Editor’s note: This is guest post by Craig from ThatsNonsense.com.
If you’ve devoted any significant time to social networking giant Facebook, you’ve more than likely spent most of your time perusing and tagging photos, chatting with mates, joining Fan pages, finding old friends or even making new ones.
Oh, and you’ve also probably witnessed or participated in the mass circulation of any one of the many thousands of false rumours that circulate Facebook every single day as well.
The ones that implore you to “repost” by updating your status to the same message, thus allowing all of your friends to see it and do the same.
It seems that one of the most commonly experienced phenomena on Facebook is the continued circulation of rumours, and just like nearly any case of online or offline Chinese whispers, the rumours are hardly ever true or accurate enough to excuse circulation, yet they spread prolifically, typically under the misguided justification of “better safe than sorry” or “just in case”.
What many Facebook users don’t seem to grasp is that even if a false rumour appears harmless, it isn’t. Some Facebook users just don’t understand why. It’s not just because false rumours take up space and bandwidth. I mean they do, but the reasons are more tangible now, more profound and the potential consequences much greater.
For a start, spreading a potentially false rumour takes up time. Not just yours, but the people who are your friends. Think about it – when you post a false rumour you are essentially asking your friends to waste their time by reading it, posting it, and often even acting upon it. Time is not something you can refund. When it’s gone it’s gone.
But wasting your time is nothing compared to the very real damage a rumour can do to a person or business. Many social networking users simply do not realise the incredible power that Facebook has harnessed. For the first time in the history of the world people from all over the globe are as closely interconnected as they ever have been, meaning when you pass on a rumour, you’re not just passing it on to your Facebook friends, but helping it reach potentially millions of Facebook users. Rumours that have that amount of exposure can be extremely damaging in the real world to people or companies, such as anyone called Thierry Mairot who was the subject of an extremely vicious rumour claiming he was a sexual predator who used Facebook to catch children. The rumour was unfounded and baseless, yet it reached millions of Facebook users because it was blindly circulated by hundreds of thousands who thought it was best to circulate a rumour they did not know was true rather than spend the two minutes it would have taken to disprove it. These people fail to realise that rumours within Facebook can very easily cause real implications in the real world, just by passing them on. The same applies to rumours attacking companies, such as PepsiCo – who had a string of false rumours attacking them, from HIV infected bottles to a rumour that their Can designs celebrated 9/11. Possibly Facebook users justified passing on the messages because it was aimed at the corporate world and not a single person, but these rumours could still stop people from buying Pepsi, which could result in innocent workers losing their jobs. It is always worth remembering that passing on rumours in such an interconnected and epic online community can very likely have dire real world repercussions.
Worth also taking into consideration is the upset and distress seemingly harmless rumours can have upon certain people. For example the photos of sick children that are passed around Facebook with the caption claiming that sharing them induces donations from Facebook for medical expenses. These should not be circulated not only because they’re false, but also because the photos were stolen, leading to upset on behalf of the families. Even false rumours of hackers can cause needless worry to Facebook users who can become concerned for the safety of their Facebook accounts. Once again simple research can disprove these rumours, yet many “Facebookers” decide on blindly circulating the nonsense and continue to cause upset and worry to other Facebook users.
Worth considering is that those hoaxers who make these rumours up to begin with would be much less inclined to do so if their twisted incarnations didn’t get so much attention. In other words, spreading false rumours leads to more false rumours. Whether they’re designed to scam, slander or for some sick enjoyment, the inclination to start these rumours lies purely in the significant possibility that they will become viral. Remove that possibility and you remove the motivation to start them in the first place.
Lastly, the final and most universal reason I could give that should discourage anyone from blindly passing on false information is this – every piece of nonsense, rumour and hearsay that is passed throughout Facebook devalues the extent to which social networking and Facebook acts as an effective method of spreading accurate information.
It’s the same principle of the boy who cried wolf. Each and every time you pass information across Facebook that is not true, you are decreasing the effect you would have when you pass on accurate information. Facebook is a potentially fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime tool at our disposal, giving us the opportunity to pass around valuable information such as alerts, breaking information, the ability to raise money and the facility to keep the corporate world in check, but this can only happen effectively if we can stop Facebook becoming the cesspool of lies and misinformation it is currently gearing towards. This is the responsibility of everybody who uses Facebook. It is the responsibility of every Facebook user to ensure that the information they share with their friends is true. If they don’t, they are not only belittling and devaluing their own Facebook experience, but also the experience of every person who uses Facebook.
Within the realms of Facebook, posting a message to your friends isn’t just posting a message to your friends. It is helping the circulation of a message to a potentially epic audience. Remember this along with the fact that the majority of rumours that pass around Facebook are simply untrue, and it will usually only take a few minutes to dismiss most of them. Given that fact and the potentially dire consequences of not researching before posting that I have outlined here, there is no excuse for blindly posting rumours – not even to be “better safe than sorry” or “just in case”.
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