Hilary Hodge: We need to be sure we have all the facts
My favorite internet meme reads, “The thing about quotes from the internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”
The quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. It’s an ironic reminder.
About a year ago I was in the car with my 14-year-old niece when a Kanye West song started playing on the radio. For the uninitiated, Kanye West is a pop singer and rapper known as much for his inappropriate outbursts at award shows as for his music. Not looking up from her phone, my niece says casually from the back seat, “Did you know that Kanye West has a PhD?”
I thought about the possibility of this for a moment. Mr. West doesn’t really strike me as someone with the temperament and attention span to withstand approximately a decade of higher education.
I looked in the rear-view mirror at my niece. “Are you sure about that? Did you read that from a credible source?”
I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. It could have been plausible that Kanye West had an advanced degree in experimental music from some private college I’d never heard of.
“I read it on the internet.” She said.
I sighed. “You know, you can’t believe everything you see on the internet, right?”
I talked to my niece about how not everything on the internet is factually accurate and that, because anyone can publish anything on the internet, it is really important to understand where your information is coming from.
When we got home, we reviewed the articles and sources. We talked about research and journalistic integrity. We talked about using credible sources and even talked about how to write an article or research paper.
Referencing credible publications, we learned that Kanye West dropped out of college after a semester at Chicago State University. He did not, in fact, receive a PhD but instead was awarded an honorary doctorate from School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago. I explained to my niece the difference between an actual PhD and an honorary doctorate.
Over the last few weeks, it has occurred to me that, while I have made a concerted effort to help raise the children in my life with a critical eye and an awareness about how not everything on the internet is true, there are many, many adults who were not raised with the same awareness and who may not entirely realize that the meme they keep sharing is disseminating information that is not factual or accurate.
If you have spent any time on any social media outlet lately you have likely seen several articles being shared that contain several pieces of misinformation, half-truths, and/or outright lies.
A really good example is that a few weeks ago, several people shared an aerial view of what they claimed was a crowd of protesters from a modern-day protest taking place in the Midwest. The picture was of Woodstock in 1969.
It is fairly easy to prove that a photograph doesn’t correspond to an event when it can be verified from another very famous event in history. It is much harder to dig into the details of false articles based on misinformation that then need to be disproven through several other links and credible sources that most people won’t read anyway.
We are living at an important time in history. We are living at a time when the decisions we make matter, a time when our decisions have incredible gravity and the potential to affect generations for years to come. How we move forward as a community, as a nation, and as a planet in the next few years could determine the outcome of the health and safety on our planet and our decisions may have a lasting impact on our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
In order to facilitate making informed and helpful decisions, we need to have discerning access to the most accurate and factual information available. We need to know what we are getting ourselves into. We need to be sure we have all the facts.
To that effect, it is essential that people stop spreading information that has not been fact-checked, does not come from a credible source, or does not have any bearing in reality.
I tell my nieces all the time not to post anything on their social media profiles that could get them in trouble later and to always check their information before posting.
Apparently, this lesson applies to all age groups and all different kinds of people.
Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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