Did you hear the news about…?

by TideGP (follow me on Twitter @TideGP)

EMail: checkyourgut@gmail.com

Information moves quickly these days.  Thanks to the internet and a myriad of portable devices, most of us have access to information anywhere and any time.  We are absolutely inundated with information.

While that’s great when the information is reliable, it’s a huge pain when the information isn’t.  So, we try to filter.  We look towards sources with credentials we think, we hope, are reliable. The problem with that is, with so much information available from so many sources, filtering through the crap isn’t always easy and sometimes we inadvertantly accept bad information.

Once, our news sources were limited.  We got our news from conventional, organized media.  Not these days.  These days we want breaking news, we want BUZZ.  Yes, we all know that buzz can be the virtual equivalent to “neighbors talking over the fence” gossip; that many rumors turn out to be just that– rumors.  Rumors that emerge, flourish and die.  The worst case scenario being when an unjustified rumor spreads quickly, and just as quickly, the rumor’s subject becomes a victim of unscrupulous hearsay.  The result is reputations are tarnished, sometimes irreparably.

Honest mistakes occur from time to time—we all know and expect that. But what if the mistakes aren’t always honest? 

Hold that thought.

True journalists are all too aware of the hazards of knowingly or unknowingly spreading false information and ethical journalists strive to prevent those types of occurrences, hence the term “Journalistic Integrity”.  But buzz usually doesn’t come from traditional journalists.  It’s easy for anyone with a computer and access to a blog or message board to use the internet as a medium to get “the word out”.  There are no checks and balances or editors to ensure facts are verified.  Some authors never have any intent to verify the information at all.  So, while the media of the “Information Age” has many benefits, it can easily be exploited for purposes other than the dissemination of accurate information, and we can easily become the unwitting tools of someone’s personal agenda.

Rumor mongering isn’t new.  What is relatively new is having a distribution vehicle that can reach a huge audience with great speed like the internet.  Ask anyone who’s had to defend themselves from false rumors and they’ll tell you it feels like they’ve been attacked. My good friend on Twitter, K1ngCrimson has coined a term for this; he calls it “Media Terrorism”, and it’s no joke.  While this can apply to any informational topic, because of its avid fan bases, sports figures and institutions are especially vulnerable. There are plenty of bona fide stories of corruption in sports these days, and we’ve all seen that it doesn’t take much for a sports rumor to grow legs and spread far and wide. 

It’s impossible to know with any certainty what motivates a rumor monger. Ego and character certainly play a role.  Some rumors start because the author is irresponsible or unscrupulous and eager for fame.  The originator or purveyor of the information becomes less interested in ascertaining how accurate their facts are than in how they can utilize the act of “breaking the story” as a springboard to acheive some type of recognition–they enjoy the spotlight while the rumor runs.    If the rumor turns out to be true, great; if not, they still achieve their goal of getting noticed, getting their name “out there”.

While some egos can be satisfied with a short lived claim to fame, other are not, so they take it a step further.  Driven by an ego run amuck, these individuals aren’t content to let a rumor run its course and let the facts prove or disprove the story; instead, they embellish, stoke and feed the rumor until it has a life of its own. To them, facts are irrelevant unless they feed the rumor.  They “spin” facts by offering a tilted perspective, sometimes in direct contradiction to other facts.  The story being active and talked about is what matters most, the more sensational it gets, the better.  Little to no heed is paid to the harm they might cause as they work hard to prolong their “fifteen minutes of fame”. 

Ego and fame aren’t the only motivators for a Media Terrorist. Worst of all are those whose character is so morally corrupt, they intentionally seek to damage a reputation.  This often entails either circulating a story with no merit, or initially citing facts, then twisting those facts into a sort of plausible innuendo for the sole purpose of discrediting the subject in question, again embellishing and stoking whenever necessary. These individuals use their notoriety as a weapon. While not adverse to the recognition they receive, the primary goal here is more than gaining notorieity. The goal is to further some other agenda, to feed some other reason, need or desire to hurt and disparage the subject of the rumor. In short, they have no qualms committing the crime known as libel.  While Libel is not a new concept, it certainly has found a cozy home on the internet because of the ease of publishing and lack of publishing protocols.  On blogs and message boards, the line between innuendo and opinions often blur and historically, libel is hard to defend against, lawsuits are hard to win when the burden of proof lies with the victim of the rumor having to show evidence of malicious intent. 

There will always be those that exploit freedom, in this case Freedom of Speech, and use it to pursue their own agendas.  What we can and must do as readers, as the audience, is minimize the negative effects as best we can.  The first step is simply being aware that these Media Terrorists, in various shapes and forms, exist.  Knowing that, no matter how much we may WANT to believe the buzz or a rumor, we have to be responsible and objective; examine the known facts and use our own sensibilities to draw rational conclusions, filter and sift the truth from the trash.  Lastly, we have to show support and promote those who show integrity, the individuals that DO take the time to get the facts straight, those who qualify their statements and opinions as they relay a story. 

Media Terrorists are out there, but we can minimize the damage they inflict by being an intelligent and conscientious readership.

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~ by Gut Check Admin on July 27, 2011.

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