I grew up in a time that predates cell phones and internet service. Personal computers were gaining traction as I started college, but they still used dot matrix printers and what would be considered an arcane operating system by current standards. On one nondescript day, while working in the computing center at my college, one of the deans told me she was going to send a “message” to my colleague who was spending the semester in Japan. Of course, I asked her how that would happen. She told me that the computer folks in the “back room” were going to show her how to do this. Then, I found the concept incredible. Now, no one would even bat an eyelash at the idea.
In the years between the sending of that email to Japan and today, technology has grown exponentially. Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone has access to the internet. Because of these two developments, everyone has access to instant information. Whether you read it on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter or on any other platform, information is disseminated at an alarming rate. In this wonderful era of immediacy, however, there is a down-side: how are we vetting this information to ensure that it is true? How are we evaluating the information to ensure what we are fed is fact and not fiction?
We must proceed cautiously here. If we are taking all the information at face value, we are choosing to walk the tightrope between fact and fiction. This is dangerous.
Instant information should mean instant knowledge. Unfortunately, this is not universally true. What once took days or weeks to report now takes minutes. People race to post stories so they can be seen as the first to have broken the news. Within that race, the vetting of information has been lost. Scales that once leaned towards dissemination of correct information are now leaning towards instant, unverified information. What one “understood at the time” is the explanation for flawed reporting. How can we deal with this?
First, look at the source of the information. If the platform from which you’ve learned something is a social media outlet, take heed that the writers of that information might care more about the shock factor of the information, presumably to drive readership, in lieu of reporting correct information. Second, even if the platform from which the information is learned is known to be reliable, take a moment to think about the information and investigate what seems curious. If the event being reported only happened 30 minutes ago, could the reporter know ALL the facts?
Go with caution. Be skeptical. Ask yourself the important questions. Don’t take it all at face value.