by Kim Niemi
There’s a vicious scourge spreading across the land, robbing its victims of common sense, and the ability to reason logically and think independently. It transmits from person to person, sometimes instantaneously, without prejudice. And everyone should be very afraid.
“OMG, what is this scourge?!”
You. You’re the scourge. You and every click-happy social user blindly sharing complete and utter lies across the Internet all day every day.
Tell me if you shared any of these stories recently:
If so, then you’ve been infected and you’re helping to infect others. Luckily, there is a cure. It’s called “fact-checking.” It’s called “reading beyond the headline.” It’s called “clicking through and actually making sure that what you’re sharing is in fact true, accurate, or even exists.”
Let’s take our examples one by one for further illustration.
RIP Ron Palillo
It’s understandable, sort of, that this happened. Robin Williams had just died, and then Lauren Bacall. Everyone was looking for a third (because these things always happen in threes, obviously). But a simple click-through to the story would clearly reveal the original publish date of August 14, 2012.
Yes, poor Horshack had been dead for two years already, but was being memorialized yet again as people too lazy to read beyond the headline shared the sad news. (The “third” btw, for those who care about such things, was James Garner – except he died first and started it all).
Well, what’s the big deal about resharing a celebrity loss? It’s not such a big deal in and of itself. But as an example of the behavior trend, it’s quite a big deal. Our next headline is why.
NYPD Baby Killer
Will it make you feel better if I admit I almost fell for this one? The story is abhorrent, heart-wrenching, and… satire. You read that right. Turns out the National Report is a satire site, much like The Onion, though far less obvious.
After the breastfeeding story was shared over a million times, and numerous members of the NR staff had received death threats, publisher Allen Montgomery posted a response to critics of the story, noting that, “Satire is not required to be humorous.”
While that may be true, it doesn’t help that nowhere on the site can you find a disclaimer to indicate that it is satire (although there used to be). But that’s just readers’ tough luck. As Montgomery previously told the Casper Star-Tribune,
“It is our opinion that if a person is too lazy to check for multiple references [or at least one other source] … and they spread misinformation around as fact, then they are to blame for their own stupidity, not us.”
Well, he’s got us there. And doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy?
So how do you figure out what’s true and what isn’t?
What’s that? Let’s use our third example to find out.
Robin Williams Says Goodbye
Okay, first of all, let’s make a case for common sense. Does it really seem likely that IF Robin Williams made a goodbye video before tragically committing suicide, it would wind up on the Internet? REALLY? After everything that went down with his daughter? No.
But okay, if you’re a morbidly curious sort, you might be able to convince yourself that it IS likely.
Still. Be smart. Recognize that this is exactly the kind of thing that Internet trolls use as click-bait, trying to lure you in. You have a couple options to help you verify whether a post is legit or not:
So that’s three for three. And who knows how many other posts have been spread like wildfire, without a fact in sight? We’ve got to open our eyes, stop being so gullible, and stop fueling fires and creating arguments by sharing blindly everything that comes our way.
Because not only do we cause emotional explosions that are based in lies (yes, you need to fact-check political posts too!), we make ourselves look stupid. Our friends, our clients, our bosses – whoever we are connected to via social media – see these shares. And their opinions of us change accordingly.
So read beyond the headline, verify that it’s true, and then, if you really must, share knowing that you’ve done your part to keep the Internet a better place for all to enjoy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rui Fernandes