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Friends' posts often not backed by facts

By Samuel Blair
Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
 

The Internet is the richest source for news and information in the world.

However, it has also become the richest source for misinformation and hoaxes.

It used to be that when we read something on the Web that sounded iffy, we could at least check the source to see if it was worthy of trust.

But now, with social media, we tend to automatically trust those sources because they are our friends. We see something crazy, but because our friend posted it, judgment gets suspended because we want to trust them.

The problem is that I've seen more and more misinformation and outright falsehood on Facebook posted by well-meaning people who didn't fact check what they read elsewhere.

For example, the gun debate has really fired up a lot of people. Many of my Facebook friends are against gun control, and many have posted facts and figures supposedly pointing out the problems with gun control, such as that Australia's violent crime rate has gone up as much as 67-percent since guns were banned.

I did a quick search on the issue and came up with an article on FactCheck.org, which is a nonpartisan group trying to decrease the amount of falsehood in the media.

Have murders increased since the gun law change, as claimed? Actually, Australian crime statistics show a marked decrease in homicides since the gun law change.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, a government agency, the number of homicides in Australia did increase slightly in 1997 and peaked in 1999, but has since declined to the lowest number on record in 2007, the most recent year for which official figures are available.

This took me all of 15 seconds.

Another post I read stated that the homicide rate by baseball bat is higher than the homicide rate by firearms. This sounds illogical, and it is.

Another reputable fact-checking site, Snopes.com, marked this as false and used FBI statistics to back it up. In fact, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports didn't even have a listing for “baseball bat” in its recent 2010 data.

However, if you include them in the “unknown” category for weapons used in homicides in 2010 you still have 13.6 versus 67.5-percent for firearms.

This took me about 30 seconds to research.

This is not to judge one side of this particular debate, but simply to point out how easy it is to disseminate false information as well as how easy it is to do a little work to see if something is true before you link to something.

Please think before you link and don't fall into the trap of believing something because it sounds like something you want to believe or because someone close to you believes it.

Check your facts and educate yourself. You will not only be wiser but also will not suffer the embarrassment of having people tell you what you posted is wrong. Just ask each of my friends that posted those items I mentioned.

Samuel Blair is a freelance writer with Trib Total Media. For details about this or any other tech-related questions, he can be reached at scblair@aya.yale.edu.

 

 
 


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