Do You Believe Everything You Read? Be Careful Out There

President Obama ordered an investigation into General Mills’ supply chain.” Or, did he?

When I was a kid my dad used to scold me incessantly about “not believing everything you read.” I was a voracious reader (still am) and loved to share the information I learned when I read (still do). I used to get so, so angry at him for challenging the information I would so enthusiastically share. And so frustrated because if I couldn’t believe what I read, and didn’t have access to any information to dispute what I read, it put me in a pretty untenable spot.

This was, of course, before the days of Internet. I have a feeling my dad has more than a little to do with the fact that I know I can be an irritating skeptic (some might say cynic at times…) But, anyway, now that I’m older and wiser (and have access to the Internet), I have to grudgingly admit he was right.

Why has this childhood frustration suddenly come to mind?

My comments are prompted by an item I just saw about a fake news release that was sent out through PR Newswire (a pretty widely used and reputable source) falsely stating that President Obama had ordered an investigation into General Mills. The Wall St. Journal reported on this today.

Wow.

I was somewhat similarly hoodwinked a week or so ago by a rogue Twitter posting from “@BPGlobalPR.” While it only took a few seconds for me to realize it was satire, as a former corp comm person it sent shivers of fear up my spine. Not that they don’t deserve it but it just seems like it’s far too easy these days to pretend to be someone you’re not, to send inaccurate and intentionally damaging information out to millions of people and basically to mislead gullible consumers.

Social media defamation is a topic  I’m recently interested in. In talking with an attorney about the subject for an article I was writing recently, I learned that defamation is usually not that tough to prove or defend. But that assumes the person being defamed knows who’s doing it. In the wild, wild, world of the Internet that is not always – in fact, not often – the case. That’s an entirely different situation.

Have you been a victim yet? Are you taking any steps to avoid becoming a victim? What are you doing to weather the wild, wild world of the Internet?

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