Fighting the Internet Rumor Mill

The Washington Post told the story last week of Finlanday, Ohio – a small town where voters have based their visions of Barack Obama on mostly untrue rumors flying around the internet. The Post describes how many residents have been given two very different images of the Senator. They hear of him on the news and from campaign volunteers as a person “born in Hawaii, [who] is a Christian family man with a track record of public service.” But his identity according to some Finlanday residents is that Obama was “born in Africa, [and] is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

This is the downside of this “Information Age” we are now living for. Sure, it affords us incredibly important abilities to find the truth – we can, for instance, track down every single vote Barack Obama made in the Illinois Legislature and the US Senate. But the downside to having millions of sources of information online is that the blog spreading blatantly untrue stories about Senator Obama is given the same weight, in some people’s eyes, as the politics page of the New York Times. And because it is so easy to plug these “facts” into the internet, fighting those rumors can be a nearly impossible job.

What the Obama campaign needs to combat these rumors is not just a way to stop false accusations of its candidate. We used to have newspapers and television to do that: the reputable sources were well-established enough to be the trusted sources, and anyone else who tried to report and didn’t have the network’s stamp of approval wouldn’t be taken seriously. But the internet has leveled the playing field. Anyone can post anything they want, and it will be on the same platform as some of the highly-produced and fact-checked research from trusted news sources. What the Obama campaign – and all of us – need is a way to separate the reliable reporting from the unreliable, which might not be possible.

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