Open Journals

Sharing and Believing Misinformation

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It’s curious to me that so much misinformation is spread on the Internet with its validity going unquestioned — particularly if it benefits the group sharing the misinformation. If a publication gains traction and popularity, a reasonable person will invariably ask for the source, or they’ll outright prove it to be false, but these voices of reason are usually drowned out by those benefited by inaccuracies.

Within the past week, after Dylann Roof killed 9 black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the Confederate flag has been taken down from some public spaces and a stoppage of sales from some retailers has been put into effect. Calls for the flag’s removal from more publicly-funded buildings and areas are ongoing.

As with any serious event which forces a public debate, there has been pushback: on the pro-Confederate flag side, there have already been multiple rumors and exaggerations of the discussion that is currently taking place. Misinformation and even outright lies are being perpetuated and spread like wildfire. One in particular that I want to mention is a post titled “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Confederate Flags, Memorabilia” by Real News, Right Now. The page’s objective seems to be posting fake news stories, but what’s striking to me is how many people seem to genuinely believe it. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, there are people combating the claim in the comments, but still the people who want it to be true continue to post as though it is. As I write this, I’m still getting email notifications of new comments being left on the page, and it’s already been shown to be false.

Here’s another copy-paste job I’ve seen floating around the past few days. In this instance, it looks like at least half of the people in the thread aren’t buying it. This post in particular cuts through the bunk. In the event that those links aren’t available in the future, here’s another one which seems to be the original source of the copy-paste, and here are some sources which debunk the claims: (x) (x) (x).

These fabrications and inaccuracies only work to build up and solidify one’s beliefs, which means those beliefs are founded on ignorance. In the context of racism — which is certainly prevalent in the United States — this can create and intensify dangerous philosophies and ideologies. If a racist believes that our current President, Barack Obama, is out to ban guns and Confederate flags (neither of which is happening) then those beliefs will create hostility in the racist’s mind, making them feel personally attacked, and thus making them more likely to carry out an act of violence to defend their position, which they now believe to be justified based on the misinformation they’ve received.

On a lighter note: after logging onto Facebook this morning, one of my friends shared a quote originally posted by Facebook group WorldTruth.TV (you have to be logged in for the link to work, not sure why), which apparently has an ironic description:

If you want to know the truth about this world, you came to the right place.

The post in question is a picture of George Carlin next to words he never uttered. The words are actually from an essay titled “The Paradox of Our Time,” written by Bob Moorehead, a retired pastor of Seattle’s Overlake Christian Church. Having read three books by Carlin and after watching almost all of his stand-up, the quote immediately seemed misattributed; it just didn’t seem like something he would have said. (George Carlin, on his website, called the essay “a sappy load of shit.”)

A lot of people in the comment section are saying what basically amounts to, “Who cares who originally said it? It’s a great message!” That’s a dangerous way to think. To be clear: these examples are only related in that the common thread is people sharing and believing falsities; misattributing a quote to George Carlin is definitely not the same as a racially-motivated mass shooting, I just wanted to include one lighthearted example. Context and correct attribution are incredibly important, and, in a serious discussion or debate, it can leave a lot of people with an incorrect idea or notion if it goes unchecked. If a racist quote is incorrectly attributed to a white abolitionist, for example, and people believe that the white abolitionist said those words, that only works to confuse people and muddle the historicity. If people solely focus on and blame this mass shooting on prescribed drugs (x, x) rather than acknowledging the killer’s racism — and, again, that racism is still prevalent in the U.S. — then that only works to take away from the issue. It certainly helps those with an agenda, but if “helping” means making truth harder to find, then maybe it would do us well to fact-check before we post, share, or believe something.

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