Special Agent Swathi: Part 2 – How to tame the misinformation monster5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
By Asha Sridhar
PART 2 – Swathi meets Mucky, Swathi never meets Mucky again
In part 1 of How to Tame the Misinformation Monster, we met Swathi, the smartest sleuth. A casual phone call from her best friend turned into an unexpected mystery. Will their school reopen with the pandemic still raging? Does Swathi find the missing links?
It was 11 a.m. and Swathi and her classmates had a 30-minute break before online classes resumed.
Unless she found the answer to her question, she knew she couldn’t concentrate. You know, the one about the school re-opening? And the next session was History. Her absolute favourite! Who wouldn’t like learning about what humans did thousands and thousands of years ago? They walked on the same land as us but spoke a different language, wore different clothes and lived in different kinds of houses. She wondered what she had in common with them. “When did they discover rice and rasam? At least I can’t imagine a good life without it!”
She quickly rang up Raj and asked him who told him about the school re-opening. “Avinash told me about it,” he said. “Call Avinash and check who told him about it,” Swathi suggested.
Her phone buzzed again. “Avinash heard about it from Diya,” Raj said. The chain went on and on like a magician pulling an endless string out of their hat, but nobody could actually find out where this information came from. It was getting murkier and murkier but Swathi knew this was no magic trick. She just had to dig deeper.
She called her friend Ruby who studied in another school in the city. “Did you hear that schools are re-opening after Christmas?” she asked. “Really? I had no idea,” said Ruby.
Once classes were over for the day, Swathi settled in her cozy thinking corner. This is where she got her best ideas. She started tracing the trail of information. And just then, she had a brainwave! “Yikes! How could I have not thought of this earlier!”
The next morning, she rang up her school! “Tring ..Tringgg…” As luck would have it, no one answered. Swathi knew that a seasoned detective would never lose patience. She persevered.
And, finally, there was a voice on the other end of the call. Disappointingly, it turned out to be a recorded message, because, guess what? School was closed due to the pandemic. “Silly me,” she said.
She then went to the most resourceful person she knew — her mother!
“We were all excited about the re-opening, but now some of my friends are worried about coming to school during the pandemic. Many have grandparents at home. We don’t know where this information came from,” she told her mother. “Let me send an e-mail to your school. I’m sure they will clarify,” her mother reassured her. “Until then, make sure you don’t spread the word about it.”
Swathi couldn’t help going every few minutes to her mother to check if she had heard back from the school. That evening, the e-mail finally arrived. The school confirmed it was just a rumour and promptly updated their website. They asked students and parents to not believe any information unless they heard directly from the school.
“Thank you Amma. I should have come to you earlier,” said Swathi.
She learnt an important lesson that day. When in doubt, verify. It took just one e-mail to set the record straight. Otherwise, a rumour can spread like a pandemic! And, we don’t like pandemics now, do we?
“These rumours are pesky little monsters,” Swathi muttered under her breath. She decided she was going to call this monster Mucky. It raised their expectations and then muddied it. And how fast it spread! Even faster than Swathi on her skipping rope. And, she could do 70 jumps a minute!
She wasted no time and immediately called Raj. “My mother wrote to the school. They said schools wouldn’t re-open until the government makes an official announcement.”
“You are a detective in the making, I’m telling you! I’m going to call the others and let them know that we fell for someone’s mischievous prank, though we may never find out who,” Raj said. “I’m going to call the others too. I hope not many people found out about it,” she said.
Though they were sad they would have to wait longer to meet each other, Swathi and her friends were glad they nipped this nasty piece of misinformation in its bud.
From now on, Swathi and her friends decided they would be hawk-eyed and vigilant! Phew! That was close. They never wanted to meet Mucky again.
Now that you know these five easy steps, carefully look at the image above (the illustration) and find out:
1) Which of these steps did Swathi follow? (Hint: The answer is in the story).
2) Which of these steps did Swathi not follow, but should have? (Hint: Again, the answer is in the story)
1) Step number 2: Swathi checked the news channel. When she did not find her answer, she reached out to the most reliable source of information — the school itself. Because she was proactive, the school found out about the rumour and updated their website. Other students who were in a bind could just log on to the website and check.
2) Step number 1: Swathi called all her friends before verifying the information, but learnt later that it was not the wisest move. However, she responsibly called everyone back to inform them that the information was false.
(Author’s Note: Asha Sridhar is a muggle writer who wishes she could wiggle her nose and create beautiful sentences. No, she’s not read all the Harry Potter books.)