One irritant regarding the Internet is its vulnerability to the spread of misinformation over a wide area - like globally - in a heartbeat. Defenders will argue that the Internet also makes it far easier to correct a mistake, though let's face it, the damage is undone far more slowly than it was done in the first place.

One irritant regarding the Internet is its vulnerability to the spread of misinformation over a wide area - like globally - in a heartbeat. Defenders will argue that the Internet also makes it far easier to correct a mistake, though let's face it, the damage is undone far more slowly than it was done in the first place.


In helps explain the birther and Obama's-a-Muslim insanity that continues to linger.


The latest appeared recently in an online response to an editorial on the Journal Star's website - "The dilemma of dueling deficits, dueling parties" - though it has popped up in publications across the country. It reads: "In a bid to stem taxpayer losses for bad loans guaranteed by federal housing agencies Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) proposed that borrowers be required to make a minimum 5% down payment in order to qualify. His proposal was rejected 57-42 on a party-line vote because, as Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn) explained, 'passage of such a requirement would restrict home ownership to only those who can afford it.'"


Sounds outrageous that a U.S. senator would say any such thing, that he would advocate for people to own homes with a high risk of default, right? Ah, but if it fits your preconceived notion of Dodd, well, you don't even question it, just send it along, cut and paste.


Problem is, Dodd never said any such thing (it's true he didn't support Corker's amendment, which addressed many other issues besides the 5-percent-down rule, with which we have no quarrel). That didn't stop Forbes.com, among others, from running with it on one of its blogs in a piece that began, "Some quotes are too good to ignore ... ." So they are. Forbes has since issued a retraction and correction after FactCheck.org brought the error to the author's attention in early June. Reportedly the quote was the brainchild of satirist John Semmens, who writes for "The Arizona Conservative Blog." Making up things is part of his shtick, which is fine as long as it's labeled satire. Unfortunately, some folks don't get it.


Among them, apparently, would be "Khalid," who peddled this piece of fiction locally, naturally to a standing online ovation from the like-minded. At this writing, no one else had challenged or corrected it. Hey, if it sounds accurate - TV satirist Stephen Colbert would call this "truthiness," as in close enough to claim it as fact - and it fits your bias, why bother to check it out? It's an affliction of right and left alike. Funny thing is, if we're reading regular contributor Khalid's ideological inclinations correctly, he or she would be a big believer in accountability. We'd hope that doesn't mean accountability just for others, with no compulsion to practice it personally. Being effectively anonymous doesn't give you a license to be reckless, does it?


Then again, maybe we should give Khalid the benefit of the doubt, an attitude in mighty short supply these days. Maybe he or she just didn't know the quote was false. Humans are guilty of being unforgivably human; none of us is perfect, with limitations on our time and perspective, and it's all too easy to get fooled. Dodd is retiring, and he's used to being a target, so he may be beyond caring at this point. But this kind of sin - of seeing only what we want to see, hearing only what we want to hear - has become so common that ... well, let's just say some errors are more willful than others. Once out, it's hard to put that genie back in the bottle.


Alas, "I believe it, therefore it's so," is the calling card of this era. There's a danger to that, of course. First and foremost, Americans are entitled to their opinions, but it's hard to have a healthy democracy if its primary practioners are operating on bad information, if facts are a malleable commodity. Second, the contagion tends to spread, even to people who have been in positions of influence and should know better - the most notable example of late being former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is mulling a bid for the presidency, heaven help us. Finally, it so poisons the environment that good people opt out - of voting, of running for office themselves. Who needs it?


The Internet can be a wonderful thing - liberating, leveling the playing field. Its misuse arguably also has contributed to the anger and cynicism that infect the landscape today. Is it too much to ask that it be used more responsibly, or at least that the attempt be made?


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.