Monday, October 2, 2017

Russian Hacking, The Internet and Professional Writing

No, I am not going to launch into politics here and start taking sides on the Russian hacking thing going on right now. But, I do want to take a look at how the latest revelations that came out this last week have to do with quality professional writing.

If you have been following the story lately, we have found out that much of the "meddling" in the election came from a disinformation campaign. It seems that the Russian government, through the use of social media simply started to shape how the US population thought about things going on in the world. Their approach was simple. Through the use of well-placed hashtags, great lines and fake accounts, information spread like wild-fire.

Now, here is the twist that I want to look at. Why it spread?

The answer is quite simple and also quite frustrating. There are a lot of people out there who believe in the power of technology and seem to think that when we see it on the Internet, it must be true.

We all remember this commercial and laughed at it...

But, the scary thing is, we continue to do this.

The reason this approach taken last year worked so well is essentially due to the over-all ignorance of the American people and their use of technology and the Internet. Yes, I fully admit I am using a hyperbole here, but this is what we are seeing. We get something and we simply "SHARE IT".

My father does this all of the time. He also has a lot of issues with computer viruses on his computer. He gets and email from someone, who has also passed the information on and immediately wants to share it. Of course, while he opened that email, he infected his computer with a virus. But, he got it from someone he trusted? Yes, but without taking the time to investigate the initial source, the "sharing" did its damage.

As someone who teaches research writing at the college level, we spend a great deal of time discussing getting quality information for our papers. We talk about doing your research and not simply relying on a "gut instinct" or even what many junior high and high school teachers taught our kids that "If it ends with an .edu or a .org,, or a .gov, then it can be trusted." The problem is that anyone can use those endings. You still have to do your research.

I am seeing a lot of the same things in the publishing community. Writers get out there on their discussion forums, their Facebook groups and even in their writing chapters and groups and simply just "share information" with each other without taking the time to really do the research and trust what they hear. 

The writing community really seems to be notorious for this type of information transfer. Someone hears news about an editor, agent or publisher decision and immediately the information begins circulating like wildfire. You get that information and immediately trust it because it came from your critique partner or your chapter president and they can always be trusted.

But where did they get it from.

When I get information like that passed on to me, I immediately go to the source. Not the one I just heard it from. I do my research.

I tell my students and writers to always question the source. This is not questioning it because we think it is flawed in some way. We are questioning to insure the authenticity and the quality of the source. 

Are you doing this? 

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