Before sharing opinions, get the facts
February 26, 2013
Now more than ever, information spreads lightning fast. It takes nothing more than engaging a few thumb muscles and suddenly you can inform thousands of people of anything. Or, as is often the case, misinform them.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit and dozens of other social-media sites give us the ability to instantly share what our kids are doing, milestones in our lives, pictures of our dogs, recipes and, most importantly, our opinions on important matters.
The problem is, our opinions are sometimes based on our ignorance, and then shared as fact with other well-meaning but totally uninformed people. As great as social media are, I really believe they’re the reason we’re so polarized and hostile politically. Anyone can put anything out there and some sucker is going to believe it and share it with others. (Which, I think, is the Fox News business model.)
For example, I recently saw a Facebook post from someone that said, "Obama is going to take your guns! I mean it! Enjoy them while you can because he is determined to destroy America! He said it in a media interview with CNN today. Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof: http://www.cnn.com/obamademandsguncontrol1487.wvm."
Curious, I clicked on the link. Spoiler alert: There is no such link. But minutes after my friend had posted the fictitious bit, it was shared by a dozen or so of his paranoid lemmings on their Facebook pages. They all claimed outrage at this interview, hailed it as proof their fears were justified, and never bothered to make sure it was actually legit. (Another spoiler alert: Obama is not coming to your house to take your hunting rifle.)
The same thing recently happened to actor Morgan Freeman. A quote about the Sandy Hook shooting was falsely attributed to him. Someone grabbed a photo of Mr. Freeman off the Internet, put some words that he didn’t say on it, and it went viral.
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But politicians and celebrities certainly aren’t alone. Even Park City law enforcement is subject of social-media fabrications.
I learned of last week’s high-speed police chase first on Facebook from various eyewitness friends who claimed things like:
"I just saw about 30 police chasing a guy down Main Street at 150 miles an hour!"
"The bad guy is getting away! Because the cops are too busy pulling people over on 224 for nothing!"
"These guys are like the Keystone cops! The guy is using his blinker and doing U-turns and they still can’t catch him."
OK, couple of things. The chase never happened on Main Street. Even if it had, 150 mph? The bad guy was driving a Nissan, not a Ferrari. No officer was saying, "License and registration please" on S.R. 224 during all of this. And no one leads the police on a high-speed chase and indicates which way he’s turning.
But, of course, people believed it. They even reposted it and, by the time the story (with all the available facts) ran in the newspaper, there was a social-media outcry. People demanded to know why a helicopter wasn’t used, with one person even commenting, "Our tax dollars and money from all the needless tickets goes to the police helicopters in town. Why wasn’t one used?!"
Because we don’t actually have police helicopters here. (You’re confusing us with L.A.)
And considering a police helicopter costs about $3 million fully equipped, and about $300 an hour to fly, I’m not terribly sure where you’re parking, but pretty sure you’re going to need to acquire a few more tickets to pay for one.
According to Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, calling in a helicopter isn’t always realistic, especially when time is of the essence. "Utah Highway Patrol has the only helicopter in the area. Realistically, it takes about an hour to get a chopper in the air. There just wasn’t time," he explained to me.
And, of course, there’s also the safety factor. It’s pretty obvious the guy wasn’t fleeing because he had a car full of puppies. He is a criminal, and by his actions, he had no concern for the other drivers or pedestrians on the road. He recklessly swerved in and out of oncoming traffic. He could have killed an innocent bystander. How well, in hindsight, would a headline like: "Five Children Orphaned Due to Police Chase" gone over in the social media?
There would have been screams that public safety comes first. There would have been news stories featuring the crying, parentless children. Calls for donations from the public, and demands for the officers involved to step down and new policies to be written to ensure it never happened again. It would have been much, much worse than the guy getting away.
As for all those claims that police officers harass drivers on 224, I can only speak for myself, but I have never experienced anything like that. In my decade of living here, I’ve only found Park City officers to be helpful, respectful and professional. They’ve helped me change a flat tire, find my dog, and recently left a note on my front door reminding me to keep my garage door closed at night to prevent crime. I later found out that the officer drove by my house several times as I slumbered to ensure no one helped themselves to anything in my garage, which I had accidentally left open.
Which makes me wonder if the idea that police have a goal to hassle us is just another piece of misinformation rooted in a false social-media post. Perhaps we would all do well to get the facts before sharing our opinions.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley. If you have a story idea, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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