Recently a friend sent an e-mail to me (and a bunch of other people) asking for prayers for a battalion of Marines that had lost nine soldiers in four days. It included this sentence: “Nothing in the media about these guys because the news does not seems to care.”
In fact, this incident was reported by a number of media outlets – when it actually happened. I wrote back to her: “All soldiers can use our prayers. However, this is an outdated post. The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were in Afghanistan from October 2010 until April 2011.
She replied, in part: “I guess you’re into extreme details. … You really could have just ignored the request.”
No, I couldn’t. Here’s why.
The emotional impact
Our new national pastime of forwarding outdated “news” and urban legends contributes untold gobbets of spam to the Internet. Imagine all those glurge stories, gang-initiation hoaxes and bogus cancer updates squeezing the Interwebs’ arteries, like garden hoses stuffed with fried scrapple and funnel cakes.
What concerns me more is the emotional impact. For example, the “nothing in the media about these guys because the news does not seem to care” line is just plain wrong. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union all reported on this terrible situation.
Others news outlets may have, too, but those were the ones Snopes cited in its bibliography. No doubt regional newspapers and TV stations reported the deaths of the 24 – not nine – soldiers killed during that particular deployment.
Surely some recipients of the original e-mail are thinking, “Another case of the lamestream media not caring about our soldiers,” or are deeply saddened/angered that the war goes on and on, and soldiers die and die, but nobody gives a rip.
The e-mail has been circulating for more than a year. How many readers has it reached? How much has it added to our collective burden of pain, anger and mistrust?
Details do matter.
Don’t make things worse
If someone sends you an e-mail you think is worth sharing…don’t share it. Not immediately, anyway.
Take a minute to go to a site like Snopes.com or UrbanLegends.About.com to try and determine whether the item is legit or not. If you don’t trust these sites, at least follow the source materials cited. Such links will help you determine, for example, that the Great Wall of China is not the only man-made object on Earth that’s visible from the moon.
I was sorry that my response upset my friend, and I told her so. But here’s what upsets me: The daily receipt of urban legends, hateful “humor” and misleading bulletins that make the Internet not just spammier, but also a darker, sadder and angrier place. Spreading misinformation, however unintentionally, does that.
Don’t help it along. The next time you get an e-mail about Obamacare requiring that we all be implanted with microchips or the notion that 4,000 Jews stayed home from work on 9/11 – for crying out loud, take two minutes to vet it.
And if it does check out? Think twice before forwarding it anyway. It’s probably good to know about current phishing scams. (The real ones, anyway.) A whole lot of us could do without the glurge.