This past week, as any Rush fan knows, a rock music website published an article containing some quotes from podcaster Eddie Trunk, who asserted that Alex and Geddy would soon form a band that could possibly be called LeeLifeson. I'm still in contact with the guys in Rush, and I had heard nothing about this; but I'm also someone who does fact-checking for a living. The article contained several red flags for me-- most notably that neither Alex nor Geddy had confirmed Mr. Trunk's speculations. I was always taught during my journalism days never to assume ("When you assume, you make an Ass out of U and Me," as the old saying goes); while Mr. Trunk had every right to guess what Alex and Geddy might be doing in the future, the article gave the impression that he knew for certain. And that was enough for Rush fans, many of whom miss the band and would be delighted to see some kind of reunion.
So, I did what any fact-checker would do: I contacted Alex and asked him. (I tend to speak with him more often than I do Geddy, plus it was Alex's birthday and I wanted to get in touch anyway.) I figured if a reunion was in the offing, he might know something about it. However, as I suspected, he didn't... because there wasn't one. Nor did he think there would be one at any time in the near future, given how busy both he and Geddy are with individual projects. He and Geddy speak often, and they are often at the same events; but that doesn't mean they're auditioning drummers and preparing to go out on the road. So, with his permission, I posted to the site that first had the article, and got them to update and correct the original piece. Mr. Trunk also walked back his comments, which was greatly appreciated. I've never met him, I don't think, and I'm sure he's a good person. But he has certainly seen first-hand how easy it is for speculation to be taken as fact online.
And that is what really bothers me. While this is a post about what happened with some untrue assertions about two beloved rock stars, I can point to hundreds of claims I've read online that don't have an ounce of truth in them, yet they get forwarded, re-tweeted, re-posted, turned into memes. More troubling, they get widely believed. I see these myths and rumors a lot on internet fan sites. ("Did you know that Geddy and Alex haven't spoken to Neil in two years???" Umm, NOT TRUE. I have it on good authority that they speak to each other quite regularly. But never mind...) However, more often than that, I see these false claims on partisan political sites, where people who love Donald Trump and people who hate Donald Trump eagerly toss around unproved and unverified stories that make them feel better but do little to provide accurate information.
The internet can be a great blessing, as I've often stated. It can put you in touch with people you might never otherwise be able to talk to. It can create world-wide communities where people with shared interests can share their views. It can give you access to old newspapers and magazines and books, making historical research much easier for students, and for professors like me. But it can also spread hate and bigotry and stereotypes at lightning speed. It can be the source of misinformation and misunderstanding, and it can contribute to inaccurate perceptions of politicians, rock stars, celebrities, or ordinary people who made one foolish remark and are immediately shamed by folks who evidently have never made a mistake in their lives.
So, whether you read speculation about the members of Rush or speculation about Donald Trump or speculation about Barack Obama (please don't send me those memes about how Obama messed up Hurricane Katrina-- he wasn't president then... Bush was), consider the source. Is it a partisan site that always hates on that person? Is it a site where the writer has never really met the folks he or she is writing about? Is it a site where fact-checking never occurs but lots of conspiratorial speculation does? (I was always taught that Correlation is NOT causation: if two events happen at the same time, that doesn't mean one caused the other. But in the online world, if X goes wrong and someone I never liked was there when it happened, then that person must have caused X. It's rarely true, but in the online world, that's a frequent tactic of certain websites.)
I know I've asked this before, but it seems rather timely this week: before you forward an article from a fan site, see if it has actual quotes from the person being written about, and find out if what the author is claiming has been verified. This is true for politics too: before you send around that meme, find out if the person actually said it. You may think it's fun to spread fake quotes or fake stories, but it can have some really unfortunate consequences. Meanwhile, I am not good at predicting the future, so I don't know if Alex and Geddy will ever reunite. I love them (and Neil too), and I wish them health and happiness. But I must say that whether it's about rock and roll or whether it's about politics or whatever else, facts matter. And I wish all the folks who enjoy spreading rumors would just... stop...