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Incorrect info taking on life of its own

April 29, 2013
Weirton Daily Times

The desire to know sometimes trumps perspective, and it happens more and more in the high-speed world of social networks and instant Internet news.

Bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 264, followed during the same week by letters suspected of containing the deadly poison ricin being intercepted in the mail to President Obama and a senator.

And the desire to know led to misinformation being disseminated at the speed of light along the social networks.

Wrong information takes on a life of its own, leading to confusion and eventually the kinds of conspiracy theories that lead to people committing more acts of terror in the future.

First came a wrong report that police had made an arrest in Boston on April 17. It would have been wonderful if they had, because that would have prevented the night of gunfire, death and mayhem that followed on April 18, spilling into the evening of April 19.

And when one of the suspected terrorists was caught bleeding in a boat in backyard storage, initial reports that spread like wildfire indicated he had fired on police at that point. Later, as the fog of the hunt dissipated, the issue of gunfire in those final moments became unclear.

In Mississippi, an Elvis impersonator's name was tossed about as the man was run into the court system. There was one problem: The evidence of ricin linked to him was lacking. The charges were dismissed, but could be refiled if the feds find better evidence. Over the weekend, charges were filed against another man.

The issue is that information is treated too much like a fast-moving commodity without thought for just what the details may mean. Once something is hinted at by a source, it spreads like wildfire to countless computer and smartphone and tablet screens.

Perspective is lacking, as well as the brief breather to process information.

Authorities are doing as much reporting as the reporters used to. It wasn't just that the news media and all the folks on the social networks were getting it wrong. The authorities themselves didn't have enough time to process what they were saying and doing, resulting in a disjointed and confusing flow of information. In a week where actions and words blurred into one and the same thing, it was easy to understand how major pieces of information were both acted upon incorrectly and disseminated incorrectly.

There are no safeguards possible against such situations in the future. It's the high-speed fog of war descended upon the flow of information meant for people far from the battlefield. And that means we'll see more instances of the incorrect taking on a life of its own.

 
 

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