Those perusing through their Facebook feeds this week may have noticed friends posting a long paragraph saying that they are protecting their right to privacy on the social media site. It was fake, incorrect and telling of the current climate of information.
You enter and essentially agree to a privacy contract with Facebook when you sign up, it’s outlined, ever-changing and easy to opt out of — also not really the point.
The post is not new, in fact a similar post was making the social media rounds just three years ago, people’s memories are short, but that is not what has me worried. It’s endemic of our current knee-jerk culture to see something that seems like it could be true, have an emotional reaction and quickly share or repost and go on with our day. Remember those chain emails that said a little girl would die if you didn’t forward to three people? It’s like that but the consequences are much worse.
Who could it hurt? Better safe than sorry right? Not really. It has never been easier in the history of humanity to get instantaneous information, and the yang to that yin is that it’s never been easier to distract and enrage folks worse than a cell phone in a movie theatre.
As the old saying goes: It is a poor musician that blames his instrument, and as the saying I just made up goes: It’s a bad human that blames the internet. Misinformation, my longtime nemesis, is of course not new but the medium is. We as humans always like to pretend we’re on top of things, but when it comes to mass information sharing like social media, it’s unprecedented and going to be a bumpy road on the way to figuring out how to verify information and ensure it’s credible.
You may have seen the post showing a Syrian holding an ISIS flag after being accepted into England as a refugee making the internet rounds. It was misinformed, incorrect and used an old photo, but that didn’t stop thousands from posting and accepting the information as fact.
It disheartens me to think that many likely saw this post, let it influence their world view of a complex issue in a simplified manner and went on thinking it was true for the rest of their days, despite posts debunking the photos which were likely not shared nearly as much.
We as a society are entering into an era of immensely complex issues that don’t have simplistic, right-or-wrong answers and need considerable thought and input.
It took me under a minute to find out that the latest Facebook privacy posts were full of false information (despite the fact I was 99 per cent sure it was fake the second I saw it, I still checked).
By posting and reposting information without taking a second to check for credibility (also never been easier to do), you are effectively taking human discourse and the progress of humanity backwards one click at a time.
Credibility, and some good ol’ fashion working folks are the remedy, but everybody else has to get on board.
We as a society need to be vigilant and the average person now has the onus of being a full-time fact-checker. It sounds intimidating, but the bare minimum is pretty easy. As I mentioned before, I was able to find out the privacy post was fake quickly. Even still, I cross-referenced multiple sources and critiqued their credibility.
You have to ask yourself, who is relaying this information? What could they have to gain? Is this information being reported by an organization with employees who could lose their jobs if it was factually incorrect? Is there contact information on the website for those who put forward the information? Is there information out there that disagrees? If so why?
You could ask these questions, or continue to post unreliable, unsourced info from non-credible sources and continue to be part of the problem.
As a journalist I hear the many, many critiques of the media, sometimes right to my face. We are human and make mistakes, but there is a difference. If we continually present misinformation it would lose us our jobs, and the advertisers that pay for those jobs.
This balancing act is still working its way through the tumultuous dive in newspaper revenues, but what a free society cannot lose is the watchdogs and those whose careers rely on credibility.
Share and repost this column to all your friends if you don’t want the world to end.
Dale Boyd is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.