Thankfully, it was just another internet hoax, and it only took me a couple of clicks around the web to settle my heart back into place after I saw this in my Facebook status feed recently. But it raises the issue of the power of the media and the need to be able to discern fact from fiction — a question we began to tackle in class this past week.
In some ways, I think it’s easier than ever to determine validity or falsehood with the vast resources available on the web; however, I think the burden of proof has shifted from the source to the sourcer.
But does it takes a new kind of literacy to make that call, or just variations on a theme? For example, do you believe everything you hear on the news? News casts have biases, and their reporters are synthesizing materials from various sources, so there is room for error. Take, for example, the early news reportings about the SCOTUS ruling on healthcare reform. Let’s see… which media outlet should I cite to talk about the other media outlets’ erroneous reports? How about we go with the L.A. Times, since they pick on both the left and the right with their headline: Fox, CNN blow it in initial calls on Supreme Court healthcare ruling.
On a more personal level, I learned how sensationalized a news story can be when I was involved in a large-scale rescue of dogs from a hoarding situation almost 4 years ago. I was part of the team from one of the Golden Retriever rescue groups that went to a farm in Isle of Wight County to rescue close to 80 Goldens, many of whom were sick with heartworms… and worse. While the details of the rescue were hard enough to see first-hand, many of the newscasters added dramatic emphasis during their stories, and several got their facts wrong. (To their credit, WAVY 10 in Virginia Beach had fairly accurate coverage.)
Both of these examples illustrate basic principles of evaluating information you see, read, or hear. Don’t believe everything you read. Do read the fine print. Consider (or determine) the source. Seek additional resources that support (or refute) the claim. I believe these hold true online as well, but don’t take my word for it! If you want further proof, check out this post on InfoPlease (the fine print says InfoPlease is part of Pearson). It’s an excerpt from The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Writing Well. I mean really… how much gooder of a resource is there!