You just got an email from a friend who passed it on from another friend who got it from an acquaintance who downloaded it from a friend of a friend’s friend on Facebook. This email claims that, in fact, our political system was secretly invaded some years ago by a galactic vegetable people who have been able to infiltrate the US House of Representatives and the US Senate and they already have “plants” (pun intended) inside the White House.
This email raises eyebrows, but after all, this came from the friend of a friend of an acquaintance who got it from a friend of a friend’s friend on Facebook. With that connectivity, it has to be true. After all, someone had to vet that story on the way to you.
And so you do what you think is in the best interests of your community. You forward the email to as many friends as you can. You don’t want them to be surprised when the vegetable people begin to “stalk” them (another pun intended).
Now, no doubt this thread of words above has raised an eyebrow. Perhaps you find this silly, or insulting (imagine me passing on such nonsense?). Okay, fair enough. The example is a bit of a stretch, but the reality of the example is not. People – well-educated ones to boot – do this kind of a thing regularly. They receive an email like this, read it, assume it is true, and pass it on. No checking, no vetting of any facts. They just pass it on.
And I’m seeing a growing tendency of people to do this especially during an election season. People don’t like a politician and so anything that comes their way that casts that politician in a negative light they pass on. No fact checking, no nothing.
Folks, this has to stop. People have to stop reading email “facts” and accepting them at first glance. With the advent of the internet (a good thing, I’m not a Luddite), the bandying about of lies and half-truths has gotten more and more prevalent (a bad thing). People still have a tendency to believe what they see in print. And as Catholics, as Christians, we need to be cognizant about this tendency. We need to understand that passing information along as “fact” that is in fact not fact is a factual inaccuracy. If it attacks a person’s character (yes, even politicians are persons), and it is not truthful, we could be liable to judgment before the Lord. Even people we dislike and have staunch disagreements with are children of God.
So let me humbly suggest some guidelines when you receive an email or some other communication about a politician/someone you do not like and want to believe anything negative about them. Resist the temptation to do so and do the following:
- Ask yourself what is the real source of this information? Did it come from a major news source? Was it from someone’s blog? If it came from a blog, what are the person’s credentials that show he or she knows what he or she is talking about?
- Take time to check out the information. Go on Google and type in something from it. Maybe the headline, or a particular statement, like the main theme.
In the above example, if there is even a shred of possibility than an alien vegetable people have infiltrated our government, it’ll be on national news (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN) in some form pretty quick. If you don’t find the story being told in some form or fashion by one or more of the major news sources, chances are it is bogus or factually questionable.
- Look at the tone of the communication. If the story makes bold pronouncements, i.e., “We now have an alien in the White House!” or “Senator so-and-so is going to win his state due to Nazis voting for him” - that is, if the story seems very slanted in one direction - that should raise a red flag. If the communication makes insulting references to a public figure, that should raise another red flag.
Don’t let your desire for the story to be “right” color your judgment. You may not like a public figure, but an “article” that makes insulting remarks or attempts to remake him or her into a despised figure is not news but rather an opinion piece. Be careful passing this kind of thing on.
- Think about the story’s content. Let’s take the example from above, “Senator so-and-so is going to win his state due to Nazis voting for him.”
Let’s say just for an example that Senator so-and-so is from a state in which the population is 5 million (no innuendo here. Please don’t go to your almanac and try to find the state I’m using as an example, because I’m not using a particular state). Look up that state and see if there is any news regarding Nazis living and working and practicing their Nazi stuff there. Then consider that the candidate would need a significant block of voters across the state to sway an election. Let’s say five (5) percent. That would mean in a state of 5 million people that approximately 250,000 would need to be Nazis. Do you know of a state with a quarter million Nazis in it? I don’t think so.
- There are sites you can use to fact check a rumor for accuracy. One is Snopes.com. Another is called Truthorfiction. These shouldn’t be your only source for checking but they offer good information.
Bear in mind that if you pass on something that later proves to be false, it casts you in a bad light, and it also raises questions as to the kinds of things you support. You don’t want to be disregarded when you offer an opinion on something. So vet, vet, vet what you hear/read/see before passing it on!
A little homework will make things better!