Archives for February 2013

Misinformation

Richard_DawkinsI don’t care who you are, or how smart you are.

Someone, somewhere, has lied to you.

We’ve all fallen prey to misinformation. Furthermore, we’ve all been guilty of spreading lies as a result, intentionally or not.

Of course, I am not immune. Two quick personal examples: not long ago, I posted a link on Facebook to a fake website called www.obamaphone.net.

Also, a while back I wrote an erroneous article for Examiner.com, repeating the urban legend that a Jewish rabbi in Israel had ordered a dog to be stoned to death.

In both cases, a couple of my intrepid friends were kind enough to come to my rescue, pointing out what soon became obvious to me.

I had fallen for a hoax. And in both instances, I probably should have known better.

The “Obama” phone fake website¬† was sort of a dead giveaway because of the suffix. Official government websites end with “.gov” extensions.

Years ago, I had learned that lesson the hard way.

I once typed “whitehouse.com” instead of “whitehouse.gov” while at work and found myself staring at a hardcore porn website–I distinctly remember my ears burning with embarrassment, and how I couldn’t close that browser window fast enough.

Yet somehow, I forgot that lesson when I saw the fake “Obama phone” website, and took the bait hook, line, and sinker.

My problem was gullibility–the fake site simply reinforced information I already accepted as true.

Unfortunately, I am not alone. We all tend to give a lot more credence to information that reinforces our personal worldview than we give information that contradicts it.

In my case, support for my belief came in the form of an infamous viral video in which a woman named Michelle Dowery claimed every welfare recipient in Cleveland had received a free “Obama” cell phone.

I’d seen enough of Ms. Dowery on the internet to be convinced she was legitimate, not an actress.

However, that didn’t make the website copacetic, and so I fell for the scam.

I make no excuses. Mea culpa.

In my defense, both were honest mistakes. Also, I corrected the record as soon as I learned the truth.

Furthermore, there’s a new report that says the Obama free cellphone program cost $2.2 billion dollars just last year. Up to fifty percent of the “free” phone recipients were allegedly ineligible to receive them. In other words, the website was fake, but the fraud apparently quite real.

I do wish that I could claim I won’t get fooled again, but I’m not Pete Townshend.

As long as people will deliberately manufacture false information to deceive people like me on purpose, the risk remains that it will happen again, in spite of my best intentions.

All that I can say in my own defense is that whenever someone successfully plays for a sucker in the future, I’ll be sure to once again set the record straight, as soon as I find out the truth.

Unfortunately, that’s more than some other outspoken people are willing to do.

For example, a heavily edited video recently created the false impression that “pro-gun” activists had heckled Neil Heslin, a grieving father in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, during a hearing on gun violence.

Advocates of gun control quickly pounced on the story.

The only problem? It wasn’t true.

Similar to the mistakes I have made, atheist/activist Richard Dawkins repeated the false claim that Heslin was heckled, in a message he tweeted his almost 600,000 followers on Twitter.

Yet when asked to post a retraction, Dawkins reacted with self-righteous indignation. He replied, “How dare you? [ask for a retraction.] I simply copied ‘heckled’ from the article quoted.”

Why should anyone expect Dawkins to set the record straight?

Um…because he promoted a LIE?