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14 September, 2008 - Use Technology Wisely

There is absolutely no question in my mind that the internet, cyber- space, or whatever you choose to call it, has enriched our lives greatly; making knowledge and information available in an instant, at the touch of a keypad. We use it everyday; we depend on it every day and I’m certainly not going to be critical of the technology.

I am however going to be critical of the users of the technology, because we still have some lessons to learn. For example, if you think there is any privacy involved with anything you put on the internet, you are naive; and if you think that everything you read on the internet is the absolute truth, you are really naive.

We need to learn from lessons involving the internet, like the one that occurred a few days ago when, somehow, on a newspaper website, a six-year-old story detailing the filing in 2002 of bankruptcy by UAL, the parent of United Airlines, appeared with a current date. It was immediately picked up by somebody in the financial world and before you could turn around, the stock of UAL had dropped from $12 a share to $3 a share because people saw the story and thought, “my golly, they have filed for bankruptcy again”. They had to suspend trading on UAL stock for 90-minutes before United was able to make a statement calling the story totally untrue and demanding a retraction from the newspaper.

While someone had the responsibility of allowing it to first appear on the website, a big mistake; where was the backup check? That being said, however, the next checkpoint comes down to you and me, the internet consumers. Since there had been no speculation on a United bankruptcy anywhere in the news, why would anyone in the financial world react without going to other sources to double-check the story before starting to sell United stock? It was a costly mistake for many United stockholders and there is little doubt that lawsuits will be filed.

Coming back to my point that something is true because somebody (anonymous) puts it on the internet; that is extremely dangerous. I spend very little time visiting blog websites because every time I do it scares me to death, especially in an election year. Just glancing at some of the blogs and the mis-information they contain, but are accepted by some readers as fact, I worry about the impact they will have in determining our next President.

As a journalist, I check every story I find on the internet and then I double-check to make certain it is accurate before I use it on my program. That is the responsibility I have to my audience and I think that is a responsibility all of us, who are users of the internet, must practice on a daily basis. I hope the lesson has been learned.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.