In a memorable scene near the end of the old film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Jimmy Stewart’s character, while telling his life story to a reporter, comes clean regarding a lie, which launched the character’s fame.
In response to this confession, the reporter opted to protect the lie, saying, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
There’s a lot of “printing the legend” on social media these days, and the Golden Triangle is not immune.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve recently heard about the young lady “nearly kidnapped” at a grocery store. She allegedly sprayed the assailant with mace while in the store, and he fled. We checked with city police on that. No report was filed. No call to police about the incident was made.
You may also have heard this week that Mississippi State’s basketball teams could have to play home games at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo this season since Humphrey Coliseum is structurally unsound. Balderdash! It was a rumor the university athletic department — which we’re sure had better things to do — had to quash to inquiring reporters.
Sometimes these rumors are well intended even when they start. Sometimes they are the result of a real-world game of telephone. Often the people who share them are also well intentioned, looking to use the technology at their fingertips to quickly broadcast information people will find interesting, concerning or useful.
The problem is the ease and speed with which these false narratives are accepted as fact without taking any pains to confirm them through credible sources.
Others, to their credit, shared the information more responsibly, seeking to confirm the rumors. We received half a dozen calls and texts drawing our attention to the grocery store rumor and asking us to look into it, while others made sure we had seen the Hump hubbub. We always appreciate that and will follow up.
As you scroll through social media, we encourage you to determine the legitimacy of such claims. Start by considering the source and the details of the information. Are they posting anonymously or using their actual name? Did they directly experience what they are describing? Do they know the names of the people involved? Are there more credible sources you can check on social media to verify? These are some methods our reporters use when verifying claims.
At the bare minimum, when it comes to what we see on social media, we should follow the advice offered in a quote from another actor — although this one went on to bigger and better things.
“Trust, but verify.”
For newspapers, though, we try to verify, then trust. It takes a little longer than just hitting the “share” or “like” button — and often isn’t as good as legend — but we think there’s value in a slower form of news.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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