Earlier this year, we had a bed bug scare. I woke up the morning of our first international flight with baby to a smattering of red bumps on my leg. The following afternoon, as the edgy haze of jet lag settled in, I noticed how itchy my leg had grown. As I wondered about possible causes, it suddenly struck me — what if I had bed bug bites?
I did what anyone suffering from an unknown ailment would do. I took to Google. I soon realized that the internet is a terrifying place for someone who suspects they might be living with bed bugs. I learned how the bugs scheme, sometimes hiding for weeks before emerging for a meal. How signs of a bite can be delayed by up to 14 days, leaving victims mistaken about the time of attack.
As I scoured the internet for information about the loathsome creatures, I repeatedly asked my husband whether he really thought that we didn’t have bed bugs. Based on my research, it was astonishing that more people didn’t house these hitchhikers who travel on unsuspecting carriers’ cuffs or handbags. Anyone who had visited a public space likely had bed bugs. It was impossible that we didn’t, given that Vancouver is one of the top three Canadian cities for bed bug infestations. He suggested I put on my rational hat and consider the evidence, instead of fearmongering blog posts and pest-dedicated message boards. What would Marianne the editor do?
When we fact check our clients’ work or our own, we are careful about the information we trust and sources we judge credible. I would argue that before the internet, fact checking was at once easier and more difficult. Easier because we could sift through published books and articles for information; harder because we had to track down said publications and manually flip through pages rather than using a search bar and filtering results.
When we fact check online, we take a number of things into account. The URL, number of views, date of publication and author all need to be considered. Anyone with an opinion can publish it online. This makes the internet an amazing space for creativity, but it can be a troubling one if we don’t check our sources. I wouldn’t trust an unknown blogger’s opinion piece when fact checking a client’s work. So why had I believed similar sources when it came to researching our potential lodgers?
I managed to filter out the information I’d gathered from unreliable sources and enjoy the rest of my time away. Back in Vancouver, we did some physical fact checking of our own and had an expert come in to inspect. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that we are sharing our space with bed bugs, though I’m sure I could convince myself otherwise if I spent enough time online. I remain vigilant. And I will forever cringe at the phrases “snug as a bug in a rug” and “don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Share your stories about fact checking or digital misinformation below.
Previous post from Marianne Grier: Eating Frogs and the Tomato Technique: The Art of Getting Things Done.
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