Marvellous thing that it is, there are down-sides to the internet… it’s a massive repository of information, but it is up to the individual reader to determine the validity of what they read. The same is true, of course, of books, but with the printed word, it’s much slower and resource-demanding to circulate information – whether true or false. On the internet, however, any purported ‘fact’ can go viral and appear to be ‘truth’ by mere repetition.
Discerning users of social media are painfully aware of this. It is always a good idea to check that story your ‘friends’ all posted on Facebook before you give it further credence by posting it yourself. There are lots of sites where you can check out offers/stories/video links to see if they are genuine: try Hoax-Slayer or Snopes. But my advice is to be skeptical… do you REALLY think that Land Rover are going to give away two brand new vehicles via Facebook? Of course they aren’t, it’s just someone trying to get your contact details (at the very least).
However, here are sites that we instinctively trust because we think that the parent institution/company is legitimate. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is probably the sort of organisation that one could consider to be reliable. I was a little surprised this morning, therefore, to read a ‘fact’ on the BBC website that I knew to be incorrect. The piece I was reading was about William Gillette… you probably haven’t heard of him, but I knew quite a bit about the man before I read the article. He was the actor who created the ‘look’ of Sherlock Holmes as we generally envisage him (or at least we did until Benedict Cumberbatch came along and transformed the character in the recent BBC series)… you know, deer stalker hat, hooked pipe, fancy dressing gowns. Well, this morning there was a story about the fact that a film of Mr Gillette performing as Sherlock Holmes had been found that was previously considered lost forever. Of course, there was lots of info about Gillette, including reference to the grand ‘castle’ he had built in North Carolina. Well, I’ve visited Gillette Castle and, at the time, it was definitely in Connecticut! I messaged the BBC with the correction and within an hour the change had been made.
Now, this may only seem like a minor thing – what does the location of a ‘castle’ matter one way or another? But it got me thinking. I often believe what I read because I assume the information to be from a reliable source. But if the BBC makes mistakes like this – what else might they be getting wrong? I’m not saying that it’s deliberate, just that when you have a huge website and churn out dozens of stories every day, how much time is actually spent checking and researching them? A book lasts a long time and so getting the contents right is important, but a web page can be changed from one minute to the next – so how much emphasis is put on getting everything right first time?
Food for thought next time you read a report in any of the media, but especially the internet.
… oh, and if you are ever in Connecticut, go and visit Gillette Castle – it’s fascinating and the staff are wonderful.