A lesson for consumers of information

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted Oct. 08, 2011, at 1:16 p.m.

“Author, author!”

Ah, the adoration of admiring readers … the real reason ink-stained wretches everywhere got into the writing business in the first place.

Well, maybe it was the vast riches that await the wordsmiths who toil at their keyboards … no, that’s certainly not it. OK, it’s a calling, a profession, a trade; whatever the term, it’s what the folks at this newspaper do, probably because they must, rather than simply because they can.

Harder to figure may be the driving forces behind the millions who used to be only consumers of news, who now feel called upon to help write it. The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to be published. And the vast majority may have gone public without having been warned that, once it’s out there, it never goes away.

This column is aimed at those consumers of information who also practice its dissemination. Many of you may have your own blog or social networking apparatus.

The message is two-fold: don’t believe anything you read unless you wrote it; and don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your mother to read.

Much of the Internet is like magic; seeing is not believing. Delivery of information in a fraction of a second does not guarantee its validity. As in the flesh-and-blood marketplace, on the Web you must do your own research to make sure “what you got is what you bought.”

Our first case study on that score comes from Northeast CONTACT’s blog. It’s information-based, rather than a chat forum; but people are welcome to send comments.

We moderate, meaning we control what goes up on the Web.

We post these “Consumer Forum” columns, and they attract all kinds of comments, from near and far. One offer that caught our attention read, “I‘ll feel myself very lucky to be your guest writer and produce informative and sticky content for your site.” It’s not clear if English was the writer’s first language, but it seemed that whatever was sent, we’d be stuck with.

The author purported to be a financial writer and urged us to email our acceptance. A Web search of the above intriguing quote yielded about 570 identical offers, to write for various websites and blogs, all for free. We determined that, rather than having way too much time on his or her hands, the writer may have been up to something else; we declined to respond.

The second lesson was cited in a recent Portland Press Herald story. What appeared to be the Facebook and Twitter accounts of a chef in southern Maine were found to be hoaxes. The creator stole a copyrighted photo of the chef and wrote a blistering rant about a restaurant. Both the chef and the people at the restaurant were horrified when the truth came out.

Clearly the moral is protect your private information as best you can. Also, if you engage in social networking, monitor what’s being said about you and those you love. The operators of those social networks have varying degrees of responsiveness when problems arise.

Visit Snopes.com or other ‘myth-buster’ websites to root out urban legends. Visit www.facecrooks.com to learn more about social networking problems. And be cautious about what you write; if you know it’s not true and it’s malicious, you could face a lawsuit.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to necontact.wordpress.com, or email contacexdir@live.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/08/business/consumers-of-information/ printed on April 24, 2014