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Before you hit that ‘share’ button …


GREY MUTTER: Text messages and social media are not reliable sources of information. After all, how would you know whether it’s true or not without verifying the information? asks Lance Fredericks.

Picture: StockSnap from Pixabay

WHAT a tragic week this has been. Really sad. During this past week, I learned that a family of six was, mysteriously, found dead in their home. There was no evidence of foul play, but upon deeper investigation it was discovered that a deadly spider was found inside the kettle from which they drank tea.

This must be the unluckiest family alive … I mean dead, because these unfortunate souls have been dying from boiled spider water since August 2013. We hope it’s the last time they die this way because the report I received requested that I help prevent it from happening again by broadcasting the message to all my contacts.

The text message ends with a chilling warning: “This is serious guys, life can be taken by something so small.”

Well, now that I have posted the warning in an official newspaper, I am sure that from now on, this tea swilling zombie family will be fine.

But seeing as I have the platform, I think I should warn the reader that … It’s official! “Signed at 10:33pm and even broadcast on TV. Facebook will start charging this summer.” But there is good news. If you log in to your account and copy this message to your wall your Facebook icon will turn blue and your Facebook will be free. Isn’t that good news?

Oh, by the way, as usual, please also forward the message to all your Facebook contacts, if you fail to do this, your icon and your profile will be deleted.

Oh, by the way again, for the record, I was told that “this is serious! The icon will turn blue!” Then the person that warned me added a most reassuring statement: “Mine really turned blue.”

To be honest, I actually hoped he was holding his breath at the time and that he was talking about his face turning blue.

But anyway, remember, good things come in threes!

So here’s a third bit of important news. I also learned recently that our national telecommunications company is recalling the old, redundant handsets that people may still have in their homes – packed away in closets or boxes.

The plan is to grind these old plastic phones to a fine dust, add some much-needed fragrance and sell it for cosmetic use. Apparently they are going to market it as ‘Telkom Powder’.

Now let me come clean.

Not one of the stories above is true. Yet somehow every few months or maybe a few years, rumours like these, daft, idiotic, ludicrous posts, resurface on social media and you find panicked folk – in all sincerity – sending bulk messages out to all their contacts.

Then you should try passing a debunked hoax back up the line, to the person who sent it – people are sometimes offended, and more often than not they will not send the truth out to all their contacts. Maybe for fear of looking silly.

For the record, text messages and social media are not reliable sources of information. Granted, sometimes truth can be disseminated through these channels … but think about it, how would you know whether it’s true or not without verifying the information?

When I first was interviewed for my job at the newspaper, the editor told me something that I will not forget. “Sadly,” he said, “exciting lies, fantastical rumours and ‘BS’ spread further and faster than the truth; that’s why we have to be careful what we publish.”

Think of it this way, as a columnist, what I am doing is looking into a ‘room’ through a keyhole and making a huge fuss about what I see. My opinion pieces are just that – MY opinions. For every single thing I say and emphasise, there could be a dozen things I have not said or even considered.

Now a reporter, on the other hand, is like someone standing by the door, interviewing every person who walks out, asking them what’s happening inside the room, and writing a story about that. It’s more reliable than an opinion piece, but not ideal, however.

Then you get the journalist, this is the person that will roll up their sleeves, pluck up their courage and walk into the room to not only speak to the people inside, but look around and see for themselves what’s going on. The journalist’s job is simple: collect and report on the facts, let the reader make up their minds over what the truth is.

Then you get those who are nowhere near that room, who sit somewhere and think up the most sensational, alarming, frightening things they can imagine and type up a convincing sounding fabrication. This they send out, and people lap it up. I guess it has to do with the emotive language the pranksters use.

I am almost certain that these pranksters can count clicks to see how far their ‘wolhaar stories’ can travel. I suspect they laugh themselves silly at people’s gullibility.

HL Mencken wrote, “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

What this seems to mean is that there is a tendency for some individuals (people who generate or create hoaxes, for example) to believe that the general public is not very intelligent or discerning and they assume that people can be easily deceived or manipulated.

Therefore, these individuals or entities can freely engage in practices that involve underestimating the intelligence of the masses, perhaps by making misleading claims; they can do this without fear of suffering any consequences because people are seen as gullible.

So a friendly word of advice from someone peeking through a keyhole … when you receive a message that urges you to share some critical information with as many people as soon as possible, do yourself and your contacts a huge favour … verify before hitting the ‘share’ button.

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