A 1938 radio broadcast by actor Orson Welles had most of the country convinced Martians had invaded planet Earth. How could people be so gullible? How could they hear the broadcast and react with complete hysteria fearing their imminent demise? The key to the success of the hoax was Welles’ use of radio – the primary source of information at that time. The 1930s was the Golden Age of radio, nearly 30 million American households had one and it was usually at the center of the home. The radio was a beloved and trusted source of news and entertainment so Welles use of radio, coupled with his tone and delivery, was all done to make it sound just like an authentic news bulletin. And it worked, people believed what they heard and reacted accordingly.
Yesterday my Facebook newsfeed was filled with lovely pictures of parents and their daughters celebrating National Daughters Day. Oh such warm and fuzzy fun on social media! We all love our daughters so why not share pictures of them, lots and lots of pictures of them.
That is all fine and good except I can find no evidence that yesterday was, in fact, National Daughter’s Day. After a brief Internet search I did find that August 11, 2014 was National Sons and Daughters Day, but even that source of information seemed suspect. The only sources of information I found about a day to celebrate our children were actually amateur blogs, nothing official. Was yesterday, in fact, National Daughters Day? I don’t know and neither do you, which makes my point exactly. The Internet said it, so it must be true. Yeah, just like Welles and his Martians.
Why do so many of us believe everything we read on the Internet? Your friend posted a picture of her daughter with a nice caption so you did the same. If twenty friends are celebrating National Daughters Day then it MUST be National Daughters Day so you jumped on board too. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing your love for your daughter on Facebook. But there is everything wrong with believing outright what you read and hear without question or fact-finding.
Celebrating daughters on social media is fun and innocuous but what if the misinformation we are so quick to share is hurtful…hurtful to an individual, community, or nation.
Remember when we were all so upset at the news of Betty White’s death? Then we were outraged for the little girl who got kicked out of KFC because her injuries from a dog mauling were too gruesome, and then there was that time your best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.
When did we as contemporary Americans stop thinking for ourselves? We live in the information age, yet we are as underinformed as ever. Did your parents not teach you the adage don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see?
That is not to say we should be constant critics or doubters. It means, when we read or hear something we should never accept it as truth from that one single source alone, dig deeper. Some of my greatest lessons in childhood were at the dinner table after church each Sunday. My father and I would critically and respectfully discuss the sermon. Did we believe our preacher to be a liar? Of course not! But we did not base our faith on his words alone; rather we went directly to the primary source of information for confirmation or explanation.
Unfortunately, for most Americans, random blogs and errant Internet commentaries have become their primary sources and the misinformation spreads like wildfire. When did we decide to turn over our minds to the wizard of the Internet and to believe hook, line, and sinker the frequent fallacies perpetuated not just online but on the 24/7 television news cycle and radio as well. There is a great conversation that could be inserted at this point about honesty and integrity in media, but my greater point is that we should never rely on one single source of information.
Here’s how it works, you are on your computer checking Facebook and you see the tragic news that Betty White has died. Before you share the story on your wall and comment “R.I.P. to my favorite Golden Girl”, take a moment and Google “Betty White” and see if any legitimate news articles pop up detailing the tragic news of her death. See how easy that was?
If the subject of the article is more complicated, for example, you read that a Federal government shut down will end all garbage collection in your neighborhood for the next six months. Before you panic and begin digging a landfill in your backyard, you have a few options. First, call your Congressman. Congressional offices are quite adept at debunking fiction. Or call your Mayor’s office or City Council representative and ask them if what you read is actually going to happen. All of these phone numbers are easily accessible online or in your old school phone book. You will quickly learn that there is no direct correlation between a Federal government shut down and local waste management.
A good rule of thumb when researching an issue is to delve into at least ten sources with the majority being primary sources. These sources include books, newspapers, online articles, and individuals knowledgeable on the issue. Once you take just a little bit of time and research a few primary and secondary sources and gather as much information as you can then the puzzle pieces fall together and the picture is clear.
Be informed. Whether you are talking about National Daughters Day, or the anti-vaccine movement, or Russia bringing back Cold War era mini-subs you need to understand the issue for yourself. We would all do well to turn our television off, turn our radio off, and shut down our computers more often and simply observe the world around us.
But just in case there is such a thing as National Daughters Day and I completely missed an opportunity to brag on my girl, here is a picture of my smart, funny, beautiful daughter!
Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother of four, and member of the Montgomery County Commission.