Does your awareness need boosting?

Everything looks scarier with a Noir filter.

Everything looks scarier with a Noir filter.

Like Arthur Dent, I can't get the hang of Thursdays. Instead of writing, I'll mostly pace around the house thinking about what to write, which is how a few Thursdays ago I ended up on the phone with my mom while cleaning my kitchen. I was walking to the office to dump one pile of paper onto another when I saw a man crouched on my porch.

He didn't see me, and I didn't see much of him, just a bulky blue coat and a black knit hat. I assumed he was one of the Amazon couriers who prefer not to talk to other humans, and being one of those humans myself, I turned back toward the kitchen to keep cleaning. When I came back out with the next pile of paper, he was still there, except that now he was looking right at the window.

This time I know he saw me, because he startled and hurried off. Had I thwarted a robbery? What would have happened if I had not been walking by the door before he broke in instead of after? 

That's the way I could tell the story on social media, in a post to "boost awareness" about who is home when you're not. My scant evidence--a hat, a coat, and presence on my porch--could easily support many other stories. The man could have been a courier, assuming that no one was home and waiting out the rain on my porch. He could have been a sub for our usual postal worker. He could have been a prospective homebuyer with outdated intel appearing at the house he thought was the model home. He could have been visiting a neighbor but had the wrong address. He might have, like the retiree a few doors' down, simply gotten confused and tried to enter the wrong home. He could have been there to steal my Amazon packages, but that day it was just glue sticks, so in that case I showed him. 

If I had taken to social media that day with my spooky story, all of those alternate explanations would be lost in the service of panicking other people who work from home, or maybe just homeowners more generally. Take the well-traveled IKEA human traffickers story, or its cousin, the near-Target abduction. These articles just boost our anxiety, ruining a joyful, cinnamon bun-fueled romp through lighting fixtures or a cozy rainy afternoon pretending to work from home. 

With that needless panic in mind, here are four steps to un-boost your awareness:

1) Unfollow. In a calm moment when you're not worried about playground abductions or other worst-case scenarios, do a social media purge. Unlike or unfollow every "news" source that posts terrifying but thinly-researched stories designed to scare you. 

2) When your trusted outlets post articles about "hidden dangers," ignore them. Reading these articles won't make your home any safer, but will harm your sleep and sanity. The same goes for any article with a variation of "what all parents need to know."

3) Require evidence. When a fear-inducing article gets past your new social media filters, verify before you trust. If the scary-sounding story about a danger avoided actually happened, there's probably a police report. If the story does not feature an interview with the police on scene, be skeptical and don't elevate it by liking or sharing. You might be tempted to comment with a thorough debunking of the story, but remember that comments count as likes as far as social media is concerned--your comments will help increase a story's reach. 

4) Be insatiably curious. No matter what you read, treat the final punctuation as a question mark. What information did the author leave out? Could another writer with a different perspective draw a different conclusion?