A client complained recently that a news story in which she appeared had gotten her title wrong. It wasn’t a big deal, she said, and she wasn’t inclined to call the newspaper to request a correction because she didn’t want to upset the reporter.
We encouraged her to make the call because otherwise the error would not only show up in this story, but in future stories that live forever in digital archives and which other news reporters and private citizens doing research on the Internet then repeat to their own online communities. I
The repetition of intentional falsehoods or innocent mistakes is how utter nonsense becomes lodged in people’s minds even when it has no basis in fact. Inaccurate information, repeated and shared via social media, thus becomes “truth” for many people.
Think of the“birther” conspiracy which held that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and therefore was ineligible to be president. The lie was concocted and spread via conspiracy websites, social media and talk radio, and many Americans — including more than half of Republicans — still believed Obama was foreign-born more than a year after he left office.
Another widely accepted falsehood is that vaccinating children against infectious disease can cause autism, and an ongoing outbreak of measles in the US (more than 100 cases in 10 states only 14 years after the disease was believed to have been eradicated in the United States) has been linked to parents refusing to have their children vaccinated on religious or moral grounds.
Once an errant “fact” is widely established, it’s difficult to undo.
Think of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy that was concocted and spread by Russian hackers and American conspiracy nuts during the 2016 presidential campaign. More than one-third of American adults said they believed it was likely that Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats were running a child sex ring out of the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant. A North Carolina man who decided to investigate the claim fired three shots inside the restaurant and later expressed surprise that what he had read on the Internet wasn’t true.
What does that mean for you?
Correct errors promptly before they become accepted “fact” that you might never live down.
— BOB UNGER