Editorial: Don’t believe everything you read

Sep. 16, 2013 @ 11:26 PM

People’s beliefs and opinions on any topic are forged over time and largely colored by their perceptions — be it because of their environment, upbringing or political viewpoints.

Especially these days, when America seems so divided between left and right, common ground is difficult to find.

An email inbox, or even a social media feed, will be chock full of people exposing their often-slanted opinions on the issues of the day.

And that’s a good thing. The more dialog the better. It’s why our nation’s founders stood so firmly behind freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

There are downsides to the avalanche of opinion that’s currently available through electronic means, however.

The number one problem? It’s often opinion expressed as though its fact.

When you see letters to the editor, the personal column of one of our writers, guest columnists or this editorial — it’s a sure thing that what you’re reading is opinion.

But unlike items that appear on our editorial page, most items in our daily lives aren’t labeled “opinion.”

That email from your friend — the one he was forwarded from his friend — about the latest political conspiracy of the day? Probably not entirely true. But it’s often very hard to judge on the surface.

Most email forwards and fad Internet posts have a sliver of truth — usually just enough to make something sound plausible — and they usually then delve quickly into opinion or total misinformation.

They’re usually crafted by someone with an agenda — often to defame either Barack Obama or George W. Bush. They’re usually then pushed on to like-minded individuals, who pass them right on because they either agree with the opinions expressed or hope those opinions are true.

It happens on both sides of the aisle, and it was happening even before the advent of electronic media — direct mail from candidates, fliers posted doors in public places in the days before an election — and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

The best way to determine if something is true is to find an unbiased source and research the issue yourself. Otherwise, you’re just going on hearsay.

As P.T. Barnum was often credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”