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The Misinformation Age

What a remarkable information age we live in; with Smartphones and Tablets, and Google and Wikipedia and the whole worldwide internet thing going on.  When I give a talk it is not uncommon for an attendee to come up and supplement what I have said with a follow up chunk of information they had just downloaded on their iPhone!  Try to find an Encyclopedia Britannica now-a-days, it isn’t even available on DVD anymore, and if you doubt the veracity of something on the Internet you can “Snopes” it!

Truth would seem to be simply a matter of referencing an issue or topic or event, but finding the signal in all the noise gets pretty frustrating.  Conspiracies abound on the Internet as do falsehoods, rumors, slanders, and contradictions.  Just try to find out if Omega 3’s are good for your heart or not; there’s no shortage of contradictions.    

Being able to look up several stories on a topic or event is great if the facts are right and too often the Internet jumps on an outlier study or event as a ‘proof’ when all it does it muddle the issue.  Trying to get the facts about an officer involved shooting when it is still under investigation can get pretty frustrating and when someone with an axe to grind or political gain to make gets involved the truth seems opaque at best.

One of the worst examples of this phenomenon was, following the horror of the Lakewood, Washington killings, a supposed “inside analysis” that went viral but contained wrong and misleading information about the incident and the fallen officers.   Police officers and their families often suffer from such “expert commentary.”  While the Internet gives us worldwide communication, it does little to edit the content for reliability or even veracity.

The fact that you are reading this article on an Internet website means you probably get a lot of information and insight on the web.  One of the first things you have to ask yourself about anything you read on the Internet is what is the agenda of the writer and the website?

I am unabashedly pro-law enforcement which would hinder my credibility to an activist who disputes a fact or issue I may write about.  Officer.com is an unabashedly pro-law enforcement entity that doesn’t pretend otherwise, but that doesn’t mean content critical of a law enforcement action will be misrepresented or whitewashed.   Our names are on our content and that is one of the first things I look at when reading content on the web…transparency.

Today, a large number of pseudo-experts and false bios roam the web spouting maxims, tactics, and “facts” that are often untested, untrue or BS wrapped in a kernel of truth.  Anyone who writes in absolutes makes me doubt their experience or knowledge.  I read many an “expert’s” article that presents something as a measured truth not an opinion and then my follow-up research leads me to wonder what resource lead the author to make such a claim?

My favorite writers and trainers make it clear that “in their experience” or “based on their observations” this technique or firearm or policy works best in a certain situation or event.  As trainers we steal every technique and bit of wisdom we can to pass along to others and build our inventory of skills and knowledge.  I don’t think I have presented a novel idea to anyone I have ever trained, only restating in my own words the inventory of information I have been able to glean from every book, trainer, leader, speaker, article, experience and interview I have been lucky enough to experience.

When I read information on the web I ask myself the following questions:

1. Is this a web site I trust?

2. Did the author(s) identify themselves?

3. Does the article present ideas and information that match my knowledge and experience?

4. Is there an underlying agenda?

5. Are there any references to find out more about this issue or incident?

Every day I have friends and associates that send me links to read about some incident or gain some new information, and the vast majority of the time I do learn new facts or gain some new insight, but every once and awhile I find a link that betrays a sense of falsehood or ambiguity that requires follow up, and the beauty of the internet is its availability of information. 

It is that same quality of being a huge reservoir of information that gives the world wide web the flaw of being a massive non-peer reviewed den of misinformation.  The vast majority of law enforcement writers speak the truth as they understand it and represent themselves honestly but what I hope this little essay will do is remind you to follow up when in doubt and stay current on the research and information pertinent to our profession. 

Even scientific truths change such as Omega 3’s and your heart; so when someone tells you an ‘absolute’ be very, very doubtful.  Stay safe and keep sending me those links!

 

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