When something bad or sad happens, word spreads like wildfire. Technology has only made that wildfire spread even faster. With email, Facebook, smartphones, you name it… if a celebrity dies, does something criminal or a favorite sports player has retired or been traded (to the rival team!), it can be a matter of minutes before anyone who wants to know… well, knows.
And when a story of child being approached and picked up by a stranger in your favorite playground comes to you in an email, you do not hesitate to react. After all, with 100+ email addresses at my fingertips, it would be easy and yes, even my duty, to warn as many of my neighbors and local friends as quickly as possible.
Except if the story doesn’t sound right the minute I’m done reading it.
When other copies of the story get emailed to me in a matter of an hour, I’m rattled. My brain is telling me that something isn’t right about the story yet so many people are clearly concerned about it, worried enough to sound the alarm to everyone they know, so why am I holding back?
Because there’s enough in the story to make me pause and try to confirm or debunk the story before I send it to anyone else. So I start calling and emailing (separately) people that I know who could shed light on what happened.
After some phone calls, a few separate emails and some monitoring of the police department’s Facebook page, it turns out that the story is not true. No one knows why the story was created in the first place but it’s no surprise that it spread around as quickly as it did. It’s our nature, whether human or social, to warn our community of any danger. We use the tools we have handy, and we do it quickly, urgently, and with good intentions.
Better safe than sorry, we say. And, while this is true, it is also discouraging that the truth doesn’t often get as much, or any, attention at all. In the case of an attempted abduction at a local playground, none of the papers have cleared it up nor has the police department issued an updated statement.
No one’s reputation is directly hurt by the false story but some damage has been done nonetheless. Some people who think the story is true may likely stay clear of the park and playground. That’s a shame and an unnecessary result of a story that should never have been spread.
One silver lining to be found in this particular phenomenon is that that, if such an incident had truly taken place, we know now that the town can respond quickly. “Word of Mouth” is no longer limited to a face to face discussion or a phone call. Technology has expanded ‘Mouth’ to be so much more.
Yet even that good news isn’t in the local paper or clogging my email’s inbox. That’s a shame, too.