New dangers of misinformation

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  • Inacurate truths: today, the problem of misinformation getting to the vulnerable is far greater because of social media

    Inacurate truths: today, the problem of misinformation getting to the vulnerable is far greater because of social media

Throughout recorded history there have always been situations where the truth has been smothered by those who seek to misguide others by trying to give an inaccurate version of an event because the true picture is not what they are willing to accept.

Nothing really new about this. And history books are crowded with stories where it has always taken extreme research and study to get even close to what really happened, when conflicting views become shrouded in doubt and confusion.

Many decades ago, when information moved at a slower pace, it took a little longer to gather sufficient information to make a proper assessment on any controversial event.

Today, the problem of misinformation getting to the vulnerable is far greater because of social media, which embodies the world of tweets, texting and instant flashing of pictures of events, regardless of whether innocent people could be hurt in the process.

News organisations operating in a free society are constantly cautioning people to be wary of first reports about a situation because, in the maddening pace of trying to be first with a story, facts are tossed out the window.

The situation has worsened with a dangerous trend where people are putting out stories that are totally false for sensational purpose. In fact, fake news, as it is being called, has caught the attention of the Pope, who expressed deep concern about a practice that should not be allowed to continue.

When the vulnerable consume a fake news story without question, the result can be someone deciding to act on gross misinformation without checking for accuracy. In America, a man was recently arrested and placed in custody after showing up with a loaded rifle at a place where he thought children were being abused. The story was total rubbish, and he ended up firing into the ceiling. No one was hurt in that incident, but the potential for tragedy has not escaped top politicians in Washington who are trying to find ways to clamp down on this dangerous practice of spreading information to damage credibility.

Even during the recent presidential campaign, there have been reports of fake news stories used to benefit or damage the image of a candidate, or a particular political party. This type of activity is also causing concern to journalists, who try to operate on the basic code of getting it right before releasing information that has not been meticulously checked out.

That can be a problem at times because in the ocean of flowing information, accurate and often inaccurate, it takes skill and good judgment to keep pace without falling prey to the urge to be first with a story, no matter what.

Good journalists would rather be second and right, instead of first and wrong.

Bermuda is going through a testing time after what happened recently in front of the House of Parliament when something went terribly wrong during a protest demonstration, and violence left a few people injured, including police, after pepper spray was used.

When emotions slip out of control, the potential for conflicting versions of what happened is extremely high. It is common for two people to witness an incident and give different descriptions of what happened.

This is why it is crucial for everyone to step back and take a deep breath — and that includes all of our leaders, irrespective of political allegiance — and await the results of a proper investigation into what went wrong. The overall objective should be that nothing such as that should occur again.

Bermuda needs to move forward with positive attitudes from everyone who believes that truth, decency and respect will keep negativity from gaining a foothold.

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Published Dec 12, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 12, 2016 at 7:49 am)

New dangers of misinformation

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