Beware of misinformation in the Internet age

When I was in my first year of journalism school, one of my professors gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me

When I was in my first year of journalism school, one of my professors gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me my entire career.

He told my fellow classmates and I to never take anything at face value, look at everything with a critical eye, always do our research and never assume something is true just because someone else said so.

It turned out to be great advice not only for my career, but in everyday life as well. In this age of technology we now live in, information is more accessible than it ever has been in the past.

However, that also means that there is more misinformation out there to sort through than there ever has been before. I don’t think that reporters are the only ones who could do with learning how to sort through fact from fiction either.

I find it frustrating when people blindly follow trends, promote movements or present ‘facts’ without properly doing their research first.

I see this a lot on Facebook. One of my friends will post a link to an article, or write a status about a bogus public safety announcement thinking they are helping someone when in truth they are being played for saps.

A lot of the time, these articles aren’t completely false (though they can also be perfectly bogus) but they aren’t entirely true either.

There are a lot of people out there who like to present only certain facts while hiding others to better make whatever point they are making.

A few weeks ago, I saw a friend post an article that claimed to be a public safety announcement directly from the RCMP. The article read that if you are driving at night and someone throws eggs at your windshield, you should not use your windshield wiper fluid to remove the egg from your windshield.

If you do, the combination of egg and water will produce a milky substance that will impair your vision so badly you will be forced to stop and scrape the mess off your vehicle.

Also, the article claimed this was a tactic being used by gangs to lure people from their vehicles whereupon they would then attack them.

Skeptical that I had never heard of this gang tactic despite having two police officers in my immediate family, I decided to do some research. I discovered that there are a few things wrong with this story.

Firstly, somebody with a critical mind had the sense to test the egg-windshield wiper fluid combo.

One night, he cracked a few eggs on his windshield with his car in the driveway and attempted to wash them of with his windshield washer fluid and wipers. What he discovered was, well, nothing really. The wipers made a mess of the eggs while they were wiping them off the windshield, but they did wipe them off. There was no milky substance that obstructed the driver’s view at any point.

There is a case of half-truths and whole lies in this story as well. It is true that eggs and water can produce a milky liquid when vigorously beaten together, but windshield wipers do not work fast enough to do this. They are designed simply to wipe substances off a windshield, which is precisely what they will do in the case of eggs.

Also, the RCMP have come out and said that the whole story is a hoax.

This is not a tactic being used by gangs to their knowledge and the RCMP has never released any official statements saying otherwise.

Not only that, but trying to drive with egg splattered all over your windshield is probably more dangerous than using your windshield wiper fluid to remove them.

While the Internet is a vast source of such stories, it is also home to some great ways to verify such stories as well.

As misinformation has grown, so have the ways to combat the spread of misinformation.

Snopes.com is always a great place to check the validity of images, news articles and public safety announcements that are spread around on the web. This web site exists simply to de-bunk myths and help prevent the spread of misinformation.

Another way to avoid looking like a fool is to confirm information with the source. For example, if the RCMP has made an announcement about a new gang ritual, check their web site. If it’s something that the RCMP wants the public to know, they would be posting information about it on their own web site as well.

So, next time you want to help the spread of information, be sure to confirm it first and avoid the spread of misinformation.

news@lacombeexpress.com