The misinformation superhighway

My email overflows every day with one stupid message after another, each one more outrageous than the other.

Most, of course, make outlandish claims about President Barack Obama: He’s not a natural-born American citizen, he has a secret socialist agenda, he wants to kill grandma and he’s planning to recruit school children as part of a socialist takeover of America.

Others scream that Obama and the Democrats will take away our guns. Still more talk of a secret plan to tax Americans for the guns they already own. This latest screed reminds me of the one that circulated some years ago about a non-existent Congressional bill to tax email.

All of this comes to us via the misinformation superhighway, otherwise known as the Internet.

The ‘Net is the nation’s backyard fence, a place where unsubstantiated gossip is passed off as fact, where untrue stories circulate at the speed of light, where hate mongers and liars can spread misinformation at will, knowing full well that many out there are stupid enough to believe it without question.

Much of this information is spread through computer forums where anonymous posters with agendas spread lies while hiding behind "handles" and screen names. The same happens with comments on web sites, including some posted here on Capitol Hill Blue.

People who lack the courage to back their claims not only with facts, but also with their true identities, post screed after screed of unfettered and unproven opinion and pass it off as fact.

Web sites have become havens for cowards who hide behind presumed persona and post invective, innuendo and misinformation.  Too many bloggers hide their true identifies behind screen names.

Editorialized USA Today:

There’s an old proverb that says a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on. That’s surely true when the lie instills deep personal fears, and lies appear to be in full sprint as the nation’s health care debate goes local.

Some August town hall meetings around the country have degenerated into furious shouting matches, driven by outrageous misinformation borne of many sources.

The Internet spreads anonymous chain e-mails to a public that is both vulnerable and gullible. Groups with a financial or ideological interest give the rumors a boost. Talk radio provides an echo chamber for the demonizers. Most outrageously, political leaders who know better and could oppose legislation in a more credible way, engage in their own hyperbole or simply remain silent. One Republican senator, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, simply bypassed the substance of the discussion, saying it was a chance to "break" a popular Democratic president. He has plenty of company that isn’t quite as blunt.

Mark Twain once said "there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics."

Today, Twain would probably make that four kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, statistics and the World Wide Web.