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Saturday, June 4, 2011

It MUST be true, I read it on the Internet!

Twenty-five years ago, I was eating some shelled peanuts and I wondered, “How do they get the shells off all those peanuts?”. So I wrote a letter to the famous nut company, asking them my burning question. A month later, I received a response: “We have a machine for that.”

Today I asked the same question on Google. The following answer was the first item on the Google search page, and it came from Yahoo answers:

Peanuts to be shelled are placed in slotted drums containing screens of different sizes. Rotating peanuts rub against each other until the shells are opened and the kernels fall out. The kernels are sized on screens that permit the smaller kernels to fall through. The shelled peanuts are cleaned again to remove foreign materials. This is done with density separators, electronic color sorters and by visual inspection to ensure that only the best peanuts reach the market. The peanut kernels are then sized, graded and bagged for market. “

This information was handed to me in less time than it took to blink my eyes. We are truly living in an amazing time, when all the information you would want is right at your fingertips!

How easy was that??

But...I could go on my blog right now and write an article that says peanut shells fall off in bulk on the second Thursday after the quarter moon, when placed at the top of a hill where the grass has been trimmed by six sheep who were born in the month of April.

And that could show up in your search results when you look for answers. The truth is, with all the information that is out there on the web, not all of it is true. In addition, just because it is repeated by the same person on five different sites doesn't mean you've heard it five times. It is amazingly easy to put wrong, or just mistaken, information on the web – and to repeat it numerous times.

When you are searching for an answer, don't take the first answer you see. Read several search results and, in addition to seeing several answers that agree, pick an answer given by a site or authority you trust. When dealing with rumors or virus scares, the website www.snopes.com is a reliable authority (but look it up yourself, don't accept “scare” rumors that say they've already looked it up).

The same goes for rumors. It is incredibly easy to spread rumors – good or bad – by way of the internet. This can do unending damage to a politician or private person, as the Internet allows critics to perpetuate even discredited charges. Some critics will say something just because they can, to stir the pot. And many readers will not go past an attention-getting headline (which may have nothing to do with the article, or seems to give the opposite conclusion from the actual content).

The moral of the story? Be careful of what information you accept as gospel on the web. Yes, a miraculous world of information is accessible to us. But it's not all true.


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