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Absurd rumors show need to vet online ‘news’

By now, you may have heard the story about the kids in school who “identify” as cats and dogs, and want litter boxes and scratching posts installed in the buildings.

This actually made it to a discussion during an East Lycoming School District board meeting last week.

Curiosity killed the cat rumors.

Dr. Mark Stamm, superintendent of East Lycoming School District, noted the migration of the absurd rumors when he told the crowd at the most recent school board meeting that the rumors are flatly untrue.

“I’m not even sure how to respond to what’s on Facebook,” Stamm told the crowd, as reported in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. “Shockingly, Facebook was wrong.”

The allegations that school district administrators are considering accommodating students that identify as cats and other animals were always absurd. In fact, the rumors first plagued a community in central Michigan in January, then western Iowa in February, then Nebraska in March, and so on.

Fueled by social media posts in outraged, indignant tones, the silliness has reached new levels.

We suspect many of the social media accounts who pushed this bizarre claim will now say they were merely being satirical all along. Satire uses an absurd, fictitious story or claim to expose a real issue. And perhaps these rumors have exposed a real issue.

That issue, of course, being the inability of some to research and investigate claims online to verify the information. To rely on fragments of information rather than having the work ethic, diligence and, yes, curiosity to gather more information, to test the veracity of the outrage and indignation.

We need more skepticism about unsourced, unvetted claims on social media. We need more questions and inquiries when an online story relies on fragments of information for an incomplete picture of one of our communities.

We need more curiosity.

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