Information Infestation

The twentieth anniversary of the Columbine school shooting will occur in a few days, and today I stumbled across an interesting series of essays on the incident’s aftermath from Denver-based 5280 magazine. Among those essays were two pieces of information I have known for years about the killers:

  • They were members of a brooding clique of social outcasts at the school known as the Trench Coat Mafia
  • They had created levels in the game Doom
  • What I didn’t know until today was that both of these items are pure bullshit. In the days after the massacre, these were among the many rumors that journalists scavanged from the ruins of the community’s shattered psyche, and they did as they were trained — run with the story, and get the scoop on your rivals.
  • Then ask questions.
  • And if the answers you get suggest your scoop may have relied on a falsehood… the falsehood you reported becomes urban legend despite numerous updates and corrections… your emphasis on the sensational and salacious inspires copy-cat atrocities…
  • Well, you were just doing your job.
  • Maybe I shouldn’t care so much about two trivial details of this horrific event. And yes, shame on me for not conducting the five minutes of Internet research that would have disproven these myths. But I can’t help thinking that information has become a disease, an infestation of deception that has crippled our ability to think critically. A little learning may be a dangerous thing, but the way out of our predicament is not through more learning, but better discerning — sorting fact from rumor, no matter how appealing the fiction may be.
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