Today is the day when we're supposedly given license to try and "pull one over" on each other. Taken in the right context, it can be fun to pull somebody else's chain on occasion. Heaven knows that there are days I view the world as my personal plaything, and as such, I enjoy the opportunity to pull a fast one. However, both victim and perpetrator alike quickly know the nature of the beast, and the misinformation is called for what it is.
There are times when it can be fun to do this, especially when you're a dad. When driving to my in-laws, my daughter asked what the Mississippi was as we were driving across the mighty river. I informed her that it was the wife of her sippy cup (Mrs. Sippy). When we were at the zoo and she saw the dolphins on the monitors overhead and asked why those dolphins were on TV, I simply replied that their "big screen career didn't pan out." Of course, those are the moments when pain is inflicted from my better half, so I'm slowly learning.
But what about the more nefarious type of misinformation? What happens when somebody deliberately sets out to mislead you? How can you tell whether the information you're being told is honest and reliable? Recently, Drew McClellan asked a great "what if" question on his blog. On the blogosphere, there's no honesty filter. Unfortunately, that applies across the board to all other kinds of communication as well. The more snake-like office politicians rely heavily on misinformation. We have to rely on some other things to help ourselves hone our BS-o-meter (3 C's and 3 M's):
- Consistency - Is the message consistent with what you know to be true, or with other trusted sources of information?
- Character - Is the person sharing the message known for his or her character? Would he or she knowingly lie about a topic?
- Channel - How is the message being shared? I've found that there's a direct correlation between the integrity of the message and the openness of the channel. Misinformation tends to travel more by word of mouth, and it tends to rely more heavily on one-on-one communication.
- Malice - Is the information being shared meant to hurt somebody? A lot of misinformation is shared on purpose out of emotional spite.
- Motive - Is the information consistent with the intent behind it. Ask yourself (and then ask the source): "Why is this information being shared with me?"
- Message - What is the basic content of the message? How outlandish or realistic is it? Does it make you cringe to hear it?
Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon had an interesting blog post recently. While I don't agree with her general political and social views on the topic, I'm able to be objective enough to see that she stated a very profound truth about the dangers of lying and misinformation which can be applied to either side of an emotionally charged issue:
The great insight from 1984 was how the routine nature of misinformation stripped people of their free will. If you step back and think about it, it makes perfect sense. Choices are never made in a vaccum. People draw on what they know and then make their choices accordingly. If what they “know” has been deliberately skewed by lies, then that will change the choices. Lying is almost always an attempt to coerce someone else’s choices by manipulating their knowledge base.
So, while we're playing our games with each other today, let's keep the bigger picture in mind. We all have to go back to work tomorrow, and that's where the real games occur. We probably need to figure out how to manage office politics better by managing the information flow.