When checking your facts can make a world of difference

    A few months ago I wrote that we should all think before we type. In a nutshell it’s time to stop hiding behind the keyboard and relative anonymity of social media. We now live in a world where we all have access to publishing platforms (Facebook, Twitter etc), and an audience of varying sizes (friends, followers and fans), but we must take responsibility for what we post – and read. Journalists and traditional media outlets (mostly) check facts before publishing, so why shouldn’t the rest of us? Everything you post is “public and permanent”, so the same standards should apply..

    Here’s a recent alarming example of the importance of fact checking. A Facebook ‘friend’ recently shared a post about a Northern Queensland Council that had apparently banned the hanging of Christmas lights this year because the local mosque had complained. At first glance I thought “yeah whatever”, quickly followed by “hmm, sounds fishy to me”. About 30 seconds of Google and it was clear this message was fake. A hoax that had been doing the rounds for a couple of years to incite hatred and encourage xenophobia. There wasn’t even a mosque in the town. I was going to just let this pass, like so much other crap we read, but then I thought; “No. If I don’t call the person out on this, I’m part of the problem.” So I did. The person was embarrassed, but it was too late, the lie was out there and shared with others, and as with all things said, true or not, some mud would stick. I then pointed out to the person that when you share content, you “own it now”. Its like picking up somebody else’s rubbish in the street – once it’s in your hand, it’s yours and you have to find a bin, you can’t just drop it back onto the ground. But by this stage the person was onto the next outrage, her post in tact, by now with comments from other ignorant people who hadn’t fact checked either – or bothered to read my reply.

    On further investigation, I was horrified to discover that the original post had been shared 68,000 times! This lie had been shared with millions of people and acted as a conduit for hate and racism using many non-racists as its messengers – trusted friends, family and neighbours – thus adding to it’s apparent legitimacy with each act of passing and receiving. Were those people just too lazy to check their facts, or did the message prick something in the back of their minds that told them that such a hysterical post “sounded true so it must be true”. I sure hope it was the former, inherent laziness is easier to address than bigotry.

    All is not lost however, the fact remains that the original story was not true, and Australia is probably a better place than what social media suggests it is.

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