No one waits for the 5 O’clock news anymore to hear what’s going on in the world; we’re glued to our phones 24-7, being bombarded with information from the time we wake until we go back to sleep. Newsrooms worldwide are scrambling to deal with the fact people garner their news from Facebook and Twitter now, not directly from media outlets.  

Our social media newsfeeds ARE the new source of news, and every one of us publishing Tweets and statuses is an unofficial journalist. Yet what we publish is biased, unbalanced, less informed, and not fact-checked like a news piece. The effect of this is opinions, speculation, or even presumption registering as fact or “news” now.

As an example, this week, mature trees were cut down on Garrison Hill, sparking some discontent online, and rightfully so. Between the city’s haphazard terrain and urban planning, and a lack of green spaces downtown, we ought to covet the rare mature trees we encounter, if only for their shade on the odd summer day we get.

After reading a few Facebook statuses and Tweets yesterday, presuming these trees came down because of senseless council decisions in dealing with trees threatening power lines — “Why not just trim the limbs!” — I got curious instead of agreeing. I’m fascinated with modern convictions, and how the hivemindedness of Facebook can affirm speculations free of informed fact.

As it turns out, the land is owned by the John Howard Society, not the city, so right off the bat, the city has no authority to prevent the cutting down of the trees. The John Howard Society needs to extend their property to meet increasing demand for their services.

According to Dave Lane both The City and the Society actually looked into transplanting the trees, but it wasn’t possible. In fact, he was told the trees are so old they’re “at the end of their lifespan.”

The John Howard Society is a voluntary, non-profit agency that provides counselling, home-finding, and employment services to adult and youth ex-offenders. In a nutshell, they aim to help people at the end of a jail sentence re-enter society. An important element of crime prevention is certainly rehabilitating those who broke the law before in hopes we can assist them in not doing so again. Statistically speaking, many of the people incarcerated in our overcrowded, expensive jails are repeat offenders.

No one likes seeing trees come down, but The John Howard Society owns the land, and they need to extend their building. It’s been a matter of public record for quite some time. The Heritage Advisory Committee approved the design of the extension last fall.

So how did a dialogue emerge on social media yesterday about how those trees came down because they were interfering with powerlines, and we could have just trimmed limbs instead of hauling them down?

While we have no reason to have faith in our elected officials in this city/province, and it’s foreseeable they decided to hack down some trees for no good reason, it’s in fact not at all what happened despite plenty of Facebook sentiments to the contrary. And that sort of speculation is running rampant online these days.

The Washington Post recently proved that we share articles we haven’t even read. In other words, we read the headlines now, not the article. I can confirm it: when The Overcast posts about a new restaurant on Facebook, there are always comments asking “where is this located” even though that info, naturally, is in the article.

How informed are our opinions on things in this kind of world? Why are we so happy with one side of a story now? How will it change the world when two-sided, fact-checked media coverage is drowned out by 140-character personal opinions based on other people’s biased interpretations of headlines?

The story of these trees is just one of many recent examples proving the old adage is still true: don’t believe everything you hear. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Your pal’s Facebook status should be a taken with a grain of salt, same way there’s another side to the story buddy at The Ship told you over a pint.