Ah.. the power of the internet… now anybody can have a pulpit to preach from and a megaphone to do it with. Obviously if that were not the case this blog would not exist. Anybody who can afford to have a hosted site or have the ability to get space on any one of the free web sites can say anything and everything they want to say. I love it. I’m not being sarcastic, I really love it. Used properly it is a great way to facilitate the free exchange of ideas.
There is a dark side however and this curmudgeon is great for spotting the downside. Whether by email or via a blog or on Twitter people have been known to publish unsubstantiated fact, innuendo, rumor or whatever without checking their facts first. Worse yet there are sites and blogs out there that publish articles to the internet that take fact and embellish on it to the point of drowning out the fact to support an agenda or worse.
Careers have been ruined by this bad behavior and it gets worse. Start photo-shopping images and you can ruin lives. Here is a classic example (offsite link) of what I’m talking about and this is far from the only time it has happened.
Tales told on Facebook about people ruin lives as well. There are a number of articles that have been written by Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal and others that spell out just how easily you can ruin your own reputation saying nothing about how much damage you can cause to others.
Another facet of this downside is the reporting of so called fact about news stories. I hate to beat this dead horse any more. In the wake of the Ferguson shootings there were all sorts of people on Twitter claiming to “know for a fact <insert statement>” on both sides of the issue. In my opinion there should not have been any sides but there were lots of folks with agendas stirring up sentiment in one direction or the other.
Just because you see something on Twitter doesn’t make it so. There have been lots of wild claims made on Twitter that later turned out to be false.
What to do: Number one, think critically. If something sounds a little to pat or extreme or fantastic it probably is. Number two: check facts for yourself. Critical thinking and doing your own homework will keep you from being led down the rosey path of someone else’s agenda.
In every story there are multiple views of what happened that are shaped by the lenses people’s instinctive prejudices based on their upbringing, life’s experiences and other factors. Someone who had a friend or a relative that went to jail may not like the police very much. Something happens involving a police officer and automatically the police officer is guilty of a crime.
I will not go on record saying there aren’t bad police officers. Police officers represent a cross section of society and they bring their own baggage to the table. I tend to be pro law enforcement but I have certainly met a few police officers over the years that made me think “what a jerk!” Case in point was a police officer sitting in a diner having his lunch and I overheard him say “there’s three kinds of people in this world, suspects, victims and law enforcement.” Not exactly a sterling moment in public relations for that police department.
Those aren’t the police officers I think about. I think of all the very dedicated to public service police officers I’ve known personally over the years that would do whatever they could for you if needed. I’m talking about the one police officer I interacted that got down on his belly in uniform because his long arms could reach the puppy that had fallen into a storm drain. He could have waited for animal control, but the young girl who’s puppy it was tugged on his heart strings.
There have been other news events where social media has caused disinformation to circulate frighteningly quick. Interesting excersize is to Google for “superstorm Sandy disinformation.” There was loads of disinformation about Sandy released ranging from the downright silly to tales of conspiracies linking Sandy to any number of supposedly powerful organizations with world domination in mind. Embarrassing for me as a practicing Christian was the Christian group that put out on a website an article blaming gays for the wrath of Superstorm Sandy.
The internet makes a great way to have your own bullhorn and pulpit. It also makes for an excellent bullying tool and a source for deceit.
Be careful what you believe.