It was a blood-boiler of a story, a menacing tale of government gone too far: The Environmental Protection Agency was spying on Midwestern farmers with the same aerial “drones” used to kill terrorists overseas.
This month, the idea has been repeated in TV segments, on multiple blogs and by at least four congressmen. The only trouble is, it isn’t true.
It was never true. The EPA isn’t using drone aircraft — in the Midwest or anywhere else.
The hubbub over nonexistent drones provides a look at something hard to capture in American politics: the vibrant, almost viral, life cycle of a falsehood. This one seems to have been born less than three weeks ago, in tweets and blog posts that twisted the details of a real news story about EPA inspectors flying in small planes.
Tip:@deborahblum on Twitter
The false story was spread via social media and certain TV shows that enhanced it even when making fun of it. One false rumor to start the ball rolling and it took on a life of its own.
The EPA does do aerial inspections to look for environmental violations, that’s nothing new. But it isn’t spying.
This story reflects some pathological habits in American society – the government is not to be trusted, it does not respect citizens rights, I have a right to privacy on my own land, if a story is in the media and I like it, it must be true and I’m going to tell everyone. Our conspiracy tendencies and failure to critically evaluate a story hurt us because of the promotion of distrust. People assume the worst, become outraged, question the government, and then authorities must take valuable staff time and resources to address nonsense based ONLY in rumor. That’s sad and it’s very BAD for the country. Seems like it’s getting worse by the day.