Most of us, whether it is in some team-building workshop, communications class or possibly a civic organization or church group have played the game where a person whispers a sentence to the person sitting next to him/her, and then that sentence is whispered from one to the next until the very last person announces what it is.
Invariably, the final sentence is a far cry from what was initially whispered, proving that there are communication breakdowns when relying on just word of mouth.
Although newspapers are a voice for the First Amendment, they are also governed by some restrictions. A newspaper cannot print misinformation or defaming information about a private citizen. If a newspaper prints misinformation that would cause an individual to not get employment or lose employment or defame that private citizen’s reputation, that newspaper would be printing libelous information and be subject to punishment of some kind.
That’s why reporters and editors working for a newspaper have to get their information from reliable sources – people who have been chosen to speak on behalf of an organization whether it is police, sheriff’s office, school system, business, fire department, city hall and the list goes on and on.
No media is to release information that would be a threat to national security, although I’ve seen many stories which pinpoint where our security weaknesses are and where we are sending forces.
No one has the right to create a false panic. This has usually been expressed by the phrase, “Don’t yell fire in a crowded theatre unless there is a fire.”
Despite these restrictions, there are no rules on social media.
And because of that, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter may contain a lot of information that is merely opinion without any basis in fact, and yet that is exactly where the average citizen is going for their news. And in doing so, they are amplifying the whisper game thousands of times. For me, that is simply terrifying because it means people are choosing to believe gossip over plain, simple facts.
It brings to mind Winston Churchill’s much-quoted statement that, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
That happened last week when the threat against the high school came out in the public.
We got calls here asking us to verify certain rumors being spread on social media. In response, we started making calls to the people who have the answers.
The Journal wanted the facts, in order to put the truthful information out to squelch any rumors about who was responsible for the threats, what punishment they were receiving and to what extent the threats could be carried out.
Of course, we need cooperation in order to get these facts.
Because we are responsible, we are not going to print something simply because it is sensational. We are not going to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.
We just want the facts.
I realize I’ll never stop people from seeking the truth in media that have no responsibility to it.
Many people thrive on knowing the down and dirty about others. Many people love standing back and watching the social “pot” stirred with everyone clucking that the sky is falling.
The Journal, however, wants to be the one to reassure its readers that the sky is still situated above and that authorities are making sure they follow the protocols the laws dictate them to follow.
Leave social media for pictures of your latest vacation or family gathering.
Leave the news reporting to people who are held accountable for what they print in black and white or dispense on national television.
Wait until reliable news media gets its pants on before believing the lies circling the earth.