Nothing ever dies on the internet. Not even the giant cat spotted in the region.
A few weeks ago, we noticed a weird uptick in traffic on an old 2008 story on LimaOhio.com. It focused on sightings of a large cat in Shawnee Township. Perhaps it was a panther, a bobcat or a cougar, the people in the story reckoned.
Once I saw that uptick in views for that story, I knew what happens next. We’d start getting conspiracy theory calls.
One reader called, concerned we were “ignoring the important story from Facebook.” Once she forwarded it to me, I realized it was our story, from nearly a decade ago. The caller wasn’t dissuaded, telling me she saw it on the internet, so it must be true, and it must be true today.
Of course, we wouldn’t fall for this if someone forwarded around a story about the president being shot, using an old story from the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.
For some reason, though, we’re all too willing to believe something being shared around social media if it seems to be a reputable source without really looking closely enough at it.
We’re happy to be a resource for people’s research about past events. That’s a part of our job, as the keepers of the first draft of history. But I do want people to be careful about assuming every word they’re reading today was written today. There are dates on top of stories to help with that.
Many of us are learning to consume our media more wisely these days. People are better at identifying which sources they trust and which they don’t. Generally speaking, I’d say stick with the local outlets, such as The Lima News, because we’re way too busy trying to get tomorrow’s edition out to have time to spare on any sort of slant or manifesto. That's the blessing and the curse of a midsized, regional newspaper.
Sure, we all have our individual opinions, especially those of us entrusted to share our views. The reporters generally do a fine job keeping their political identities to themselves. If you actually met must of us, you’d realize your preconceived notion — we’re all a bunch of left-wing wackos or a bunch of gun-toting Republicans — aren’t entirely right or wrong. We have an interesting mix of political ideologies and personalities in our newsroom, yet we all still find a way to enjoy one another’s company and work together. (Yes, Washington, it can be done.)
But even when you pick a place you can trust, you should still be vigilant in understanding what, exactly, you’re reading. Is it really the newest story? What’s happened in that situation since the article was written? All we can write is the best information we know at the moment of deadline, and if that time’s long since past, it might not be relevant anymore.
I fell for it a few months ago. I saw someone I trusted shared something on Facebook that would’ve been a good story a few months ago, about a decent-sized earthquake in Lima. It was from a reputable regional website, and I worried we’d somehow missed the ground shaking earlier that day.
Turns out, it was a story from several years before. When it happened, The Lima News wrote about it, of course.
It’s something that frequently happens on LimaOhio.com. I can usually guess what rumor is going around based on what old stories magically show up on our list of most-viewed stories. I can especially tell whenever the “48 Hours” rerun appears about the murder conviction of former Lima anesthesiologist Mark Wangler, as people start Googling the case to learn more.
Everything that was popular seems to become popular again. We see it with bell-bottoms, blues music and, at least in this part of the world, large-cat sightings.