The e-mail forwards I find in my inbox are, at best, a waste of time. Unfortunately, all too often the information contained in those messages is worse than a waste of time: it is inaccurate and inflammatory. Worse still, many of these forwards have been circulating for months, or even years, unchecked.
Every time I open my e-mail, it seems I have gotten yet another barrage of forwards. Some recount heartwarming stories, such as the viral video about “Christian the Lion.” No matter how many times I watch that giant cat run across the Kora reserve in Kenya to joyfully reunite with his people after more than a year in the wild, I always bawl like a baby.
But for the most part, the e-mail forwards I find in my inbox are, at best, a waste of time. Unfortunately, all too often the information contained in those messages is worse than a waste of time: it is inaccurate and inflammatory. Worse still, many of these forwards have been circulating for months, or even years, unchecked.
As a journalist, I can completely understand the urge to share information one deems important with friends and family. However, the same technology that provides us with the ability to easily share information within our circles also gives us the opportunity — and, I would argue, the duty — to research these claims before forwarding them.
Snopes.com is my favorite go-to site for investigating supposed “facts,” but there are myriad sites available on the Net that exist solely for debunking myths and unmasking false claims. Yet despite the fact that these resources are widely available with a simple mouse click, few seem willing to verifying the information they so freely forward.
Since it is so easy to ferret out the truth, I always find myself wondering why, in this day and age, people I know to be intelligent feel they can just blindly trust information in an e-mail that originated from some total stranger. I can’t count the number of times I have opened a forward and read some outrageous so-called fact that immediately triggered alarm bells.
Of course, some of the most outlandish assertions pertain to the realm of politics, and I suppose it is far easier to accept allegations at face value if they denigrate someone from an opposing party, rather than someone who holds beliefs similar to one’s own world views.
Highlight a term from a forward and google it, and chances are you will get tons of hits. But some sites, such as Snopes, also break information down into dozens of categories. For instance, under the “politics” header on Snopes you can look under a given topic or even a top politician’s name. In order to be fair, I did a comparison of the listings for former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
Under Bush’s name, there are 47 listed rumors. Twenty were confirmed as true, and six were termed “undetermined” or “unclassifiable veracity.” That left 21 that contained at least some factual errors. There were nearly double that number of listings for Obama, and the difference between fact and fiction was even more disturbing. Of the 87 rumors, just eight were deemed true, and three undetermined. That means a whopping 76 were either completely false or at least partially untrue.
We are all entitled to our own beliefs, but as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once pointed out, we are not entitled to our own facts.
I have both conservative and liberal friends and family members whom I greatly respect. It doesn’t mean I agree with any of them on everything, but that is also what makes life interesting. To me, a spirited debate can be a lot of fun — provided those on both sides are basing their arguments on proven facts, not an e-mail that any yahoo could have written with made-up details.
So the next time you get a forward in your e-mail inbox and feel the urge to share it with the world, please do everyone a favor and make sure any “facts” within are, indeed, rooted in reality, not fantasy.
Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.