Filed under Columns

Check Point

Marilyn KearneyIn an age where the transfer of information from one person to a million is all but instantaneous, misinformation can have staggering consequences.

Most recently, misinformation put the public in a panic. Videos posted on YouTube of animals appearing to flee Yellowstone sparked the fear that the volcano there were nearing eruption. I didn’t see the videos when they came out, but I was told about what the running animals was supposed to mean by a classmate.

My initial instinct was fear, but then I began to wonder why I hadn’t heard more about this supposed eruption, considering it would be deadly for most of the United States. This was one of the first red flags regarding the whole story. Something as big as the eruption of a volcano would have registered on the radar of the mass media.

When it comes to “news” like this, it’s essential to be skeptical. The initial reaction must be calm and objective because news from a classmate or a blogger is not guaranteed fact. They may mean well, but unless they’re on the ground floor of the story, you need to check the information. Check for the story to be corroborated by the newspaper or the cable news.

Of course, not all of my news actually comes from popular media. Most of what I learn about what’s going on in the Ukraine, for example, comes from current event blogs on tumblr. Social sites like tumblr or Facebook are great places to get current events, but taking that information at face value can lead to the fear of the Yellowstone misunderstanding at worst and, at least, unintentional ignorance.

Without proper objective thinking, it’s easy to fall into a kind of hysteria reminiscent of the violent reactions to the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. It’s easy to get wrong information quickly. It’s just as easy to check that information. Take that extra few seconds to make sure what you’re hearing is true. If it sounds too scary or too good to be a fact, it very well might not be.

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