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Online Gossip: Push It Back

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Yesterday I received yet another of those 'big lettered' alarms about how appalled someone or another is about some left-wing motivated travesty against America, our troops and/or God. This one was about how the words "So Help Me God" were intentionally deleted from Roosevelt's 'Day of Infamy' inscription on his Memorial in Washington D.C. About 30 seconds on Google and the facts are that this "eRumor" is just plain wrong. I sent the facts upstream to the long mailing list shown in the email forwarded to me. Somehow I doubt it will be passed on as eagerly as the original message was passed on to me.

This type of activity has been going on for a long time. In all fairness, there are 'cheap shots' and inaccurate reports from both sides of the political and religious spectrum. But at the end of the day, these sorts of irresponsible, inaccurate claims are just plain gossip and are destructive. It's unknown whether this is due to just ignorance (like the kind of 'Red Menace' hysteria propagated during the McCarthy era in the USA) or deliberate misinformation motivated by some Machiavellian cabal intent on dividing and conquering. What is known is that, as a nation and as a people, we are becoming increasingly fragmented and polarized as a culture and as a society.

The "American Way" or the "American Dream" or what it means to 'be' an American is as much a statement of who we are as a culture as it is about philosophy or ideology. One way of understanding culture is as a big conversation about 'the way it is'. When enough people buy into a particular interpretation of 'the way it is', then that is the way it is for all intents and purposes. The 'reality' and the 'story' become the same: they form an unexamined web of assumptions that inform and shape our choices, our relationships and what is and is not possible. In the past, if people dissented or trafficked in conspiracy theories, gossip and propaganda not too much damage was done. The majority of the larger population was unaware, unconcerned or unaffected by the gossip and idle commentary.

Today, however, we are all connected in through the Internet with multiple networks. What starts as a shared point of view between two people who know each other becomes broadcast to millions as not merely as opinion, but as fact--as 'the way it is'. The Roosevelt eRumor came to me from members in my own family. Politically, we are not on the same train and have learned to avoid political discussion as it usually results in either shouting or our suppressing our points of view altogether to keep peace in the family. This sort of 'rapprochement' (while a compromise) can work and may even be a step toward building bridges of understanding and discourse, but it is difficult to sustain when being constantly assaulted by the deluge of 'eGossip', 'eRumors' and 'eBullshit' that we're all confronted with on a daily basis.

We know that gossip can kill relationships. It can kill a corporate culture. And it is killing the American culture. My proposal would be for everyone to stop 'passing it on'--regardless of our views or politics--and to start 'passing it back'. If someone has a point of view or a stake in an issue, then go upstream to find out the facts. Maybe if enough of us are fed up with this noise on the Internet, our "Pass it Back" campaign could take off and put an end to this destructive sharing.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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