Tag Archives: hoax

social media used to prank journalists during live event – again

“In the end, accounts of the shooting from @JewyMarie made it into reports from the AP (and The New York Times as a result), the International Business Times and an on-air interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. There is obviously a person behind @JewyMarie’s Twitter account, but the person’s accounts of events are fake. While embarrassing, the ordeal is a reminder that a person’s word is not proof. People lie. Anonymous people on the Internet lie – a lot.”

This is from a blog by the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s an excellent caution for anyone looking for information during a breaking news event.

What a great lesson this would be as part of the class on media literacy I long to teach…

You have an obligation to be truthful online

Because of the Internet and text messaging, it has never been easier to share information – or misinformation.

Also because of the Internet and text messaging, we’ve all become mass communicators. This isn’t the same as passing around a Christmas letter to the family, sending cards to friends or showing a video of the company picnic at a gathering of co-workers. Posting a blog is publishing. Posting a Facebook status update is publishing. Posting a video on YouTube is broadcasting. Yes, it is. You may have set your privacy settings so that only your friends can see what you have published or broadcast, but they have the ability to cut and paste your ideas into their own publications or broadcasts.

And because of all of the aforementioned, you have an obligation in all of your publishing and broadcasting to be truthful – that includes what you forward. I’m not talking about jokes or satire. I’m talking about “Here’s an article from The New York Times” you are sharing because you saw it on someone else’s page – did you make sure it really is from The New York Times? Did you take 15 seconds or less to cut one sentence from the article and paste it into Google or Bing and to see what comes up – a NYT link or a Snopes article debunking the story? (I timed it – it really does take just 15 seconds or less).

You don’t have to be a journalist to have ethics. And you still get to post all sorts of opinions and thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears and jokes and pretty pictures wherever you like, however you like, to whomever you like. But take just 15 seconds or less before you post that amazing story about a boy with cancer or a heroic dog or some outrageous action or comment by someone you don’t like, to make sure it’s true.

What are the consequences of NOT being a responsible citizen of cyberspace? These:

  • You cast doubt on everything you say, once people start to figure out they can’t trust something you post online.
  • You can be seen as careless, once people start to realize you didn’t verify an article before you posted it, an article they initially believed.
  • It’s disrespectful to your network – shouldn’t friends, family and colleagues expect you to respect them enough to verify the information you share with them?
  • You cast doubt on news that IS true. What if there really is a kid with cancer who needs donations, but people don’t believe it because they know that a story you posted about a kid with cancer wasn’t true?

Do you really want the to be associated with untrustworthiness and carelessness? Don’t your friends and family deserve more?

What to do when you find out something you posted is not true? Take it down and replace it with correct information, along with an apology.

I’ve posted information a few times that I thought was true and that turned out not to be. As a trained journalist, I was mortified by my carelessness. I try to use each of those experiences to be a more responsible publisher and broadcaster. Because that’s what my friends, family and colleagues deserve from me.

Related subjects:

Folklore / text messaging interfering with development, aid/relief & public health initiatives

Rampant misinformation online re: Mumbai (from the archives)

Myths aren’t just annoying – they promote hatred

Citizen journalism/crowd-sourcing gone wrong?

Social media: cutting both ways since the 1990s

Aid workers need to help local staff avoid scams

Today, I got an email from a close friend in Kabul, a young Afghan woman who works in an Afghan federal ministry. She forwarded me an email from another Afghan colleague, telling her she had “won” a USA visa and that she had to pay $150 in order to finalize the process. She wanted to know if it was real.

Most every young Afghan woman I know is trying to get out of Afghanistan. They are not only terrified of what the withdrawal of coalition forces will bring; they are terrified of being forced into marriage, and forced to give up their jobs, being imprisoned in a stranger’s home with a family who treat female non-blood relatives as indentured servants – or worse. Afghan women are desperate and vulnerable — in a perfect position to be taken advantage of by someone promising exactly what they want to hear.

For someone with intermediate English skills, the email looked oh-so-real. For me, it was obvious that it was fake, but I’m a native English speaker, a pretty savvy Internet user, and an amateur researcher regarding myths and urban legends. I did my best to explain to my friend how to know when something like this is fake, as this email is. And it made me wish I was there to do a workshop for all of my Afghan colleagues, especially the women, to show them how to avoid email scams.

If you are working in aid, development or humanitarian affairs on site in a developing country, I hope you will consider doing a lunchtime workshop for your locally-recruited colleagues about online scams. Just 30 – 45 minutes would be so helpful. Talk about visa scams, inheritance scams and phishing. Even if locally-recruited staff are particularly savvy about knowing when something is a fraud, their family and friends may not be, and you would be helping them to help their family and friends avoid being taken advantage of.

I am the first to tell a friend that a warning they have posted in their Facebook status or an email warning they have sent to all their friends is a fake. It turned a couple of people into ex-friends – how dare I tell them such a thing is false? Where’s the real harm in forwarding these kinds of messages? Today, I was reminded yet again where the harm is — the very real harm.