Sometimes, information is not really information


We have been labeled as living in the “Age of Information.” A huge component of that moniker, obviously, has been our access to the Internet. We can conduct business, send and receive messages, shop for merchandise or music, research topics of interest and watch monkeys in tiny little cowboy hats riding dogs.
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It’s all right there, at the tip of our fingers, and we can gain this access from our computers, phones, smart televisions and more. Gone are the days of driving yourself crazy while watching movies as you wonder what other roles you’ve seen an actor play, or waiting to get a book until you have an opportunity to run up to the store.

Bar arguments over who played shortstop for the Kansas City Royals in 1984 are now settled by a Google search on an iPhone (U.L. Washington, by the way), and push notification news alerts keep you in the know even when you are busy doing something else. For instance, I found out about primary voting results Tuesday night while I was watching a “Law & Order” repeat.

As far as newspaper work goes, the Internet has helped dramatically. There was a time, not all that long ago, when pages would often be printed out and driven to an airport runway and flown to a printing press — now we shoot them directly to our printer electronically.

Reporters often spent a good chunk of their times sitting in libraries or newspaper morgues, sifting through old copies of the paper, or driving to government buildings to get paperwork. Now they sit at their desks and download a .pdf of official documents or research topics on the Internet. At least I think that’s what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s better on my blood pressure to just not ask, and assume they’re doing real work and not just sitting at their desks playing World of Warcraft or Googling monkeys in cowboy hats riding dogs ...

But I digress.

My point is that the Internet has impacted the method and speed in which we receive and share information. You want to know how to deep-fry a turkey? Look it up on the Internet. Interested in knowing the weather forecast in Florida before your trip? Pull out your smartphone. Have a good piece of information you want to share with the world? Post it on Twitter or Facebook. Have a rotten piece of information you want to spread? Unfortunately, that’s the same answer.

A Facebook page earlier this week announced that actor Morgan Freeman had passed away due to an artery rupture. That page quickly amassed more than 842,000 “likes,” according to a story posted on the Reuters homepage.

According to Freeman’s spokesman, there is a slight problem with that story. You see, Freeman is alive.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. Not even the first time regarding Freeman. There were widespread rumors concerning his death in 2010 and, not trying to be a spoiler or anything, but, well, he wasn’t dead that time, either.

Freeman isn’t the only celebrity this has happened to on the Internet. I have read at least three items over the past several years focused on the death of poker legend Doyle Brunson. However, Brunson is still very much alive, and still very much taking tourists’ money in Las Vegas on a regular basis. A quick check on the fact-finding Web site, snopes.com, told me that Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” have all been said on the Internet to have passed — which must have come as a surprise to them, since they are all alive and well.

There is a running joke in our newsroom about where somebody got their information. “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true” has taken on its own life, as we have long known only to rely on trusted and established sources of information. But many people do accept whatever they read or hear as fact, and that’s where problems start.

Just ask Morgan Freeman. No, really, go ahead and ask him. He’s still alive.