Google Something Clever 2.0: How to Stop Perpetuating Misinformation

Jan 15, 2013

How to Stop Perpetuating Misinformation

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’re probably familiar with my posts “Written By a Cop for Our Own Safety” and “The Surprising Benefits of Lemon!” In these posts, I take ridiculous hoax emails that old ladies like to forward to their families, and make fun of them. I’m always on the lookout for new “health” and “safety” hoax emails to blog about, because they’re fan favorites.

A few months ago, a friend forwarded me a grandma-email about how onions are poisonous, and also somehow able to cure the flu. I declined to use it, because the whole thing was just so outlandish, it would be too easy to make fun of. Nobody would believe this email, right? Wrong. Within the past week or so, I’ve seen it posted three times in my personal Facebook feed.

Now, I need to make this clear right away: My Facebook friends are not stupid. I don’t associate with stupid people; it gives me a headache. That’s why I don’t work anymore. So how is it that smart people are falling for these hoaxes? It’s because they are too trusting.

I was a victim of The Facebook Trust-Fall (yeah, that’s what I’m calling it) today. A friend posted an article on Facebook. Lookie here:

Hooray! I love “Arrested Development”! I’ve been waiting forever for news on the premiere! I immediately “liked” his post. Then, I clicked the link. When the page opened up, I grabbed the URL and emailed it to my husband and my best friend (also huge fans) with the subject line, “May the Fourth is no longer Star Wars Day.” Because I think I’m clever, obviously. Then, I finally read the article.

The premiere date is not May 4th. In fact, the third of the (very short) four paragraphs that comprise this article states (in its entirety), “Earlier this month, it was rumored that Netflix had scheduled the show's premiere for May 4th, but reps immediately debunked the date.” The article actually doesn’t list a date at all; it only says that it will premiere “this May.”

So, guess what shows up in my inbox as soon as I close the browser tab? Emails from the two people I sent it to, correcting me. I, of course, had to shame-reply that I had sent it to them before reading it myself. And what about the friend who posted it? Could it be that he only skimmed the article while waiting for the elevator, and “May 4” stuck out in his head? Could it be that someone else shared the article with him, and he pulled the same boner as me? Haha, sorry, I always wanted to say that. Maybe he’s a malicious troll, and he posted misinformation on purpose.

No, he’s not. But here’s the point. You don’t know. I don’t know. That’s why we have to do our research. What if the two people I’d sent it to also shared before reading? And their friends shared, and their friends shared… That’s how these hoaxes happen. You trust your friend Bob. He’s not stupid. He’s not a liar. Well, Bob trusts his cousin Bill. Have you ever met Bill? Do you trust him? When you share your Facebook friend’s post, you’re implicitly trusting everyone whose status they ever shared. Or something like that.

An aside- here's some other Facebook B.S. I’d like to debunk real quick:
  • Morgan Freeman is not dead. And he thinks you’re all stupid.
  • Betty White did not say that stupid quote about balls. And she’s mad that you think she did.
  • Flu shots do not cause the flu, or colds.
  • MMR vaccines and gluten do not cause autism.
  • Never, in any “Star Wars” movie, does any character say, “Luke, I am your father.”

Please, for the love of the internet, research before you share any information. Read the article. Google it. Ask your doctor. Our brain cells depend on it.

P.S. Do you think I should do that onion post, after all?