Editorial – Information Off-ramp

Recently, a media frenzy erupted around the inappropriate firing of a US Department of Agriculture employee. Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign after an edited video clip posted online appeared to show her use of racial discrimination. Later, however, it was discovered that the online clip was missing a critical segment?information which gave context to her words, and which would have conveyed a much different impression.

Sherrod received multiple public apologies, including a personal one from President Obama. And over the past few weeks, the media has thrashed out the incident countless times and from countless different angles. Yet while much of the back-and-forth dialogue (including words from the President himself) has focused on public perception of racism, blogger etiquette, and the like, there’s something far deeper at stake.

All those issues are important, certainly. But the root of this whole situation is our relationship with the online world. We media consumers often blindly accept everything we see, hear, or read on the web, regardless of its source or accuracy. And It’s affecting our judgment.

While Internet technology has made incredible advances in the past decade, the quality of the information found there has taken the opposite path. The so-called ?information highway? is now littered with potholes, gravel, and turnoffs to roads that go nowhere.

For years, the web has been viewed as a convenient source of facts: no Encyclopedia Britannica, of course, but still useful. If you need information, all you have to do is look it up online?right? Not anymore.

Call it collateral, if you will. But the truth is that reliable online sources are becoming more and more difficult to find. Run a Google search, and you’ll notice that the first page of results is usually packed with links focusing more on keywords than content.

Forget the virus threats. The real danger of web-based information gathering is the risk that the content’s quality and accuracy have been compromised; and even worse, the fact that fewer and fewer web users are thinking to question what they find.

It’s time-consuming to sift through the good and the bad, but savvy web users will find that second-guessing what’s been posted online will allow them to steer around the potholes and road bumps created by the pages and pages of poorly researched ?facts?. Could this keyword-heavy content be the accurate information I’m seeking? Perhaps, but the sources? poor writing and grammar frequently lead me to question the facts? authenticity?and a cross-check with reputable sources usually confirms my hunch.

On today’s information highway, It’s a fact: the poor driving conditions can’t be avoided. Anyone can post anything online, and often its accuracy is questionable. It’s up to us information consumers to be choosy about what we believe.

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