Fact checking Facebook
Five years ago my sister dragged me kicking and screaming into the world of Facebook. I had resisted participating in social media before that because I thought it was a complete waste of time and energy and, mostly because I am a contrarian and I liked not following the crowd. She convinced me it was a fun way to see current pictures of my grandkids and keep distant friendships alive, which made it only a partial waste of time and energy.
Since that fateful day in 2011 I have become a red-eyed, distracted multi-device using obedient sheep in the Facebook flock. I have found and spoken to high school friends, old Navy buddies, long lost cousins and all manner of former co-workers, bosses and people I used to know. Heck, I’ve even become friends with friends of people I used to know.
I confess that my participation has grown well beyond grandkid pictures and finding old shipmates. I’ve posted pictures of my dinner, random thoughts, song lyrics that seemed deep or relevant at the moment and even, I’m ashamed to admit, selfies.
Facebook has become a guilty pleasure over the years but lately it’s also become a great source of irritation. Too often, as I scroll through my newsfeed looking for funny memes (which have replace the funny pages for me) or some new grandkid pictures, I’m inundated with those outrageous official looking headlines. I used to actually stop and read the stories because if there was “Absolute proof that Obama was a puppet of militant Islamic aliens from outer space!!!!” I would want to know about that.
That is how I learned some very valuable lessons about stuff you read on the Internet. First, they can say anything they want and don’t have to prove a freakin’ thing (much like this column), next, most of it is something called click bait and, according to the guy with the weird hair from the History Channel, the aliens overlords who control Obama predate Islam so that headline was just ridiculous.
It turns out that click bait is when a sponsored website makes some outrageous claim just so some schmuck like me will click onto their site to read the story which gets them more advertising revenue. Other times political groups take a small shred of fact, blow it way out of proportion to get more people to read their opinions which are rarely supported by fact.
Sadly, too many of us within the mindless Facebook flock never bother to click on the site or read the story at all. We think, “What? Isis wants to kill American puppies? That’s outrageous, I’d better share this!” I wish I was making that up but last month a website actually published that story based on no evidence. One can only guess that they were just immature pranksters or, worse, cat people.
Here are a few quick examples of dubious headlines I personally saw on Facebook recently:
An Alaskan Judge calls on U.S. Marshals and FBI to arrest the president and all of Congress. Not a bad idea but it didn’t happen.
A Navy admiral was relieved of his command for exposing a real estate transaction by the president in Dubai. He was relieved of command but nothing else in that story was remotely true.
The picture reported to be of a badly burned dog injured while saving his family from a fire was actually a dog with a piece of lunch meat on his face.
Donald Trump said Republicans were stupid. He’s pretty much called everyone else stupid, but he never said that.
It’s illegal to quote the Bible in Cincinnati; not true, nor is it customary to win playoff games in Cincinnati.
General Chuck Yeager endorses Trump for president; that didn’t happen, nor did he say, “Donald Trump, never heard of her.”
I have fallen for a few of these myself. I believed and shared a derogatory story about the governor of Idaho. I still think the governor of Idaho is a total jerk but the story I shared about him on Facebook wasn’t true and I never checked. Also the story about an old birdwatcher beating up one of those wannabe militia types in Oregon I shared turned out to be bogus. It was funny but it was made up.
It turns out that Facebook is good for seeing pictures of grandkids and old friends but, like this column, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com.