A gullible person who believes everything he or she reads on the Internet, even if these defy the rules of common sense, is believed to be suffering from the Pierre Salinger syndrome. The term is derogatory and coined after ex-White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger previously reported that the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800 crash that occurred in July 1996 resulted from friendly fire from a U.S. Navy ship conducting missile testing. However, that report was untrue.
While his information came from security agents, many believed that Salinger got the report online. Nonetheless, the terminology stuck and is now widely used to refer to readers who immediately believe in gossip without verifying data.
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The TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy
The unfortunate explosion of TWA Flight 800 gave rise to numerous conspiracy theories. In fact, many believe that the U.S. Navy ship, USS Normandy, played a role in the death of the more than 200 passengers whose plane exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean 12 minutes after it took off.
In 1996, when the Internet was still young, conspiracy theories about the real cause of the crash quickly became a hot topic. Several “eyewitnesses” spread accounts of what they think happened, which led others to believe made-up stories and theories even if USS Normandy was located far away and did not fire a missile during the incident. Still, many accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of covering up the truth.
It did not help that Salinger’s announcement supported the claim. Critics opined that as Press Secretary and a former journalist, he should have verified his information instead of reporting it as fact. After spending tons of man-hours investigating the crash’s actual cause, the authorities found that it was due to a fuel tank explosion that resulted from a vapor-filled center tank.
How to Avoid Suffering from the Pierre Salinger Syndrome
The Internet can be a useful source of information. However, since it is widely available to virtually anyone, it is prone to abuse by people who wish to spread hoaxes or fake news. And since artificial intelligence (AI) has made deepfakes possible, allowing Internet users to edit videos, falling victim to fake news became even more likely. So how can you avoid suffering from the Pierre Salinger syndrome? Here are some tips.
Get Information Only from Reliable Sources
Every time you read something that you want to share with others, make sure it comes from a reliable source. Scrutinize every bit of information by tracing it back to the source.
Check for Inconsistencies
One thing that sets facts apart from fiction is consistency. Information that piques your interest should be counterchecked against other sources to see if it remains the same. Suppose you want to interview someone for your blog and want to extract only facts, you can do a statement analysis to see if the narrator’s claims remain the same throughout.
Beware of Chain Alerts
One of the most tried-and-tested ways of spreading hoaxes is through chain mails, which can spread over the Internet in an instant. That is just like when you hear an anecdote about an incident that happened to the friend of a cousin whose neighbor got the news from his colleague’s aunt. Most, if not all, chain alerts cannot pin down the original information source, and so are hard to verify. So when you receive one, it’s best to ignore what it says and not share it with others.
The Pierre Salinger syndrome may have been due to an honest mistake. But it does show that the tiniest errors can have costly repercussions. Make sure you don’t succumb to it.