St. Marys Journal Argus editorial
There’s a nasty trend on social media sites that really came through during the Sandy Hook tragedy in the States: Individuals who create a fabricated plea for people’s sympathies, demanding all those who view it to pass it along or else risk being a bad person. One of the most infamous examples was a tirade against media coverage of the tragedy attributed to actor Morgan Freeman. Freeman had to hold a press conference in order to clarify that he had nothing to do with the Facebook post.
These kinds of fraudulent publicity stunts are not limited to the shooting in Connecticut either...in fact, many of them are far more insidious. Take, for example, any number of posts that feature a photo of a sickly looking child. The post claims that Facebook, or another prominent company, has agreed to pay 45 cents towards the child’s cancer treatment for every share the post receives. “You’d do it if it were your child!” it invariably accuses.
Ask yourselves: Does this seem like a smart PR move by the implied companies? To reward or penalize a dying child depending on how popular she proves to be on the Internet? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to simply pay for the child’s treatment in its entirety, instead of attempting to track and calculate the number of shares garnered by this crass plea for sympathy?
The truth is there is no dying child. What there is, instead, is a sick individual reaping inexplicable amounts of glee from the fact that the post they threw together in a matter of minutes has scored tens of thousands of shares. Why take so much pleasure in something so idiotic, you ask? Good question.
So goes the Internet, the lawless frontier of information. Comparatively, we here in the newspaper business are held to rigorous standards to ensure that what we print is as close to the truth as possible; that facts are verified; and that sources are checked and double-checked. No such filter exists online.
However, traditional media has its downside too. Take billionaire mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose vast media empire daily distorts facts and bends the truth in order to fit his own agenda. Murdoch, via his vast fortune, creates his own filter; the average person has no such megaphone. In traditional mainstream media, money talks. The Internet, meanwhile, is far more accessible. There, everyone can have a turn at the pulpit.
But cyberspace’s gift is also its curse, and the populist nature of online discourse, noble in its essence, is too often drowned out by the rampant stupidity of its content; from baseless conspiracy theories, to unchecked racism, to the aforementioned gluttons for attention, who stop at nothing for a brief moment in the spotlight.
Fear not. You can fight back. Next time you’re thinking of sharing that plea-for-humanity post, check out www.snopes.com, a website dedicated to dispelling online rumours and separating the truth from the fake.
“But why risk it? Why not share it anyway, just to be safe,” you ask? Because each false post you share helps to dull the empathy of viewers everywhere; so that, when a real missing person bulletin starts getting passed around, the majority of people will likely respond with “Meh. Probably just another fake,” and pass it by.