We’ve all seen them…the adorable, fluffy “baby crow” (it is a rail), the “baby platypus” (it is a stuffed toy), the “petrified stump of the tree that would have been ten miles tall!” (it is the Jugurtha Tableland rock formation in Tunisia). Then there are the fake obituaries. Just imagine if someone was passing that kind of fake news about one of your friends or loved ones or your child. There are countless more out there…fake memes that are shared, reshared and sent on viral trips around the world. These posts die down and then resurface again and again. Tom Petty fake-died so many times that some people called his actual death “fake”.
Everyone gets suckered by a fake post now and then. Last week I posted a great quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It came off the “Brainy-quote” site, so I assumed it was accurate…I mean, if they call themselves “Brainy”, shouldn’t that mean something? Within minutes, a friend debunked it. I double-checked, he was right, so I deleted the quote and PM’d him a “thank you”. I learned something new and one less fake post headed out into cyberspace.
Once in a while, I will try to gently and kindly point out to someone that the meme they shared is fake and explain what it really is. Never once has anyone said “oh, thank you!”. Rarely, if ever, do they delete the fake post. In most cases I am actually attacked, mocked or bullied…and it isn’t just me, I have seen it happen to other who rally for the truth. The original poster and their allies will often staunchly (sometimes viciously) defend their post, even in the face of evidence proving it false. Sadly, they are more willing to BE wrong than admit they were wrong.
Think about it this way: Someone pulls you aside before your first date or big presentation to gently say “honey, you have a big piece of spinach between your front teeth”. Do you chew them out and ignore them...or do you check the mirror, think “ewww, glad someone told me” and grab a toothpick?
A fake meme or fake news story on your social media page is like a hunk of spinach between your front teeth (or worse). For every kind soul (and it IS kindness) who clues you in, there are hundreds who will just snicker behind your back or think “how embarrassing” or, worse, lose respect for you.
Why does it matter? Why SHOULD it matter? In a world where fiction is being taken for fact, we owe it to ourselves, if no one else, to seek truth. We need to learn to think critically...it is not that hard to do. Take a few seconds to fact-check your posts and give yourself extra credit for finding truth in an environment that makes it easy to mix fact and fiction. At worst, you save yourself a little embarrassment...at best, you learn something new.
You think you “don’t know” how to tell what is real?
Here is a simple tip. Before posting, sharing (or believing) something on the internet, google a couple of key words along with “meme”. You will get a pile of hits and can learn within SECONDS if it is true.
For example, the “baby crow”: When that one first showed up, I knew it wasn’t a crow (having seen MANY baby ravens and crows), but I did not know what it actually was. I googled “baby crow meme”. Up came plenty of photos of actual baby crows, a dozen different versions of the fake baby crow…and several sites debunking the meme. Turns out it was a baby buff-banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis). That does not make it ANY less cute…and, bonus, I learned something new.
A darker example: A few months ago a meme was circulating among my far right friends with a photo of a Nazi, claiming it was George Soros. I didn’t know who Soros was, so I googled “soros nazi meme” and learned that the photo was actually of Oskar Groening (google THAT name, omg). Within seconds I learned that not only was Soros NOT a Nazi, but that he was a 9 year old Hungarian Jew when the war broke out. His story is the kind of thing that makes movie plots. Whether you agree with his politics or not, whether you love or hate his business practices…it turns out that his philanthropic projects have made the world a better place for many people. More good than most of us will ever do. In the comments of the posted fake meme, I said simply that the photo was not Soros but Oskar Groening. The original poster and several other artist friends laid into me saying “it does not matter, he (Soros) is EVIL!”. They reminded me of that Monty Python movie scene…”he’s a witch! ‘he’s a witch”. Their meme post had the opposite effect than intended…I gained respect for Soros and lost respect for everyone who defended the cruel fake meme. My bad, that wasn’t spinach in their teeth…it was much worse.
If you are not sure which “news” sites or websites are fake…again, just google them. There are reputable sites that rate the accuracy of information on the web and lists out there of websites that have been proven to publish fakes news. Note that I use the plural, there…not just one site…there are many sites that independently research this information. If a news item only shows on ONE website...that is good reason to be suspicious.
Example: Shortly before the election, a dear friend posted one of the horrific political memes. The meme was attributed to “the Denver Guardian”. So, I googled “Denver Guardian”, turns out the address for the Denver Guardian was a parking lot space…it was a fake site (confirmed by several articles). The "Denver Guardian" website and others like it had been traced to foreign sources who were making a lot of money playing Americans off one another. You share those posts and not only do you have spinach in your teeth for your wedding photo, but someone is making money selling billboards of it.
When it comes to politics on BOTH sides…sharing fake news and memes does NOT help your cause. You hurt it. People will think less of you, your stance and your party. Wanting to believe something and finding a supporting meme on the internet does not make it true. The more fake memes people lob at one another (like primates throwing feces), the more divided we become. By the way, since I didn’t want to insult primates by that reference, I googled “primates throwing feces” and got this quote from Vanderbilt paleontology professor Neil Kelley: “Bored primates soon learn that flinging feces elicits a dramatic response from the humans outside the cage and that response is a strong reinforcement for a socially starved animal”. Seems my analogy was more true than I thought. What it boils down to is this…stop throwing poop at one another!
I have been wrong a lot over my years. What I have learned along the way, is that my best leaps forward in thinking, art, life…have come from screwing up, then admitting I was wrong and correcting my mistake(s). It hasn’t stopped me from making more mistakes…but that only means I am still trying, still learning, still growing.
As to correcting people…no one wants to do that, no one wants to risk being called “mean” (or worse) for trying, even gently, to point out the truth. No one wants to be the one who says “honey, you have spinach in your teeth” (that is almost as bad as finding out you had spinach in your own teeth AFTER the big date). More often than not, people tell you the truth because they care enough to want to save you from embarrassment or teach you something of value.
When someone does offer a correction, even if you don’t have it in you to be gracious, at least try not to be mean. Even when the truth hurts, I am grateful for those who offer a respectful, constructive, accurate correction…for they are helping me become a better person.