Oops! Was my face red!
Last week I saw a fascinating article on Facebook. It was entitled “Amazing things you didn’t know your cell phone could do.”
Wow! I had no idea cell phones could do all that. I immediately shared it with my Facebook friends.
Bad move. I was quickly informed that the article was almost totally bogus. (I’m sorry to inform you that you can’t use your cell phone to unlock your car — unless, as a friend pointed out, you throw it through the window.)
Normally I check such things out before forwarding them. But this time my enthusiasm got the best of me — such amazing and useful information! — and I made the classic Internet mistake of forwarding info I hadn’t checked out. Ouch!
In this particular case, the consequences weren’t dire. I wasted a bit of my friends’ time and made myself look silly.
But sharing false political information can have much more serious consequences. Especially for libertarians.
When we send something around that turns out to be false, people may wonder: “Are libertarians just stupid — or are they trying to deceive me?”
They may think, “This libertarian has sent me something I know isn’t true. So I can’t trust anything he or other libertarians say.”
Those aren’t reactions we want from our social media outreach.
This is a serious problem. The web is clogged with fascinating facts, mesmerizing memes, compelling quotes and startling stories — that are not true.
So before you hit that “Share” button on Facebook or the “Forward” button in your email, take a moment confirm the validity of the material.
Note, this doesn’t mean you have to verify everything you share. Jokes, fables, cartoons, cat videos… fire away.
But before sending a quote or a fact, take a moment and fact-check it.
It’s easy. Type it wholly or in part into Google. See if it can be verified at a reliable source. Something like “funnytruequotes.com” (I just made that up) isn’t sufficient. A legitimate online thesaurus, book, scholarly site, or reputable newspaper or magazine source is needed.
You can also use Google Books to instantly search millions of books to see if the quote or fact shows up in a reputable book.
Does this sound like too much trouble? Do you just “know” your quote is accurate, because it just “sounds right”? I invite you to try it on a few anyway. You will be shocked how many false quotes are attributed to the Founders, to Ron Paul, to various presidents, and the like.
The more amazing the fact or quote, the more it confirms your prejudices… the more likely it needs to be vetted. “Eighty percent of U.S. tax dollars goes to foreign aid” might sound plausible to some people, but check it out and you might be surprised. If you can’t verify it at a legitimate source (newspaper, magazine, think tank, book, etc.) don’t send it out.
If a story sounds too good to be true, that’s a warning sign. Check out snopes.com or a similar site to see if it’s one of the thousands of phony tales mugging truth-seekers on the web. (I know, Snopes.com has its own biases, but it’s a great place to start.)
Once you’ve pushed the “Share” button, it’s hard to take it back. Some people will never see your retraction, and many of your friends will have already forwarded it to dozens or hundreds of others. In one irreversible moment, you’ve helped contribute to the ignorance of the human race. Not good.
As ambassadors for libertarian ideas, we need to make sure we always display integrity. As seekers of the truth, we must always be truthful in the information we share with others in making our case for liberty.
As Liberator Online columnist Michael Cloud is fond of saying, “The facts are friendly to freedom.”
We’ve got the truth on our side. Falsehoods and bad information only hurts our cause.