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The Gullibility of Facebook

by Alison Hudson

December 6, 2012

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Donate A couple of weeks ago I brought up the story of the Michigan cougar, and a trail cam photograph of said beastie taken in June of this year.

As it turns out, it didn't take long before the trail cam photograph of the Michigan cougar begin making its way around the world's most popular social networking site, Facebook, as evidence of cougars in Upstate New York. Mike Lynch of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise chronicled the meme earlier this month, based on a supposedly "true" report that became attached to the photo. The story had been shared over 2,000 times before Lynch discovered it. It's still up to this day, despite many people in the comments section calling it out as a hoax.

Facebook seems to be the number one purveyor of false truths and non-skeptical thinking nowadays, a role it has inherited from mass-forwarded e-mails. I don't know when the last time was that I got an e-mail with a dubious Obama story or FEMA death camps theory in it; but I sure as heck see such nonsense in my Facebook feed on a daily basis. Just in the last week or so, a number of my Facebook friends were getting worked up about Facebook Privacy Notices, a fake rumor that had originally appeared in the summer. Or, have you seen all the misattributed photos that went around during Hurricane Sandy? I did, over and over in my Facebook feed.

I know that in my own social media use, I've learned to be perpetually skeptical about any "news" item that isn't posted by a news source that I trust and follow. I've been sure to keep websites like Snopes and Facecrooks close at hand whenever I see something suspicious. I've begun to treat the Share button with as much trepidation as I would once treat my e-mail's Forward function.

And most importantly, I've begun speaking up when a Facebook friend posts something specious. I keep my tone polite and my links minimal, but I'm not going to ignore bad information just because these people are my friends. It's because I'm their friend that I'm willing to speak up and stop them from spreading nonsense. I know I can't stop such misinformation from spreading through the rest of Facebook, but at least I can keep my own circle of friends honest.

by Alison Hudson

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