[You are encouraged to read the original post at Dr Shogren’s blog.]
Thoughts on Truth and Social Media
My friends know what a skeptical soul I am. Whenever I see a post on the social media, my first reaction is to shake my head and say, “Yes, but, how do you know this to be so?”
And they know me as the one who annoyingly responds on Facebook, “Is this true??”
I really, really, don’t like to be “had”. They “got” me badly, once, when I saw an announcement that MTV was going to start putting operas into their mix of music. MTV!! It still burns me. Later I realized that the announcement came out on April 1.
Set aside videos of cute kittens or adolescents cracking up their skateboards. Let’s focus on those other things – political, social, religious, etc. – which get posted on social media and spread like wildfire. They go viral because of a factor in the human mind called “cognitive bias”. Everyone has cognitive bias = that when I hear things from certain sources, or which resonate with what I already “know” to be true, I more easily assume it’s true, at least until someone proves otherwise.
Let’s take an example: ISIS
In December, after the San Bernadino shootings, these two pictures circulated the internet. If someone put them on Facebook, you and I would probably be more likely to accept one as “real” and the other as faked or at least less important information. The first looks like a pro-ISIS rally, the second something else:
Answer: Both were taken in Dearborn, Michigan. Photo 1 was a march on Dec 5, 2015, by Muslimsagainst ISIS. The other picture in front of “City Hall” is, I was able to confirm, Dearborn City Hall, located at 13615 Michigan Avenue; it was a march by Muslims again, against ISIS, in August 25, 2014. And I learned that there have been a number of these marches by Muslims in Dearborn.
Now, take a look at Photo 3, which I saw on reddit and on Facebook – photos don’t lie…or do they? Because a caption changes its entire meaning.
Just because it’s a photo doesn’t mean its message is true. Context means everything.
And since we’re speaking of Islam, here’s another picture – again, the image doesn’t lie, does it? Well – in these days of PhotoShop, they certainly do! For example:
This was part of the proof thatNationalReport.com, a satirical site (fake news, goofily served up), faked up to support its funny story, “City in Michigan First to Fully Implement Shariah Law.” The article goes on to say that residents of Dearborn will be flogged if caught drinking or be stoned if they commit adultery. I find this story unfunny on more than one level. More on National Report below.
There’s a whole website, by the way,http://www.says-it.com, where you can make up your own fake church sign and post it on the net. That’s how the world got this one:
This next image is fun because it’s silly in a Three Stooges way, although it too has been circulated as authentic:
(I just found a nifty free program on the internet: you upload a picture, and it tells you where it came from: TinEye.com is a great tool the next time a friend of a friend posts a picture with a fiery caption.)
Confirmation bias means that we Christians might tend to accept this headline as plausible, because we want it to be true –
“Noah’s Ark Found but CNN Refused to Cover the Story”– “Ordinary people are hungry for this information, yet the organizations responsible for disseminating these facts seem to have an agenda to keep us in the dark. This is especially true when it comes to our ancient human history.”
Scary! CNN refused! Organizations! Ordinary people! Agenda! Keep us in the dark!
In fact, the story is dubious at best; and the major news outlets does cover Noah’s ark reports. Just look at CNN.com and search for “Noah’s ark”.
They circulate plenty of weird rumors about Christians too – for example, that a Christian woman rewrote the Harry Potter books, to replace magic with “miracles.” Or that the Vatican houses the largest porn collection in the world.
I have confirmation bias too, just so we’re clear! So, if I see the following link on Facebook tomorrow, I might be inclined to click on it!
Science reveals that 50-something evangelical males have the sharpest minds of any group in the US and should be allowed to vote twice in the coming election.
Some don’t realize that people actually make up stories as a prank. Purely as humor. They are meant to amuse people who are “in on” the joke, but they are also meant to be spread as rumors.
If you are politically conservative, an evangelical or a Roman Catholic, some of these sites exist in order to poke fun at how gullible conservatives, evangelicals and Catholics are! And if you are liberal, an atheist, or a Muslim or Buddhist, the same is true. And so when you accept their stories, you fall right into their trap.
People love to be outraged, and righteous outrage is addictive. Outrage over what’s really going on is right, and necessary. But let’s make sure we aren’t binging for our own pleasure.
National Report: America’s #1 Independent News Source (nationalreport.net). We mentioned the Shariah Law article above, and must consider the source. Of course, some will say, “Just because it’s in National Report doesn’t mean it’s not true!!” Yes, but remember: the article was written by a comedy newspaper, for the purpose of amusing some and frightening others – it’s not real! Their own disclaimer reads, “All news articles contained within National Report are fiction, and presumably fake news.” Today’s articles include “Why Does President Obama keep getting Bristol Palin Pregnant?” (Sarah Palin fans get a lot of ribbing on NR!) and another that says Dr. Ben Carson has died (unfunny).
The Onion: America’s Finest News Source(theonion.com) – I do like this item:
Disney World Opens New Ordeal Kingdom for Family Meltdowns – Situated between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, the 350-acre property reportedly incorporates many of the most aggravating elements of Disney’s other parks and expands them into a creative and fully immersive world of irritation, which is said to include the longest lines in the entire resort, a convoluted layout that is only depicted in indecipherable cartoon maps that are not to scale, and 150 percent higher prices.
It’s just a joke people! As are their articles “EPA Urges Nation to Develop New Air Source” and a picture of a grimacing “Paul Ryan Quietly Doing Seated Ab Exercises Throughout State Of The Union.” The Onion’s motto is Tu Stultus Est (Latin for “You are a fool”), and it claims to have 4.3 trillion readers. Here’s a cute one: “Concept Car Designers Struggling to Think of Cool New Ways for Doors to Open.”
Unconfirmedsources.com – Here’s a satire from 2012, which I cleaned up a bit:
OBAMA ADMITS; PRIVATE SECTOR __. Just hours after saying the private sector is “doing fine” President Obama admitted that the private sector actually __ “…I realized after my speech that the economy __, people are unemployed and things are much __ than I thought”, Obama admitted. “I talked to my advisers before the speech and they told me everything was just great. From now on I will read the newspaper before I make a speech”.
It’s a joke!
The saucy reductress.com is amusing: it’s a satire on women’s magazines like Cosmo (warning, NSFW). One article today is: “What Your Lipstick Says About How Confident You Were Two Hours Ago.” And “I’m Saving the Earth by Recycling My K-Cups to Make Dog Hats.”Realnewsrightnow.com has this headline from last year: “Donald Trump Demands Vatican Release Jesus’ ‘Birth Certificate’”.
Half the “fun” – if it is really funny – on satirical sites is reading the outraged reader comments, those poor, unclever folks who don’t get the joke. And while I enjoy a good satire, most of these websites know that they are creating disinformation which will be shared ad infinitum around the web. In some cases, it’s “information vandalism”.
Other satirical sites: TheDailyCurrant; FreeWoodPost; TheBorowitzReport; worldnewsdailyreport.com; rumormills.com; tribuneherald.net; cityworldnews.com; lercio.it.
Here’s a useful website:http://www.fakenewswatch.com/
Last year, Merriam-Webster added “clickbait” to its dictionary, with the definition “something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.”
I run into two kinds of clickbait. The first is a link to a story that is so badly distorted that the headline is really a deceit. For example, this one from Britain: “UK Waterpark Bans Bikinis and Orders Visitors to Wear ‘Islamically Appropriate’ Clothing.” What an outrage, right?! So you click on to read the article – only to find that, in fact that event was only on one day, in which some Muslims had rented the park for their own community event. And then asked Muslim women to dress in jogging pants and a tee. Maybe you still find that offensive, but the whole truth is less outrageous, no?
Here’s another type, and I paraphrase: “This Iraq War Vet was Insulted by a Waitress – How He Responded Left Me Cheering! Click here to see it.” The bait is to make you want to see his delicious riposte. And unlike us, he was able to come up with his retort right on the spot.
We know why people click on such things, it’s because we want them to be true. And so sometimes we pass on untruth:
Ah, well, the truth is always one thing, but in a way it’s the other thing, the gossip, that counts. It shows where people’s hearts lie. Novelist Paul Scott
Yeah, money. Many websites get their revenue through selling ads. You get thousands of people to visit your site to read some provocative story, and your income goes up. Simple as that.
I live in Costa Rica, and about every time I go online I see an ad for “This Costa Rican Man is Now a Millionaire – Find out How!” (I checked – another dead end!). Or “Warren Buffett invests in gold – you should too!”
The other motivation is political. Have you seen those memes, “Click here if you…” Support Our Troops. Appreciate the Veterans. Like the American Flag. I dunno…Don’t Want Puppies to be Gassed. Believe Cancer is a Bad Thing. So you click on, and the next thing you know you’ve joined the Socialist Party, or supported a Frenchman for president, or signed up for “Financial Secrets the Millionaires Don’t Want You to Know!” Money again, mixed with politics.
Look for Part 2.
Copyright Gary Shogren.
Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica.