Thursday, 29 November 2012

Facebook: Home of the Urban Myth

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy using facebook. I enjoy catching up with family and friends, hearing the latest news, sharing in their successes and hoping that I can say or do something to ease the pain during troubled times. I like exchanging funny photographs, getting to know people better and a whole lot of other good things that come with the site. But with the good comes the bad, and I don't just mean repeated photographs of pets or babies doing something funny with an equally ridiculous caption to go alongside. And really, there is only so many times I can look of a photograph of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with a smart arsed caption underneath before I grow bored. No, this latest trifling piece of annoying is the sheer number of hoaxes and scams that I see on my newsfeed every day. (And on a related topic, my compassion is not measurable by liking or sharing a photograph of a sick child/abused animal/senior citizen being deprived of their Jim Reeves record collection.)

Urban myths on facebook are abundant. There are some stories that I can kind of understand people sharing. They are the kind of news stories that show the better side of human nature. We would like them to be true. Take for example the one about the black man who is upgraded to first class on an airline flight after a woman complained about being seated next to an undesirable person. (Read more here.) Or the story of the man who tells his wife he wants a divorce and she insists on a months notice and him carrying her to bed every night. They fall in love again and then she dies of cancer. (Read more here.) Both stories have a lovely moral, but that doesn't make them true. 

Then there are the nastier scams. These are the ones that prey on our fears and our sense of compassion and duty. In particular, our sense of compassion without having to actually do terribly much about the problem but for the click of a button. No money will change hands and you don't even have to spend that much time worrying about it. So ... Just so we're clear, facebook does not sponsor sick children. They will not be donating money for every time someone likes or shares a photograph of a sick child. (Read more here.) And yes, I agree, childhood illness is a horrible thing. And yes, when we hear of a sick child we all wish we could do something to help. But this kind of activism is misplaced. Instead, consider donating money to a reputable charity in your area, even if all you have to spare is fifty cents. Don't help to pass on highly exploitive photographs, which have been uploaded by pranksters for their own amusement. Exploiting children and the compassion of others is not okay.

Then there are the other myths. No, a particular type of fruit has not been proven to cure cancer, you do not have to copyright your newsfeed (that is covered in the terms of service,) and nothing, I repeat, nothing is going to happen if you do not forward on that chain message. Use your common sense. Or spend two minutes on google. Type the name of scam in and the word hoax and you'll have a host of articles available at your fingertips to set you straight.