x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Social scepticism

Social media have revealed abuses and united the afflicted around the world. But that doesn't mean everything you see there is true.

Two Omani nationals were shot on Friday in Al Ain. As with every other event of public interest, local or global, the news was soon "trending" in the local social media.

But how much was fact, and how much was guesswork? By yesterday, police felt it necessary to remind everyone that rumours are only rumours. Three people have been arrested, and police continue to investigate. But various versions spreading via social media, officials suggested, range from imprecise to dead wrong.

The case reminds us of the downside to the media revolution that has, around the world, revealed so many abuses and united the oppressed.

"Information wants to be free" the modern adage runs, but another saying, attributed to the 18th century American statesman Benjamin Franklin, also applies: "Believe none of what you hear," he advised, "and half of what you see." A little scepticism, in other words, is always wise.

As sources of "information" proliferate, it becomes paradoxically harder to know what's true and what is not. One advantage of "heritage media" is their expertise in sorting out conflicting claims. And officials can always help by speedily and precisely revealing as much as possible. Still, everyone needs to be vigilant in trying to separate fact from fiction.