Distributing Misinformation

In a piece titled, “The Real Computer Virus” in the April 2001 issue of the American Journalism Review, Carl M. Cannon wrote that “the Internet is an invaluable information-gathering tool for journalists (but) it also has an unmatched capacity for distributing misinformation, which all too often winds up in the mainstream media.”
“I don’t trust the information on the Net very much anymore,” he added. “It turns out the same technology that gives reporters access to the intellectual richness of the ages also makes misinformation ubiquitous.? Here are a few of the foolish mistakes he cited:

— Newspaper columnist Ann Landers and Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby republished information from an e-mail circulating around the Internet that told how many of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had been killed or had their lives destroyed by the Revolutionary War. Only trouble was the ?facts? in the e-mail were false.

— During the 2000 presidential campaign an e-mail circulated saying the 16th-century French monk Nostradamus had predicted the outcome of the election: “Come the millennium, month 12, in the home of the greatest power, the village idiot will come forth to be acclaimed the leader.” The Times of London, the Tampa Tribune and the Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina republished the prediction, and it ran in letters to the editor in a number of other publications, including the Ventura County Star in California and the Morning Star in Wilmington, N.C. The prediction, of course, was a fake.

— After circulating via e-mail, an obviously-fake warning that blacks’ “right to vote” will expire in 2007 was repeated on African American radio talk shows across the country and even made its way into USA Today in a guest column by Camille O. Cosby, Bill Cosby?s wife. Eventually, the Justice Department and the Congressional Black Caucus issued statements saying it wasn?t true.

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