When info goes bad…

Hey, amigas y amigos–

In this age of info immediacy, we’re used to just slamming stuff onto the web and going with it. We cut and paste, we disseminate, we make things go viral. But sometimes, the information we’re disseminating isn’t always correct.

I’m reminded of a game my elementary school classmates and I would play called “Telephone.” Usually, this was a game that a teacher implemented to demonstrate how information can be distorted and why it’s important to listen and pay attention. This was before household computers, folks. Before the interwebs.

So read on to find out why the hell I’m telling you this.

Here’s how the telephone game works: a bunch of us would get in a circle. Usually ten or more kids. The teacher would write something down on a piece of paper and hand it to the designated fulcrum of the circle. Usually it was just a basic sentence, like “I’m going out of town and I have to leave my dog with friends.” Something like that. The fulcrum kid read what was on the paper silently, and didn’t tell anyone what was written on it. Then he or she would whisper what was on the paper into the kid’s ear to his or her right. Didn’t matter which way you started the info dissemination, you just had to make sure it went in one direction. That kid then whispered what he or she had heard the fulcrum kid say into the kid’s ear next to him or her. And so it went until the info got back to the fulcrum kid. The last kid to receive the info would then announce what the info was. And 99.9 percent of the time, the info had so changed that it was nearly unrecognizable from the original.

Point being, it’s WAY EASY to distort info unintentionally. It’s WAY EASY to disseminate incorrect info, with or without the interwebs. And it’s WAY easy to get caught up in situations based on assumptions and misinformation and run with them.

Two more recent examples. Running Press was recently hit with accusations that they’re homophobic and intolerant because a freelance editor in the UK told an author whose story was scheduled to appear in an anthology that the author would have to change the main characters in the story to heterosexual. The characters were gay men. The editor said this because she was under the impression that because the anthology was considered YA (young adult), “alternative lifestyles” could not be included. That was an incorrect assumption, and the editor, rather than checking with the US offices of the press, ended up alienating a lot of authors, one of whom not only withdrew her story but posted on her own blog about the incident, which slammed Running Press with a lot of bad publicity.

Christopher Navratil, the publisher at Running Press, is an openly gay man and attempted to correct the situation, pointing out that no, the editor in the UK had been wrong. Sadly, the author who had posted the blog still refused to participate in the anthology.

Moral of THAT story: If you’re an author whose story is slated to be published in an anthology and you’re told something like that by a freelance editor, go directly to the publisher first and find out what the deal is. Don’t run with what one person says. Go to the source. In this case, the editor claimed that was the press’ directive. Don’t take her word for it. Go right to the press and ask. And if you’re a publisher, make sure you’re clear about all your guidelines to everyone you work with.

Second story: In the wake of the recent shooting death of Osama bin Laden, a quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. started circulating in the blogosphere and Facebook-o-sphere. Problem is, King never said what the quote purported he said. Oh, he said something like it. But apparently what happened is someone posted it on Facebook along with something she personally wrote, but like in the telephone game, quotation marks got moved and eventually it was something it wasn’t supposed to be. Here’s the Washington Post on the mutation of that King quote.

Moral of THAT story: it was a nice quote, which made us feel better, perhaps. But it was incorrect and it went viral. And in the great scheme of things, it didn’t hurt anybody. But it’s incorrect information. So check things before you cite them/quote them. It’s pretty easy to Google quotes and find out if they’re correct or not. Do not believe everything you read on the interwebs and help disseminate factual info rather than half-truths, whether they’re harmful or not. That’s how we develop standards, friends, and sometimes, those are good things to have. The devil, as they say, is often in the details.

Happy reading, happy writing, and happy interwebbing!

2 thoughts on “When info goes bad…

  1. I often think of this telephone game in reference to religion. Knowing how quickly information gets rearranged, it’s mind boggling to me that people accept 2000 year old stories as infallible. It’s really pretty silly when you think of it that way. I wonder if teachers still use this game to teach?

    • Hey, Rachel! I don’t know–I think it would be a good exercise, though, to use “Telephone” to demonstrate just how easy it is to get things wrong. Thanks for stopping by!

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