If you can’t read the news without spreading rumors, then …

It gets tiring. Hearing complete falsehoods from well-meaning people who happened to have read it on the Internet. We know the Internet is awash with reliable sources.

I live in Malaysia. As you can imagine, the gossip mill has been cranking out hits at a dizzying rate since the strange disappearance of Malaysian flight 370.

What frightens me is how people (I know that’s quite general) cannot read and interpret the news in an accurate way. I suppose one could say that there are many media illiterate individuals running off at the mouth, saying all kinds of half-truths or no-truths that they absolutely believe. What is even more tragic is that the half-truth is believed by another person who spreads it to another legion of unsuspecting listeners who think they are hearing actual news when in fact they are hearing hearsay, theories, misinterpretations, or right-out lies.

The other day someone walked into my classroom and said, “The flight has been found.” That was quite breaking news for me because I had just been all over several reputable web sites that had not mentioned a thing about it. I voiced my doubt and asked him where he had seen this information. He replied, “Facebook.”

Oh, brother. Where to begin?

I assured him that the flight had not been found, which was news to him. Later that afternoon when I was trolling through the great news source Facebook, I, indeed, saw exactly what that person was referring to. There was an advertisers link that stated, “Flight 370 found?” Question Mark. There was a question mark. Did I mention that it was a link from an advertiser?  What about the question mark? Did I forget to mention it had a question mark after it?

Unfortunately, too many people just see the headlines and miss the question mark. This is tragic in our culture where too many people have no idea what is going on in the world, but they can tell you all about the latest tongue incident concerning Miley Cyrus.

And the rumors spread.

Another person recently stated that they found out what happened to the flight. It was a quite fantastic tale about it shadowing another plane the whole way to Afghanistan. Once again, I heard nothing about that, so I did a few searches and, yes, I indeed found it. It was a theory put forth by someone in America who has no connection and knowledge of the investigation whatsoever. It was only a theory, and had zero basis in fact. Unfortunately, the person I heard it from presented it as fact. Perhaps that person read it, or perhaps had heard it from someone else.

These incidents are anything but isolated. The Internet has become a maze of half-truths and rumors. News and opinion are blended on an hourly basis. Fact is in the eye of the beholder. And well-meaning individuals, who don’t take the time to investigate and think critically about the issues before they pass on bad information, are simply making our world of disinformation a lot more confusing.

Might I suggest, if you can’t read the news without spreading rumors, then perhaps you should stick with the Hollywood gossip mill.

And any school which isn’t yet teaching our kids the critical skill of have media literacy had better get on the ball before a bad situation becomes even worse.

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