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If I Say It Often Enough, Does That Make It True?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 • Posted July 21, 2010

The internet and email, while wonderful tools in our world, have also complicated matters. It seems that, for all the information they offer, they also are the root cause of much of the muddying of the water when it comes to discovering the truth about many things.

Just this morning, I was checking facebook and saw a back-and-forth discussion about some very personal issues. This isn't the first time I've watched people take topics that are traditionally discussed in more intimate settings and posted them all over the internet. There are accusations, recriminations, reprisals and rebuttals. All the while, the rest of us sit on the sidelines watching the exchange and wondering how its going to resolve itself.

On email, we can send a personal message to one person complaining about someone we don't like. We tend to forget that email can easily, and quickly, be forwarded and reforwarded on to countless others. The comment we thought we were sharing with only one or two people suddenly is shared with the world, and it doesn't look quite as harmless as when we originally composed it.

I've worried in this space before about the erosion of accuracy and truth due to email and internet postings. People get an email that smears someone they don't like, and rather than check to see if it is true, they simply forward it on to others. Left unchecked, that piece of trashy fiction starts to take on a life of its own. People assume it's true since they've gotten it from so many people.

But, what happens when it's not true? Do we then forward to just as many people to let them know that we were wrong. Do we admit that we take things at face value and don't bother to verify accuracy? Sadly, most often, we don't. We simply let the lies and falsehoods continue to ricochet around the ether, and assume that others will find out for themselves, which assumes they are more willing to check the facts than we were.

They don't. They are just as lazy as we are, and are more likely to just forward the items than to verify them.

This ease of rapid communication can become even more troubling when it involves personal issues. A quick rant about your boss intended for one or two readers often goes much further, and very often ends up getting forwarded back to the boss.

People have been terminated from their jobs for such ill thought out missives. A comment about the coworker that irritates you, a snide remark about a customer that you hate to help, all of them grow when sent on repeatedly.

We need to be just as cautious in our public commentary as we would be in our private lives. If we were sitting in a restaurant and we were going to share something of such magnitude, we would look around first to make sure no one will overhear.

On the internet, everyone is an eavesdropper, and everyone is on the party line. Whether you're ranting about your secretary or about the President, you're sharing these thoughts with others who have no qualms about shooting them out to 200 of their closest friends, or posting it on facebook so that all the world can know such secrets.

Tact, discretion, honesty and integrity are lacking in modern communication. This time, there can be no finger pointing, since we are the ones that have created this mess and we are the ones that allow it to keep happening.

The next time you get something that sounds too incredible to be true, check out its validity. If you receive a personal tidbit about a neighbor, resist the temptation to forward it on; but, rather, delete it and stop it from growing.

In short, take responsibility for the state of our modern tendency toward lies and vitriol. Grow up.

It’s all just my opinion.

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