NELDON: Don’t sweep the facts under the rug

Monday evening, thousands of people learned a lesson from a household broom: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Seeing these posts online, I went into the kitchen, grabbed my broom, found an even surface, stood it on its bristles and let go, expecting it to drop. When it didn’t, I FaceTimed my mom in awe of the witchcraft I’d apparently just discovered, then called my twin to have her try it, too.

In the background, I could hear my brother-in-law laughing.

“He does this all the time,” my sister explained.

According to countless posts on social media, NASA had claimed that the trick would only be possible one day — Feb. 10, 2020 — and that it occurred because of the Earth’s special gravitational pull that day.

Like so many others, I learned that NASA had made no such claim about a special day. Brooms are built to stand on their own 365 days a year.

As we all laughed at our own gullibility (and continued to practice our new trick), we learned more than just a physics lesson; we also learned to check our sources.

With technology as advanced as it is, all it takes is an internet connection, a computer and basic knowledge of how the device works to share information with the masses.

At countless slumber parties growing up, I played the game of Telephone. Several girls would line up and the first in line would whisper a message into another girl’s ear. The second girl would turn to the third girl, hand cupped around her mouth, and quietly whisper what she heard. Others would follow suit until the last in line shared what she heard, which was inevitably nothing like what the first person shared, prompting a fit of giggles as the finale to the five-minute game.

We all learned that rumors spread and grow like wildfire through that game, but Monday night, we learned that adding internet to that equation is the equivalent of throwing gasoline on the flames.

The internet is a powerful tool. When breaking news happens, it’s a great way to spread information fast. Unfortunately, like in that game of Telephone, we can’t always trust the messenger. There is a lot of money to be made on the internet these days, and that revenue is directly tied to the amount of page views a website gets, giving huge motivation to web developers to bend the truth to make more money.

In the case of spreading news, it is important to verify that news organizations sharing the information are reputable, attributing to expert sources and sharing timely information. Check the date at the top of the article, and look back at the website’s posting history. If the article was posted recently, and the website has a history of posting headlines that don’t seem outlandish, typically you can trust the source.

Still, on social media, we tend to take everyone for their word. Some people believe every comment on every post — varying in topic from horrific tragedies to when McDonald’s begins serving Shamrock Shakes — and, as we all learned this week, we all can be guilty of it from time to time.

As you scroll through social media, watch the news and read the headlines, remember there isn’t any harm in enjoying the fun that is at your fingertips — as long as we don’t sweep the facts under the rug.