Friday, April 26, 2013

Bogus Tweet Reminds Us To Be Skeptical


This past week a bogus tweet reminded us again  of the old adage, "Don't believe everything you see." In an already tense week of terror news the AP Twitter account was hacked and someone tweeted that there had been explosions in the White House and President Obama was injured. The stock market immediately responded. It went down. A few seconds later the Associated Press tweeted that it was bogus. Their account had been hacked.

What's interesting in this Ad Age story is that people took action on what they saw and read. The market sank 1% in seconds. If what we believe impacts how people behave, we need to take extra care with regard to the ideas we embrace and our sources of information.

Nine years ago the subject of man's walk on the moon came up in our department at work. To my great surprise our web assistant at that time stated that he did not believe Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, that it was a hoax. I was somewhat chagrined. I've always known there were people who thought that way, but to meet one in person was a surprise. For me it's like stating that there is no such place as England or that Northern Lights are a hoax. These are simply facts.

But what happens when an apparently credible source makes a statement as fact that isn't a fact?

One survey in the early 1980's found that nearly 90% of all Americans believed that the government's account on the Kennedy Assassination, which determined that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, was false. Though distrust of our government did not begin with the Warren Commission, this was a fairly good indicator of the times. What's disturbing is not just what people won't believe, it is amazing the things people do believe. Some people who do not believe the "lone gunman" theory are ready to believe that not only were there more gunmen, but also that the CIA, FBI, mafia and half the State of Texas including Vice President Johnson were involved.


How strange our world is today. Modern people have been trained to question everything, yet they believe the most foolish things. Yes, I can understand why someone might not believe the moon walk. We live in an age of falsification. Images, stories, urban legends, and cleverly devised myths abound, along with photos that have been doctored, stories that have no basis in fact. It is an era of deliberate obfuscation, an age of spin, of falsifying perceptions.

"Don't believe everything you see," is advice given wisely, but at the same time it can also unsettle us. Uncertainty makes us anxious. We like things to be firm, solid.

Uncertainty undermines confidence and leaves us feeling confused. When there are things at stake, we want to know what is true. But sometimes we simply can't know. We hear both sides of an issue and we don't know whom to trust.

This is even more the case in our internet age. Sometimes it's good to doubt. Then again, sometimes decisions need to be made and we have to make choices.

In the meantime... life goes on all around you. Enjoy the weekend, wherever you are. Be refreshed, and thrive!

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