Mark Twain’s remark that a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on has just been perfectly illustrated in a threaded email exchange between a group of residents in my part of town.
It began with a post by someone who had returned home to see three police cars and several oficers – some fully armed (which is unusual here) – at the nearby village hall.
That report was followed by someone else who said they had heard three gunshots coming from the direction of a builder’s merchant and two more were heard a couple of minutes later.
The concerned resident states: “I was going to call the police but just thought “no”, it can’t be gunshots in this area. More information please. Very disturbing.”
How very British! Gunshots. Draw the curtains, dear.
…but I digress.
It turns out the gunshots were fireworks, though the armed officers were obliged to turn out and treat it as a genuine firearms incident.
Sadly we have no equivalent of the West Seattle Blog in this part of town, but I’m sure they would have made a better fist of it.
I checked our local newspaper site and they just weren’t at the races. Not a word. Nothing.
Nor did police web resources have anything useful to say.
What this example does illustrate is that in a world of instant messages and email the rumour mill will quickly fill any gaps in knowledge with flimsy fragments of half-truth, supposition and nonsense.
In times of social unrest or racial tension such a vacuum can have dire consequences.
Happily, on this occasion, no harm was caused.