There is an old story about news arriving in 1815 about the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo. The message, “Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo,” was carried by semaphore chain until fog interrupted the flag signals and London received only the first two words: “Wellington defeated.”
Same thing happened recently, and continues happening.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis is vice chair of the House Administration Committee, a typically boring assignment that he believes is important after formerly working on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus. But then Washington erupted in the sexual harassment scandals.
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Davis said he asked his female staffers what they thought should be addressed by the committee that manages the House as a workplace. They worried that fewer women would be hired as a result of the scandal.
Davis brought that up during the hearing. He said it would be wrong, but that it worried his female staff and the committee should address those worries.
Enter Twitter. The Huffington Post’s Washington Bureau Chief tweeted the following: “Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) says he’s worried congressional offices will hire fewer women to avoid issue of sexual harassment.”
She then clarified: “For the record, Davis is not saying he will do this. He said he had female staffers who were concerned about this. That’s why he asked what to do about it.”
But it was too late. The twitterverse already was exploding with charges of sexism, misogyny, discrimination and questions about Davis’s parentage.
Davis said he walked out of the hearing past the major media reporters and no one asked him anything. It was hours later when he learned of the tweetferno, fanned by some of the candidates wanting to challenge him in November.
Another reminder of this dynamic came from the Washington Post. They caught a woman lying to them that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, impregnating her as a teen.
But when instant communication hits a public only partially paying attention, there will be more than a few who think the fake story is real and never get the message that someone tried to trick the Washington Post. They will be sure Moore got a teen pregnant when he was in his 30s.
Or that Davis thinks fewer women workers cures sexual harassment.
Or that Wellington was defeated.
You’re bound to be misinformed if you don’t bother to go beyond 140 characters. By the way, the Wellington message story is a myth — a.k.a. fake news.