Lies, Damn Lies and the Latest Tweet

Reporter at typewriter

Information moves quickly these days, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more accurate, or even true.  Add to that the apparent ease of creating disinformation, along with access to a seemingly trusted news channel and the ability to take quick action, and it’s a recipe for potential disaster.  The initial irony for me is that I started this post yesterday morning based on observing a recent pattern of “ready, shoot, aim…” in other places before the most recent hack of AP’s Twitter account that led to the post shown below.  It took just five more hours to find this even more compelling example.

While it quickly proved to be bogus, the original disinformation traveled quickly. The scariest part for me was not the content itself, even unsettling as it was, but the actions that enough people took to cause a momentary drop in the stock market. Last week’s tragic events in Boston and Texas certainly left us more sensitive, which made the possibility of any sort of explosion plausible, especially when it seemed to come from a credible source.  While the market did correct itself, that drop and the actions that led it are a tangible reminder of how dangerous instant actions have proven to be, especially when based on unfounded information.

AP Hacked Tweet

Aside from the need for greater security on those information channels (which has been and continues to be covered exhaustively), the more important takeaway is the need to verify information before acting on it.  In responsible journalism, it’s incumbent on the reporter to verify information with an independent source before reporting it.  However, that responsibility also lies with the reader.  Our actions are driven by the inputs we receive, and allowing those inputs to be contaminated by false information without validation puts us at a significant disadvantage.

In a recent post on the “slow news” concept, author Dan Gillmor cautions us to “wait for verified facts before you come to any conclusions.” As we continue to feel our way through the digital age of instant communication, a healthy dose of skepticism is important.  When considering the validity of any information, I’ve long adhered to the idea of “believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.”  What do you believe?

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