasury of east south nigeria. He said he heard obama’s great granduncle twice removed say that obama was born in kenya, so the assistant rear minister of treasury of east south nigeria is a real patriot. so, i know the cash is coming. Has anyone else received theirs yet?

  7. We all did Shirley. The check must be in the mail.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Si está en Internet es verdad — La oficina de Luis Alejandro Ordóñez - September 13, 2010

    [...] It Must be True. I Read it on the Internet! « HighTalk. 13 de septiembre de 2010 [...]

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