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Opinion The fun in fact checking

George HasaraLast week, a crazy news story circulated on the internet about Los Angeles County adopting new legislation that would impose $1000 fines on beach goers who tossed frisbees or footballs. I had visions of writing about the return of Baywatch star, David Hasselhoff in his new role as The Beach Nazi. Every week, his Gestapo-like tactics would snare enemies of the state who thought they had the right to have some fun in the sun.

This sounded like a great topic of ridicule for those kooky Californians. However, the story quickly was tamed by those pesky internet fact-checkers. The reported $1000 citations in the beach ordinance were for things like discharging a firearm or public nudity while footballs and frisbees only garnered a measly $100 fine and that could only incur after a warning was given. So, the $1000 frisbee fine theoretically was possible if the thrower was naked. Or, would that be a combination fine of $1100?

Following the air being let out of my punditry beach ball, hopes were quickly revived when a friend sent me a link to proposed legislation in Mississippi that would rename the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of America. Wow, fantastic fodder to poke fun at those messed up Mississippians. Not only is Mississippi rated 50th among states for literacy, they were getting set to match that statistic with their comprehension of geography as well.

Once again, the story wasn’t quite as it seemed. The bill's author, introduced the legislation as a spoof to bring attention to the antiimmigrant sentiment that he said is pervasive among his state’s lawmakers. Now, the joke could be on him if the bill is actually passed, but that's another story.

Interesting enough, the two stories above illustrate both the flaws and the the strengths of internet-based information. Mark Twain is attributed with saying, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Flawed information now travels at warp speed, but the principle is the same. However, back in the day when the printed word was only on paper, it was a difficult task for an individual to verify or falsify an account. Today, all of us can be fact checkers – if we choose to be.

Unfortunately, far too many people remain captive to confirmation bias. Whatever report, on the internet or otherwise, that supports what they want to believe is received unfiltered by any critical thought. I tend to gravitate toward websites and news stories that highlight the heavy-handedness of government. It’s a challenge to challenge my own world views by not only accepting conflicting information but actually seeking it out. That can really put a crimp in my writing style.

Well, the internet is not going to provide me with rant material this time around, so I guess I have to go old school with verifiable first-hand information for righting the wrongs of the world. My friend Larry recently paid $162 in fines, issued by the NC Highway Patrol for not wearing his seat belt. The ticket itself was a modest $25 but the shipping and handling (court cost surcharge) was a shakedown. Presumably, the punitive fine was for his own protection. Since the technology exists for recording warnings – how about one of those first? (Like the Los Angeles lifeguards do.) If Larry had been buckled he could have been tossing a frisbee to someone in the back seat without worrying about crossing paths with the law – now that’s crazy.


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