It amazes me what people pass on without fact-checking.
This habit is harmful. It perpetuates a culture of ignorance and credulity that makes people vulnerable when real threats come to their doorstep. It can also be used to attack people who have little or no connection to the story being told through pictures and unsubstantiated claims.
Here’s an example of a Facebook picture that could go horribly wrong. Look, a sad dog. Look, a licence plate number. Look, a claim that it was left outside by uncaring owners. Let’s bring these owners to justice by sharing! By the time this blog post was published, the below had already been shared over 1000 times.
Sounds like it makes sense, right? I mean, no one likes people who neglect their dogs by leaving them where they could get too hot or too cold. But how do you know that the picture is actually of a dog left alone in a vehicle? How do you know the license plate is even that of the car in question? How do you know that events happened in the way that the picture or caption says they did? Simple, without evidence, you don’t.
So, let’s say you share this photo and about 1000 other people share it, too. Then someone sees the car at a parking lot somewhere and decides to perform some vigilante justice. Sure, if events happened the way that people say they did, maybe it’s poetic justice. Maybe it’s not. You don’t know. Mr. Caped Crusader doesn’t know (and whether he cares is debatable).
Can you imagine what would happen if someone took a photo of you and attached it to the claim that people are looking for ‘wanted child molester John/Jane Doe’? That shit would get shared several hundred times because people don’t bother checking stuff. And it could quite possibly ruin an your life and prospects. The same goes for claims of abused dogs, etc.
If you want to post information implicating someone in a crime like animal abuse or whatever, be aware that without confirmed proof (legal judgments, news reports, etc), you could be the target of a lawsuit for defamation. If you include the person’s identifying information and imply that you want something bad to happen to them? Not really good for you.
Social media has certainly saved lives and brought criminals to justice. Just be aware of what you are sharing, where it came from and make sure that you’ve done your background research. It just takes a few clicks to confirm and perhaps an IM or email.