Bon Jovi is dead! Now we know it's just a big Twitter rumor, or joke, or gag, or lie...or an SEO hit-generating strategy.

That the wild front-man is still rocking is not in dispute. What's interesting is that death happened in New Jersey. Nope, still kidding. Apparently, according to The Jovi, Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey. So Rapturistas be warned, Snooki and the Situation are waiting for you.

OK, so I've made all my jokes: Here is something not so funny.

The speed with which misinformation is spreading these days is altering the news. And that threatens democracy, because an informed citizenry is essential to a functioning democracy.

The huge number of hits that something like this gets is distracting readers--iif that word is still appropriate in this iPad-scanning Angry-Bird age--from substantial information, such as the potential for unrest in the Korean Peninsula now that Kim Jong-Il is dead and Kim Jong-Il, or Kim Jong-Un doesn't even score in the top 20. Snooki, however is No. 7.  

Because, whether we like it or not, who gets the most attention matters in the news. And by extension in a democracy.  Maybe it is less important to the functioning of society in a totalitarian regime that tightly controls information flow, like China. There, citizens have some economic and personal freedom, as long as they don't make any free-speech waves.

But if free-speech is your thing, like here, and many individuals determine the fate of the state, unlike the top-down totalitarian model, then what everyone pays the most attention to is a big deal. If no one listens to you, you might as well be ranting alone in a cave somewhere. Nothing you say makes a difference, if no one else hears it. Including, if you are speaking the truth.

And just in case you wonder about the practical value of free speech, bear in mind that the level of corruption in China is so bad that it's business as usual. Here, at least, it is the exception and not the rule. I know it doesn't always seem that way, with headlines screaming about corruption every day. But that's the point. Only because of free-speech can the people know what their elected, or appointed, officials are up to.

Despite the recent, frightening threat to our freedoms from NDAA, this other threat, the Bon Jovi is Dead Threat, is both real and insidious. We amuse ourselves and think, Oh, well, it's just a gag, what does it matter if people believe it? In a little while it gets straightened out.

That's true. But these days we have hedge funds trading on the Twitter rumors and making-or losing-a ton of money that way. We have everything from instant polls to bloviating pundits creating a feedback loop-also known as an echo-chamber--that is enhanced by our new instantaneous messaging technology to a point where rumor, gossip and innuendo are moving so fast that no one can stop them or correct them. And everyone is making personal and political decisions on them, from our elected officials to you and me.

The distortions, lies and rumors are out and the damage is done before any corrective action can make things right. Whether this takes the form of bullying in high school or bullying from the bully pulpits throughout the land, incredible crazy ideas are spreading faster than ever possible before.

Our challenge, as this democracy enters the information age, is to manage these speed-of-light communications so that the citizenry doesn't degenerate into a mob of fearful, manipulated and ignorant rabble hell-bent on... whatever mad ideas are circulating at the moment. Because a lot of choices and strategies require much more than momentary attention and are not viable based on a momentary time-frame.

Bon Jovi is dead may be funny, at least to its good natured subject. But character attacks and false representations of important leaders and important policy issues are not. Without factual accuracy, and without unpolluted means of communicating serious issues to the voting public, democracy will be threatened at its very roots.

It was no accident that Benjamin Franklin was a printer, that he favored a federally supported post office--the internet of its day--to ensure that the citizens got the truth and that no power could distort or control that truth.

It is no accident that this democracy was founded on the written word in the form of two documents. And today, in our Twittered, rumor-mongering world, large numbers of us have neither the factual information, nor the habit of taking the time to have rational debate and discourse about issues. Instead we follow the latest rumor, the latest trend.

Today Bon Jovi is dead. If we are not careful, tomorrow Democracy may be dead, too.