Often, when information is passed from person to person, the meaning of the original message can be altered. In the Sopranos episode Pine Barrens a phone call between character Paulie and Tony captures the idea.
Tony “It’s a bad connection so I’m gonna talk fast! The guy you’re looking for is an ex-commando! He killed sixteen Chechen rebels single-handed! He was with the Interior Ministry. Guys like a Russian green beret. He cannot come back and tell this story. You understand?”
Paulie “I hear you.” (hangs up) “You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator.”
Unfortunately not all cases are humorous and can even be dangerous in certain situations. The recent attacks in Paris have led to many false headlines occurring. One curious example was a rumor that the Eiffel towers lights had been shut off to mourn the victims of the terrible shootings. However, this was totally made up yet major news organizations like Fox still covered it until they found out the Eiffel tower lights turn off every night.
While some of these false headlines are harmless others can very damaging and even dangerous. One very very unfortunate Sikh Canadian man was targeted after a photo shopped image of one of his selfies appeared that portrayed him as one of the Pairs attackers wearing a bullet proof vest. Even though it is now understood that the image was fake the damage has been done to the life of the Canadian man who had been unfairly labeled.
Huge international events and tragedies like the one in Paris are ideal circumstances for people to spread false information. When people are afraid it is important for them to have the proper information especially in situations of crisis. Because people turn to social media for news it is even more important that the information they get there isn’t false as this could cause misinformation and make the situation worse.
Without anyone to filter the flood of information from social media it is up to the users to sift through the information and determine was is true or false. Following reliable news organizations on respective social media sites will provide a source of information and avoiding friends or followers posts who have shared false information in the past. Trusting news sites on social media can only go so far though as even they can sometimes be fooled by rumors. Perhaps the social media outlets themselves should help the users determine true stories by categorizing user posts in their news feed with tabs for hard news or personal posts.
Featured image courtesy Flickr user Carolyn Lehrke