Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Look It Up for a Change Instead of Just Believing Whatever

I’ve already discussed to some extent how irritating it is when people repost things that aren’t true, without bothering to fact-check them. For better or for worse (mostly worse), people are simply inclined to believe whatever they hear or read. That’s how your Facebook feed got filled with posts about how rapists are using kids to lure in their victims, Barack Obama is gay for David Cameron, and you can get a letter mailed for free by writing “Frank” on it where the stamp is supposed to go. If you don’t feel like following links, none of those things are true.

Naturally, this kind of thing isn’t limited to the Internet – it’s as old as time itself. Last summer, some of you may have noticed a slight blackout that left about four million of us on the East Coast without power. I was living in a rural location at the time – well, more rural than my present location – and my neighborhood was without power for a couple of weeks. The nearest town, which has about 5,000 residents, was without power for a few days. Early on in the blackout, someone called to let us know that the fire department would be shutting off the town’s water supply and that we should all fill up our bathtubs and containers to prepare. Panicking and bathtub filling commenced.

I, however, was suspicious. We had been listening for public service announcements on the battery-operated radio and this is the kind of thing you’d think they would include in such an announcement.

“Who did you hear this from?” I asked. “Has anyone called the fire department to confirm that it’s true?”

Everyone gawked at me like I’d grown a second head because, of course, no one had thought to call the fire department and ask if they were really planning to cut off fresh water to thousands of people who were already in a crisis situation. This is just one of many examples of how you shouldn't just go around blindly believing everything you hear, because, as it turned out, the fire department planned no such thing. 

And we all lived happily ever after and drank lots of water, the end.