Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's on the Internet, so it must be true

Posted By on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Not! Remember the gossip game from preschool? Everyone sits in a circle and whispers something into their neighbor's ear, then they do the same ... and by the time the whisper gets around the circle, "My cat's name is Pete" has devolved into "Pete picks his nose," or something similarly ridiculous.

Now, in many ways, social media — blogs included — is like the circle, except instead of whispering we're shouting, and instead of telling one person we're telling thousands.

Keep this in mind as you read Bob Sullivan's piece in "The Red Tape Chronicles" about the false whispers that followed the tragic shooting in Arizona over the weekend. Here's a snippet:

There were claims that Sarah Palin had deleted her controversial "Don't Retreat -- Instead RELOAD!" Tweet from last March. She hadn't. An apparent fake Facebook page attributed to alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner emerged, claiming President Barack Obama was one of his heroes. Another profile identified him as a Tea Party member -- but it misspelled his name. There were also images of a voter registration record claiming he was a Republican; but the record misspelled Tucson. In fact, he is a registered independent.

In hindsight, misspellings or other obvious errors should make Internet users quickly discount these information sources as false. But as anyone who runs a quick Twitter search can quickly see, there's a new Internet rumor fool born seemingly every nanosecond. And during times of crisis, debunking sites like Snopes.com or FactCheck.org -- which act a bit like truth anti-virus products-- can't possibly keep up with the exponential virus-like spread of rumors. People often mindlessly pass on e-mails or Tweets that fit their political world-view or the reality they root for.

"The Internet is clearly a much more dangerous avenue for spreading rumors and deceptive information," said Brooks Jackson, spokesman for FactCheck.org. "Like-minded people pass them on because it sounds right to them...It vastly improves on old whispering campaigns."

Read the entire post here.

No one likes to be the subject of gossip, though everyone seems to love listening to it and spreading it around. Look no further than the last presidential election and all of the rumors that are still being spun from it. Here's Red State Update, on the ridiculousness of it all:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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