United we fall: Dr. Dao and unsubstantiated “facts”

Here’s the thing. The Internet is a gigantic flood of information with outlets and individuals vying for your attention to click on their sites over others. Those “interesting” stories, true or not, get shared, propagating some real wing-ding falsehoods.

Wednesday (yesterday), when social media outrage over the United Airlines “re-accommodation” situation was going full bore, a local news outlet in Kentucky, home of the passenger who was assaulted, Dr. David Dao, revealed ethics violations and a criminal past related to the identified doctor. The Louisville Courier Journal received scathing criticism for it – whatever his past, by no means did it justify his treatment by the security men who forcibly ejected him from his seat. I won’t repeat the charges here because I also feel they have no place in this narrative. The choice by the Courier Journal to focus on this information slanted coverage of the story to suggest that Dr. Dao could share blame for this incident. Many large outlets repeated these reputation-tarnishing charges.

Shortly after, a rumor sprang up on social media that the charges cited were not for THIS Dr. Dao but a different one, leading some of us to wonder how big a settlement Dr. Dao would get for his ill treatment from United AND from the various news outlets for slander. Well, that was false. It was the same doctor. The LA Times reports:

The origin of the rumor appears to stem from a bit of sloppy Googling by users of a crowd-sourced site called Everipedia, which published erroneous information that then spread across social media and was taken as fact. The site describes itself as “the encyclopedia of everything,” and it functions similarly to Wikipedia, where users contribute the content.

As Dao’s name first began to circulate publicly, users of Everipedia created a page for Dao that identified him as David Thanh Duc Dao, “an American physician based in New Orleans, Louisiana.” To support this identification, users cited links to generic Internet sites that listed the full name of a David Dao who was a doctor in Louisiana — the wrong David Dao.

The story was picked up by The Independent in the UK. When I tried to follow the trail, I didn’t find much to go on and was not convinced that the wrong Dao was actually cited. So, I waited it out. Today, we find out that it all fell apart. We were led into a confusing spiral of rumors, opinions, and unconfirmed facts from very start of this violent deplaning episode starting with use of the term “overbooking”.

Now is a REAL good time to remind people of the On The Media Breaking News consumer handbook. Rule #1: In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong. #7 is my key rule: Compare multiple sources.

Beware. Don’t just share. Only YOU can stop the spread of misinformation. Stop reflexive sharing.

This image garnered some big laughs. But it’s fake. https://www.buzzfeed.com/janelytvynenko/no-drop-just-drag

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