We all need a healthy skepticism

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Journalists are supposed to be equipped with what’s referred to as a “healthy skepticism” to cut through the bull and get to the real story. It serves us well because newsmakers always craft stories in a way that’s advantageous to them.

That’s not unique to newsmakers, though. In the pre-social media days, only a handful of newsmakers had PR people. Now, almost everyone in America has their own personal PR machine, in the form of Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. And they use it to craft their image and/or their kids’ image, their spouse’s image and their life in whatever way they choose.

That’s all well and good, if used and viewed properly. But the problem is, too few social-media users are equipped with a journalist-like healthy skepticism. We’ve had a local school on lockdown and another on high alert in recent weeks, all because of rumors that were spread by “Facebook warrior” parents whose thumbs and brains are incapable of simultaneous engagement.

They’re the ones who are at home, ignoring their kids while they stay glued to the screen, telling everyone that they put their kids first and because of that, they’re keeping them out of school to keep them safe … suggesting that anyone who loves their kids will do the same.

Their skepticism is reserved for school officials … law enforcement … the media. But what happened to having a healthy skepticism of wild statements by people you barely know? Or a healthy skepticism of what your kids say, for that matter? What we do know is that the thumb-jerk reaction to wild stories needs at least a couple of layers of healthy skepticism before getting aired.

If a young boy came home and said the school counselor held him down while the principal cut off his dreadlocks, a rational parent would first question the child from all angles. The rational parent would then go to the school and start asking questions, and from there, go to the district office. If dismissed and mistreated without a reasonable resolution after a reasonable amount of time, then the complainant should reach out to the media.

In the latest scandal, “Hairgate,” one can conclude that the young boy likely cut his own hair. But his mother went on the TV news and said that he had been growing it since he was 2 and he had been bullied because of it. So it’s not much of a leap to surmise that the hairstyle was her choice, not his, and he was tired of being picked on because of it, so he tried to cut it. But he didn’t want to take the blame for it. And his mother certainly didn’t want to look at herself in the mirror and wonder if she was part of the problem.

But it’s the reaction of the masses that’s so disappointing. Organized groups whose mission is to create chaos pounced on this one before school officials even had a chance to investigate. They turned it into a race issue before gathering a scintilla of information, then rallied online to destroy the “culprits” and anyone associated with them.

It’s sad that reactionary people have so much power to affect the lives of other people’s careers and livelihoods. But they wouldn’t have that power if everyone had a healthy skepticism.