Too often these days, I see people spewing information from virtually any source at all without any regard for whether it’s even remotely accurate. Clearly, this isn’t a brand-new problem: we’ve all played “telephone”, and who could forget this classic line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.
But even though this problem has been with us forever, the amount of information bombarding us each day and the speed with which it propagates has turned this into an epidemic. This being an election year, information fraud is rampant, but even without the bonus of pending elections, Twitter, Facebook and even email make it absurdly easy for information to “go viral” whether it’s right or not.
Once upon a time, I think we trusted sources like newspapers and even TV news, but given the editorial bias we see time after time, are any of these sources really sacred anymore? Newspapers, magazines, television networks — all of them exist only to the extent that they can sell eyeballs, and that raises the specter of editorial bias. Even textbooks bend to their audience, catering to evolutionist or creationist audiences, for example. There’s no such thing as independent anymore.
As a responsible citizen, I believe each of us has a duty to be aware of how we know the things we think we know, and whether we’ve got any real assurance that we can trust those things merely because of where it originates. Each of us, then, is responsible for creating our own independence in our information sources. Trust has to be part of this, of course, but don’t forget that information you can cross-reference from two or more sources is of far greater value than information from a single source, and never, ever, forget the motivations that might be behind any given source.
How do you judge the quality of information you see daily? Better yet, how do you teach your children to judge this quality?