We have a humorous saying at the office:
“It must be true. I read it on the Internet.”
The reason this saying is so damn amusing is because, well, the Internet lies a lot.
And the problem is that lots of people believe what they read – without checking the source. This is the result of how we are getting information these days. We search on Google and click a link. A friend posts an article on Facebook and we click the link. We see a tweet and click the link.
Lots of clicking. Not a lot of checking.
Sometimes we read something and afterwards we’re not sure where we read it. But the information – factual or fictional – sticks with us. Thus when pushed we’ll mumble: “Well, I read it online.”
Not realizing, of course, how ridiculous that sounds until we really consider it. You might as well say, “Well, I read it on a bathroom wall.” Or “I heard some guy say it on the subway.”
There’s a sense in many quarters these days that all sources are created equal. They are not.
Watching the reality show “South Beach Tow” on the truTV might seem real, but so does watching Ironman fly in “The Avengers” movie. But they are both fake. One claims to be real, the other just pretends to be real.
There’s a difference.
Now it might not matter when it comes to trivial matters like towing cars in Miami. But it matters a lot when it comes to things like politics, science, history, business, economics and public policy.
Then it matters a lot.
Then we get things like:
- Republicans dismissing polls that their candidate is going to lose – or believe the loss is due to massive voter fraud.
- Fundamentalists not believing in the “theory” of evolution.
- Birthers believing that the president was born in Africa.
- People thinking that NASA staged the moon landings.
- Doubters insisting that climate change is a grand conspiracy by the world’s scientists.
- Parents thinking that vaccinations cause Autism.
That’s when things start to go horribly wrong. Misinformation is a powerful force.
Not all news sources are created equal. The New York Times, Washington Post, TIME, CNN, Boston Globe and other professional news organizations still produce reliable and accurate news. Yes, they make mistakes. But I’ll put my trust in the New York Times over an anonymous email chain letter any day of the week.
You should, too.
Consider the source. It’s more important than ever.
A clip from “South Beach Tow”
Radar Online story about “South Beach Tow” being faked