According to a popular post on social media this week, the Powerball jackpot carried the potential to eliminate poverty in the United States.
“$1.2 billion dollars divided by 300 million people = $4 million per person,” said the post.
With bold letters, the social media message found itself being shared around the world. Thousands and thousands of people read and circulated the post – seemingly perpetuating a ‘feel good’ moment of perceived clarity.
Problem is, the math was wrong. The actual distribution would be $4 before taxes – roughly what I’d dropped at the local coffee shop earlier that day.
As a matter of fact, when I strolled into my local grocery store on Wednesday to purchase my entry, the clerk repeated the very same sentence nearly verbatim. I smiled politely, choosing not to rain on her excitement, and chalked up yet another victory for the increasing deterioration of media credibility.
While I consider it important to declare I am a member of the media, I also am a citizen of the world. The credibility of information is critical to each of us making informed decisions. My reliance on accurate information can even influences my decisions on where to eat lunch or which ice cream purchase in the frozen food aisle.
Once upon a time the world of media consumption was rather limited in scope. Three television channels, a daily newspaper or two, and a couple radio stations on the dial. But in reality, there were multiple levels on internal standards in which content was filtered to ensure information was vetted. Getting it right was more important than being first.
But in today’s world, broadly speaking, the standards are increasingly fluid – impacted by the economics of capturing eyeballs as quickly as possible and the dilution of what actually qualifies as news or valuable information. The digital age may very well be ushering in an age of marginal content.
Maybe President Abraham Lincoln said it best when he proclaimed, “half the information in the Internet is false; the hard part if figuring out which half it is.”*
The other day a friend shared an image of two groups of people staring into their hands. The black and white photo was taken outside a train station in the 1940’s; the second could’ve been taken snapped this morning. In the first, people are reading newspapers; in the second they are engrossed in the tiny screens of their phones.
It does not take too much of a leap to imagine the difference in quality of content being digested by those in each photos. In the first, descriptions of troop movement across the European theater might be reported. In the second photo, the readers might very well be updating their status or finding out another star (or starlet) is grabbing attention through mindless antics.
I’d never be one to say we should expect to blindly trust the validity of content pushed out by media, but checking our work (or math) would be a good start
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* source: popular social media meme.