One of the more familiar characteristics of social media today is its effectiveness in spreading misinformation, half-truths and hearsay.
With the ability to communicate with people so quickly and efficiently, regardless of the number of miles between you, spreading nonsense has never been so easy. Or fast.
The problem with this is that whilst most rumours may appear harmless – and can be passed along “just in case” they’re true – they often have unseen or unpredictable consequences, not only for the sender, but for others, or even the social media community in general.
We take a look at 12 potential consequences of sharing inaccurate information through social media – some more serious than others – with the aim of highlighting why it is so important to research before you share.
12. It wastes time.
They say that the only thing that you can never truly refund is your time. We hear all the time about the time we spend travelling to and from work, asleep or even eating and how this can add up over a lifetime.
But what about the time we spend pouring over the nonsense we encounter online? How does that add up? We only live for a comparatively short time, and your social media friends probably don’t want to spend it reading or verifying the nonsense you post.
11. Rumours often steal information or content from other people
It may be easy to believe that sharing a photo of an injured child because the caption asserted “one share = 1 prayer” may have little downside, but these photos typically spread across social media to make money for scammers by attracting attention to spammy like-farming pages.
And if that is the case, it’s pretty unlikely that the photo has been used with the permission of anyone connected to the photo. In fact in past hoaxes we’ve seen, the owners have seen their content be used in conjunction with such hoaxes which has caused much distress, especially considering the child in the photo had since passed away.
10. Rumours can cause unnecessary distress and alarm
We may think we’re doing our friends a favour by passing along the latest warning about criminals and hackers or whatever, but these alarming rumours often turn out to be plain false, causing needless alarm to those who read it. Given that only a few moments research it usually all it takes to dismiss a false warning, is it really necessary to post “just in case”?
9. Rumours detract from genuine issues
Not to mention that such false warnings detract from real issues. Most of us are familiar with the popular fable of the boy who cried wolf. The more hearsay and inaccuracies that persist on a particular subject, the less serious the social media community will take future warnings.
Lies detract from truth.
8. It all makes you look rather foolish
Appealing to the vanity inside of us all, if any of the other reasons on this page fail to dissuade you, understand that constantly posting rubbish makes you look foolish. And not in that “endearingly ditzy” sort of way, but in that “please get off my Facebook” sort of way.
7. It can cause racial/religious/political discrimination
Propaganda is not always easy to spot, but it’s the driving factor behind much of the nonsense we see circulating online. Regardless of your beliefs or values, do you really want to spread something that is only going to cause hate, especially if that something isn’t even true?
Do you really want to be that person?
6. Rumours help scammers
Out of the various types of people who use the Internet, there is one that benefits most from misinformation, and that is the scammers themselves. Viral rumours for example mean that scammers can predict what social media users will be searching for, making it easier for them to set traps by predicting where their victims will be going or what information they will be looking for.
5. Rumour often attack brands, establishments or companies
Rumours are often started by disgruntled people with an agenda against a company or brand, and as such these rumours are often designed to attack these entities. Not only can this cause issues for innocent staff – as with the case against a pub in Leicester – but lures others to act as unthinking conduits for those who start the rumours.
That means you’re being used!
4. Rumours mean more rumours
If false rumours never gained any viral success then the people who started them in the first place wouldn’t continue to do so. Posting false rumours across the Internet only means that more false rumours are going to appear, sooner and faster. When a hoaxer sees that a particular hoax has been successful, they will start another, similar one.
If you remove the motivation to start a rumour, which is its success, then there is little reason for those who start them to continue.
3. Rumours can cause real dangers to those connected with them
One persistent theme that we’ve done plenty of reporting on recently in “trial by social media” where individuals are attacked by baseless rumours and such attacks have real consequences on their lives, despite being unverified.
Trial by Social Media and the vigilante justice it encourages are both simply unacceptable. We don’t live in a society where anybody gets the right or authority to decide for themselves if punishment for another is required, yet this is how many social media rumours work.
Like it or not, we abide by the laws of the country in which we reside and we accept the punitive actions given by their respective courts. And if you encourage or enact the prospect of vigilantism then you’re ultimately just as bad as anyone else who thinks crime is acceptable.
Just ask the guy that Facebook labelled a pedophile when an unverified rumour circulated about him.
2. Hearsay is hearsay
If you need a compelling reason not to just blindly click share, then understand that anything you read on social media is merely hearsay until backed up and verified by reputable sources. And most of the rumours we see pass through our website and community pages everyday are simply untrue.
1. Posting false rumours devalues the extent to which social networking acts as an effective method of spreading true information.
Every time you post or share nonsense, you are devaluing how effective social media can be at providing a platform for sharing genuinely helpful information. Every time someone passes along nonsense to their Facebook friends, they are thus cheapening and lessening the consequences of passing along information that is actually true.
You see, sites like Facebook have this fantastic ability to communicate to the masses with viral messages. We can do things such as send out alerts, breaking news, raise money and even help keep the corporate world in check, along with many other great things. But we can only do things like this effectively when the information is true. Every time false information is passed along Facebook, it lessens our ability to do any of that.
It is the responsibility of every Facebook user to ensure that the information they share with their friends is true information. 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. It’s time to stop the cesspool of propaganda and baseless rumours, and turn Facebook into an effective communication tool for everyone who uses it.
Remember, the vast majority of rumours circulating Facebook can be immediately dismissed in only a minute or so by using Google or any number of anti-hoax sites like us. Take the time, use your common sense and always ask someone if you’re not sure. It won’t only help you by doing this, but everyone who uses Facebook.
(Also read our article “5 ways to verify/debunk a rumour” here.)