The other day, I was arguing with a woman who told me about some recent atrocities in a politically torn part of the world. She was clearly upset by these atrocities, which she framed in a particular way, and used to support some fairly extreme political conclusions. I disagreed strongly with her conclusions, and I was not minded to take the reports of the atrocities at face value.
When I looked on the internet later, I found a Facebook page that carried the same reports, in similar language. Presumably that was the woman's source. I also found a Wikipedia page on the conflict, which framed things in more neutral terms, based on a number of apparently independent sources. Although there were some unpleasant incidents reported by the mainstream news media, these were neither as drastic nor as one-sided as the Facebook material suggested. So while I don't have sufficient evidence to disprove the atrocities completely, I cannot see enough evidence to take them as seriously as she does.
Many Facebook pages use dramatic images to increase circulation. There have been images of billboards supposedly encouraging criminal behaviour. Snopes shows that a fake billboard, supposedly displayed in Finland to encourage rape by migrants, was actually based on a genuine billboard displayed in Liberia to offer support to rape victims. Georgina Guedes finds another version of the same billboard in South Africa, this time supposedly promoting violence against white farmers.
And both sides are now using the fake billboard tactic. Today someone tweeted a picture of a billboard advertising some Trump property development, which was supposedly displayed in an Indian slum, with people sleeping on the street below. A few hours later, the same person deleted the tweet and apologized for the fake.
Many people find it harder to apply the same critical eye to material that they are instinctively sympathetic to. But as I said in my earlier piece on The Purpose of Truth (November 2016), the more I want to believe something (because it fits my preconceptions), the more I should doubt it.
BBC Guidelines - things to ask yourself before you share a claim
- Have I heard of the publisher before?
- Is this the source I think it is, or does it sound a bit like them?
- Can I point to where this happened on a map?
- Has this been reported anywhere else?
- Is there more than one piece of evidence for this claim?
- Could this be something else?
How to spot a fake US election claim (BBC News, 2 November 2016) Fake news in 2016: What it is, what it wasn't, how to help (BBC News, 30 December 2016)
How to verify photos and videos on social media networks (The Observers, France 24, 10 November 2015)
Dan Evon, You Can't Do That in Finland (Snopes, 11 January 2016)
Georgina Guedes, The ANC is not encouraging black people to kill whites (eNews Channel Africa, 10 March 2016)
Laurie Penny, Against Bargaining: On not taking leave of your senses (The Baffler, 18 November 2016)
Wikipedia: BBC News, eNews Channel Africa, France 24, Snopes, The Baffler
Related post: The Purpose of Truth (November 2016)