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EDITORIAL: Check it out first

Premier Andrew Furey takes questions Monday outside the Western Long Term Care Home in Corner Brook. Standing behind him is Dr. Ed Mercer, Western Health's regional chief of medicinal imaging. STEPHEN ROBERTS/SALTWIRE NETWORK
Premier Andrew Furey on the campaign trail Monday in Corner Brook. Standing behind him is Dr. Ed Mercer, Western Health’s regional chief of medical imaging. — SaltWire Network file photo

Provincial elections in Newfoundland and Labrador are short.

And, in the modern social media world, you can’t believe everything you see.

The connection between those two points? The election is only days old, and candidates are already dealing with both false and offensive social media reaction. And there’s very little time to correct erroneous first impressions.

This would be a bit comic if it wasn’t serious. On Jan. 15, Premier Andrew Furey was already taking to social media, to try and correct what was being said about the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team and its as-yet-unfinished report’s role in the province’s future.

“I want to address the misinformation out there about the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team’s report. Dame Moya Greene is not the premier. They are tasked with generating big ideas to reimagine government — with government making decisions,” Furey wrote.

By that time, there were already fake versions of the Liberal campaign bus making the rounds, plastered with a photoshopped picture of Dame Greene.

Some thought it a great joke. Others, apparently, believed it.

Chances are, we’re going to see many more attempts during the election to sway voters with inaccuracies. (And the thing about the Dame Moya Greene bus? It’s actually a swing at a legitimate issue. With Furey calling the election so early, voters won’t know what’s in the report until a new government is in place with what it will no doubt claim as “a clear mandate” for what comes next.)

And it’s not just false information we should all be concerned about. There’s also, sadly, the regular personal attacks being directed online against candidates, particularly against female candidates. If you think you’ve taken a pile of Facebook or Twitter abuse over a position you’ve taken publicly, talk to a few of this province’s female politicians about the sheer bile that crops up in their in-boxes. You’d be astounded.

The internet can be a great way to share information, ideas and opinions.

It can also be a repository of lazy, slapdash, careless, offensive and half-thought-out attacks — not to mention deliberately false information spread by people with axes to grind, and a handy internet right there to help sharpen their blades.

There’s nothing we, or anyone else, seem to be able to do about the problem of handing everyone their own electronic megaphone.

What we can do is to be extremely careful about our roles in spreading misinformation, falsehoods and personal abuse.

Do yourself a favour: check the sources of things before you just mindlessly like, share or pass them on as if they were accurate.

Good, accurate information gives people the tools they need to vote knowledgeably. Bad information?

Well, the old saying about automatic systems, including computers, applies nicely: “Garbage in, garbage out.”


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