Listening to Professor Hanlon, Assistant English Professor here at Colby, speak about the dangers of misrepresenting data and the need to prioritize collecting valid data, and representing it as such, I found myself thinking immediately of the recent political events in the country. Furthermore, Professor Hanlon’s discussion of data sourcing, and the lack of focus on disseminating data from reliable sources resonated with me as I thought about the cost of false media in the 2016 Election. Growing up in an urban area, especially as a student in the 21st century, I have been exposed to the pinnacle of technology, interaction, and conveyance of information about events in our country. On a daily basis, I hear discussion amongst my peers that mention Twitter articles they saw retweeted hundreds of thousands of times, and I find myself wondering how on Earth one would know if President Obama had made a final checklist of dogs to adopt as his family’s second pet?
Professor Hanlon makes it a point to stress the weight and influence that data can have on any person’s opinion or stance on a person, topic, or event. Take the fact that millions of Americans watch Fox News every night, and that following the shooting in Orlando, I remember seeing a stat that disappeared later (for inaccuracy) suggesting 13% of Muslims supported radical Islam. After the lecture, I found myself thinking how many Americans had believed this about Muslims, as millions of viewers could have been changed by that completely outlandish, incorrect stat showed one night on Fox. As I think about more recent, concrete events that have consumed not just my generation or Colby College campus, but essentially the entire country. More specifically, I remember reading a Buzzfeed piece- not exactly a reliable journal, but with citations- that proved Facebook had featured fake news articles that reached over 10 million people in the worst cases. Days before the election I read an article stating that Hilary Clinton was finally put on trial, and that she would not be participating in the election; this is simply the epitome of what Professor Hanlon warns against. Although at age 19 I know such an outlandish article is fake, I created my Facebook account when I was in 7th grade and a younger audience could certainly take this as truth.
Having not taken a political science class at Colby, and not being particularly interested in politics in my free time, I find myself more susceptible to this political dogma. However after professor Hanlon’s talk, and my reconciliation of his words with past events, I find myself understanding, and appreciating the importance of good data more than I have in the past. As I continue my academics, but more importantly continue as a millennial, I think making an effort to consume, and more importantly promulgate data that is valid, well-supported, and influential is important for me and my peers.