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Letter to the Editor: Beware of misinformation

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Monday, April 15, 2019

I am a frequent reader of the Telegram's Letters to the Editor. I find them always interesting and enlightening because they provide an unfiltered window into the thoughts and opinions of my fellow citizens.

Over time, however, I have noticed an alarming change in their collective tone. Often now they seem to contain more emotion than reason, more anger than logic. In just a matter of days, I saw repeated use of words like idiot, lunatic, traitor and liar to describe those with whom the writers disagreed. It is clear that their passions have been inflamed to the point that understanding or tolerating different viewpoints is all but impossible. This is a real issue if we are to ever work together to build a better community.

What has caused this loss of civility and reason? I'm sure there are many factors but I believe a primary one is the proliferation of cable and social media news sources. Often, after a little digging I find that the core thoughts of an inflammatory letter have been lifted practically verbatim from one of these sources. One example is a recent letter that accused a current congresswoman of stating that an American woman, married to an ISIS fighter, was "a bigger patriot than our soldiers who died fighting the murderous savages in Syria." While I'm not a fan of this particular congresswoman, this just didn't ring true. Again with a little digging, it turns out the source of this story was a Twitter account, totally unconnected to the congresswoman, that describes itself as "parody and satire." My point is not to criticize the writer of this letter, but to point out how easily any of us can be tricked by misinformation, particularly if it fits our world view.

My caution to us all is to check our facts by consulting not only those sources that re-enforce our beliefs but also those that take a different viewpoint. There is a great article by the renowned journalist and author, Paul Glader, originally published in Forbes, that lists 10 sources of news, across the political spectrum, that have high standards for accuracy and another 18 that are close behind. Just so you know, neither Fox News nor MSNBC make either list.

T. D. Adams

Rocky Mount

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