Mandan News

What’s the harm: spreading information

Observations of a News Editor
By Dustin White

I’m not one to post much on Facebook. I see the social network as more of a way to keep all of my news sources and similar information in one, easily manageable area. However, many others find it as a way to spread around other information, much like one would have with chain letters a decade ago.

Over the years, I have found a number of these “stories” entering into my feed. They have ranged from a variety of fake news stories (which regrettably have been bought by what are usually deemed credible agencies) to accusations that during Ramadan, Muslims vandalize neighbors property (which for the record, Ramadan is the Muslims holy month, which is marked by fasting and religious observation).

Recently though, a particularly frustrating story popped up on my page. Through a process of selective editing, I have managed to free myself of most of such posts, but this one slipped under the radar.

This specific story revolved around the idea that the events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were part of a wider hoax. The post that was shared consisted of a video supposedly showing the airplane that crashed into the second tower actually flying away from it. The intention was to suggest that no plane actually struck the second tower, but instead, it was blown up from the inside, as part of a government conspiracy.

When I first saw this video, I was shocked. Could people really believe this sort of thing? The person who shared the story was not someone I would normally consider a conspiracy nut. They had shared many other stories, in the past, that were intriguing. Even when they shared this particular story, they framed it as if they didn’t hold an opinion either way on it, but instead just suggested that its as an “interesting idea.”

Normally, with stories such as this, I would get upset about it, and then shrug it off. What harm could it really be? In this case though, I just couldn’t shake it. Even though I knew the story was ridiculous, I was compelled to delve into it more.

With a bit more searching, I found the full video in which this particular clip was ripped out of. Seeing the clip in its actual context, there was no doubt what really happened that day. So, it was clear that the person who initially tore this clip out of the full video had only negative intentions.

At the last time I looked, the video had hundreds of thousands of views. It had obviously made its rounds. Even though the video wasn’t very long, that equates to millions of minutes wasted watching this video. To put that into perspective, one million minutes equals 16,666.7 hours. That is 694 days; about two years. That is an incredible amount of time wasted.

All of this wasted time could have easily been avoided if people just researched what they posted a bit further. But really, what’s the harm of spreading these sorts of ideas? Isn’t that what free speech is all about? Shouldn’t we rejoice in the fact that we have the ability to spread such ideas, and question our government?

Let’s put it this way. If my friend had simply been more aware of what they were forwarding on, it would have prevented that many more people from being presented with these lies. It would have prevented that many more people from being exposed to this slanderous hatred, this anti-reasoning deceit.

Passing around such information uncritically is harmful to others. It helps propagate lies that not only waste people’s time, but also has the potential to create hatred based on deceit. Such slanderous information is the backbone of every intolerant act.

Now, even though many pass on such information while claiming that they don’t necessarily support the ideas, the fact that they make the effort to share such ideas implies that they endorse them in some manner. They are saying that they approve of such a message to be shared.

People have to be more aware of what they put their endorsement on. There must be an awareness that each one of us can act as the initial filter of such garbage. That instead of allowing such hatred to be spread, and infect others, they can help get rid of it.

With information being so easy to disseminate to the masses, it becomes even more important to critically think about what we may share with others. By simply pushing a button, we can spread information to thousands upon thousands of people, in the blink of an eye. That is a lot of responsibility that is placed on us. But it is a responsibility we must take serious.