Please, please, check before you post! You may be surprised to discover that just because something appears on the internet, or on social media of some description, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. Let me give you an example.
Recently, a meme has been circulating on social media. This meme, over a picture of a ’regular Joe’ type guy, drinking a beer, reads ‘This is retired US Army Sgt. Gregory Hayes. When St. Hayes discovered that his 16 year old daughter had been raped by two Syrian refuge brothers, he took the law into his own hands….’ The post goes on to say that Hayes beat both men to death, and now faces life in prison because of it. A very quick google search shows that this post is totally false. According to Snopes, there is no record of a retired Army Seargent called Gregory Hayes, or any record of this event occurring. Yet, people are still sharing it. But wait a minute, you may say. This fake meme isn’t hurting anyone. Why is it a problem?
Well, this post infers that Syrian refugees are coming to western countries to rape and pillage, and if, like ‘Sgt. Gregory Hayes’, you defend your family, you face punishment. In reality, there are not many Syrian refugees in the USA, and according to the same Snopes article, none have ever been charge for with a rape. In fact, crime rates among refugees are low, in the USA, and here in Australia. Posts like the meme about Gregory Hayes simply fuel an irrational fear of refugees that is based on no credible evidence.
There is very little accountability on the internet, especially on social media. We’re free to post whatever we like, usually with no ramifications. However, I would argue that posting with integrity is extremely important, in this age of ‘fake news’, for lots of reasons. Here’s why you should check before you post:
Fake snippets of information on the internet affect the way we see the world. What possible reason would someone have to make up a fake meme like the one about Sgt. Hayes? Presumably, they have an agenda. That agenda is to suggest to people that refugees are bad, and we have reason to fear them. This is actually far from the truth, as mentioned above. The result of this kind of misinformation is that we tend to see the world as a more dangerous place, where we must fear everything, particularly things that are different to us.
False information can have a real impact on our actions. Recently, there has been a rise in vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, because people are not vaccinating their children. The reason for that is fear. People fear that vaccines might harm their children. Is the rise of misinformation on the internet to blame for this? Yes, there’s a good chance that it is. Look, I really believe that we should question things. Especially if the health of our children is at stake, then let’s not blindly accept the status quo, but make an effort to find out the truth. However, if you are going to believe that vaccines do more harm than good, and are possibly causing things like autism, then you also have to believe that the vast majority of doctors and scientists worldwide have either been duped or are in on some horrific conspiracy. That’s simply not possible.
False information can also hurt your cause. You may have a genuine concern about radicalised Muslims coming to our country. Fair enough, although just a quick aside that this fear is probably an inflated perception based on a very small number of incidents. So what do you do? You find a video on YouTube, ominous music playing over scenes of what we assume (because they are black or brown people wearing various kinds of ethnic garb) are Muslims, behaving in threatening ways. They make scary statements. They speak in Arabic. The information contained in these videos is always vague but very ominous. More often than not, there is no information to say where or when the videos were filmed, so we aren’t able to check them for accuracy. For all we know, they could be scenes taken from a b grade movie. Posting videos like this causes fear and anxiety among those who chose not to engage critically with them. Everyone else ignores them, and then will discount other things that you post as unreliable and histrionic. Either way, your genuine concern is not engaged with in a meaningful way.
But, the conservatives will shout, what about free speech? Well I will absolutely defend free speech. I think it is hugely important. However, free speech does not mean the freedom to be deceptive or to lie, however much some people might think so. This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about the basic decency of making sure the information we share is accurate and not deceptive.
Look, as I’ve said before, I’m most definitely a raging left wing hippie who thinks immigrants and refugees are a big part of what makes Australia great, and who also thinks we should trust doctors and scientists, especially when the majority of them are saying the same thing. You don’t have to agree with me. You probably don’t. And feel free to splash your opinion all over the internet. Just please, please, for the love of all things digital, just check your facts before you post.