LAYERS OF CLAY
Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind and decided to write all about political controversies. This post is not about politics or Obama but rather is about assumptions and how cats and puppies aren’t the only things that spread like wildfire around the web these days. Ignorance often goes viral faster than anything else.
I recently saw this video come across my Facebook newsfeed a.k.a. bottomless pit of gleeful people and/or rage-a-holics and/or pictures of creamy desserts.
“SEEEE you guys?!?! The World HATES us and Obama is the WORST because foreign leaders won’t even shake his hand. Isn’t it awesome how right we all are?” That was the basic point of the post.
I clicked over to the random person’s wall who originally posted this clip which was really annoying because that kind of research takes away from important tasks like determining Which Goonie I Am (Mikey!). At the time the handshake snub video had over 166,000 shares from this one wall alone.
Since I teach classes classes like Media & Politics at the University of Pittsburgh I thought something was amiss a.k.a. being perpetrated by people whose idea of fact-checking is licking magic Cheeto dust from their fingers while consulting a magic 8 ball. I mean, you’d think some student or faculty member in one of the college political science departments I work in would have heard about this. Then again, if we’re on college campuses we must all be radical, lefty libs wearing Team Stalin shirts while snickering about how the lamestream media managed to hide the president’s hand-shaking shame. (Remember, we’re talking about erroneous perceptions here, not politics).
It took all of thirty seconds to find out the actual story on that video. It’s a clip from 2009 showing President Obama introducing then President Medvedev to an American delegation. He’s not trying to get them to shake his hand but rather going down the line deliberately pointing out each member.
The point is not that everybody really loves Obama and you should too. Remember, not making a political point here. It’s just that this one example illustrates a common problem with our narrow-minded, viral, internet kingdom.
People can and will say anything and those messages will get recycled like crazy without any thought or scrutiny.
Here are a few other examples of some stories making the lightning rounds in recent months:
Bigfoot is real and we have the body!
The Bigfoot body wasn’t real.
Tom Hanks posed with a passed out drunk guy!
Tom Hanks didn’t pose with a passed out drunk guy. They asked him to play along with a gag and he did.
Morgan Freeman is dead!
Morgan Freeman ISN’T dead. Neither is Will Smith, Jackie Chan, Betty White, or Johnnie Depp (though his movie career might be getting there ZING).
And a thousand other examples. I’m not immune either. Just recently I shared a story about the USC football player who jacked up both his ankles leaping from a second floor balcony to save his drowning nephew. Most of the world got fooled on that one. Turns out he was lying.
Then I clicked “Share” on the cool story going around about how half the remains of some Viking warriors were revealed to be women. Cool! Also not an accurate representation of what was really discovered. Half the time these are old findings/stories/whatevers just recycled in a flash of sudden viral activity.
Sadly, even mainstream media outlets fall for some of these hoaxes or just make stuff up out of nowhere like the other day when the Ottawa Sun reported that NHL star Sidney Crosby had been arrested in Ottawa. He was actually training almost 2,000 miles away in Colorado. (On a more serious note, while we’re chatting PLEASE don’t give one click to the disgusting New York Post which is the worst “news” publication in America by a long shot.)
The point is that speculation is rampant and ideas spread faster than ever before. Some of these stories carry little impact, sure, although I’m sure Morgan Freeman was thrilled to still be alive. But some of these stories and ideas create a powerful impact on people’s emotions and worldviews.
Regardless of whether false ideas are about potentially world-altering happenings or some B-list celebrity, we gain nothing by being such gullible suckers for hype, such mindless consumers of nonsense, such sheep to ideological butchers.
Just because we’re not all journalists doesn’t mean we don’t share a responsibility to share information responsibly.
It’s just as easy in this age of information to check facts as it is to spread falsities. We should never just parrot something we hear about or see on the web because we happen to agree with it. Do a quick search for proof. Check for veracity.
We might think it doesn’t cost anything to click those little share buttons, but sometimes it actually does.