The line from the old Simon & Garfunkel song speaks to the speed with which information – including partial information and misinformation – travels these days.Tweets, youtube videos and blogs may keep us instantly in touch with the latest news, but they’re also passing around lies as truth. Very dangerous.
The fallout from the Sheryl Sherrod episode – the thoughtful Agriculture Department official who was fired for comments taken WAY out of context, and then unfired – is just the most recent case in point.The incident surely reveals troubling racist tendencies that still exist in the country.But it also reflects the profound weaknesses of our “social” media.
As Bill Adair, the editor of the fact-checking website PolitiFact.com, said, “There are more tools than ever to check things out, but once things start flying at light speed, as it did with Sherrod, nobody seems able to hit the pause button.”
Rich Lowry, of the National Review, also noted on the magazine’s blog that the Sherrod incident “is a lesson in how the culture of offense works in contemporary America – chewing people up and spitting them out before they even have a chance to defend themselves.”
The traditional news media can’t keep up as gatekeepers of fact, so I guess it’s up to a new cadre of fact-checking sites, bloggers and tweeters to blow the whistle for a time-out.I hope they’re up to this monumental task, but I’m not so sure.The truth prevailed in this recent incident, but barely.What about next time?
Clearly, our sense of fairness, our need for accurate information, and the foundation of our democracy are at stake.