Truth is a Bridge!

7:22 AM

There is a controversy going on right now that has dire consequences for thousands of students and hundreds of professional educators. The situation is so fragile, at present, that I will not divulge any specifics, and instead, treat it as a hypothetical.

So, let’s say that we have a suburban community, where a local newspaper reporter has obtained public documents regarding an issue being handled by local government. Reading through the document, the enterprising journalist finds several references that appear suspicious to his investigative mind. He makes some assumptions from his reading, without verifying facts and identifying unfamiliar labels. The journalist then approaches elected officials with the assumptions, reporting them as fact, and records a number of incendiary comments from those elected officials. The story appears in that week’s issue of the paper.

As it turns out, the assumptions are wrong, and the staff of the agency at issue has to spend an enormous amount of time (and taxpayer’s money) dealing with the fallout of this manufactured controversy. In addition, reputations are severely damaged, perhaps irreparably.

One of the foundations of my discussions on information ethics is that information is one of the fundamental infrastructures that our economy, culture, and governance reside on. It is no less critical to our survival and success than our roads, rails, sea and airports, and bridges. That information infrastructure owes its reliance not only on the security of our networks, but also on the accuracy of the information that we use.

What happens to a person when, either out of malicious intent or irresponsible negligence, blows up a bridge? What should happen to a person who, working for an institution that we are urged to trust, damages the information infrastructure out of irresponsible negligence or a conscious desire to ignite controversy?

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In writing Redefinging Literacy for the 21st Century, I developed a students’ and teachers’ information code of ethics. You can download the document at the following URL:

Ironically, this guide was adapted, with permission, from the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.