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Does Extension’s Research Base Extend to Your Facebook Feed?

This morning I came across the video below in my Facebook news feed. It had been shared by one current and one former Extension educator. You can watch it if you wish, but let me save you some time. It is a highly embellished version of the story of how Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangles Banner,” the first verse of which became the lyrics of America’s national anthem. It is riddled with half-truths, stretched truths and outright fabrications.

I didn’t get very far into the video before I began to wonder about its veracity. When the narrator referred to Fort McHenry as “Fort Henry,” my internal alarms went off, and I started some cursory Internet searches to check the facts of the video. It did not take long to find credible sources that contradicted many of the points of the video.

I think everyone, especially educators, and especially educators representing an organization that defines itself as research-based, has a responsibility to do at least a little work checking to make sure something is true before sharing it on social media (Assessing the Reliability of Online Information).

I understand some people want to keep their personal lives separate from their professional lives. I know it can be a serious burden for county agents to be always on duty, whether they are in the office or at the grocery store, but that’s the job. Even when you are sharing on a personal social media account accessed by only family and close friends, your role as an educator is part of your persona. My mother-in-law spent her whole career in dentistry. I expect that when she shares something with me about tooth and gum care, even in a personal context, that it is based on research or the evidence she has observed in her experience.

Many Extension professionals are generalists and all are representatives of universities, so the expectation of sharing research or evidence-based information extends beyond our particular specialties. We can’t just click the retweet or share buttons if we like a headline or a video fits our personal view of the world. When we do, we are not only reflecting on Cooperative Extension and our universities, but also reflecting on the importance of science, research and the truth.