THE biggest social media news of the past week was the report that Facebook will be shutting down on March 15.
If you are a Facebook fanatic and haven’t already heard the news, don’t worry too much.
The “news” site that reported it also have articles stating that scientists have cloned a dinosaur and that a yeti was spotted in New Jersey.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was a parody site (Facebook also publicly announced that the news is not true).
Nevertheless, the whole cybersphere was abuzz all weekend when the first whiff of the news started spreading. Many were quick to provide their take, which if you wanted to categorise them, would be the following:
1. Shock – “It’s impossible!”
2. Addiction – “But what will we do now that it’s gone?”
3. Paranoia – “How do I download all my photographs?”
4. Jealousy – “Well, it’s about time!”
5. Relief – “Maybe my kids won’t spend so much time online anymore.”
6. Smugness – “Pfft, it’s obviously a joke.”
Thing is, this isn’t the first “joke” that has hit cyberspace. However, the way people reacted – whether positively or negatively – is actually a really good indication on how much Facebook has become part of their lives.
But this article is not about that because like Facebook, parodies have also long been part of our lives.
Personally, I feel that parodies, like satire, is an important cultural element in any community. It allows us to have a laugh, facilitates socio-cultural (and perhaps even political) dialogue and perhaps most significantly, keeps us on our feet.
So, how exactly do you make sure that you don’t fall for the next one? Most people have their own techniques/methods to sniff things like these out.
For me, the first thing I do is take anything I read with a pinch of salt – especially if it is something that is out of the ordinary or questionable. This means that the first step is to read, and not just the headlines, but the whole story.
More parodies (whether in text or verbal forms) usually include hints of farce. In the case of the Weekly World News’ story on Facebook shutting down, it quoted the latter’s founder Mark Zuckerberg as saying:
“I don’t care about the money … I just want my old life back.”
A statement like that should already ring some bells in your head. The second step is then to check the source of the information. If you don’t already know that Weekly World News is a parody site, look for signs.
The site’s logo, featuring a strange creature with a shocked face, might give you a clue. Otherwise, you can look for other stories to see the nature of the news – “X-Files to go gay” might be a good indication, if having a news category called “Mutants” doesn’t already say enough.
Of course, in our daily online lives, we deal with more “fake” news than just parodies. There are also rumours and misinformation, for example.
When I see a news report on Twitter with a sensational headline, I always click on the link and at least glance through the article before I retweet it to make sure that I am sharing accurate information.
If I get someone asking me to retweet a message about a lost pet, or stolen car, I try to trace the tweets to the originator (by checking who else is tagged in the RT or using the “In Reply To” feature) and getting confirmation. The same goes for e-mail.
Sometimes, it’s not only about whether the fact really happened but about timeliness. If someone was kidnapped from a particular area on Monday for example, you’d want to check for more updates before sharing that same info a few days later.
In more general situations, there are even websites you can turn to which can help confirm or debunk information. One of the most popular is www.snopes.com.
If you’re concerned about information about computer viruses or attacks happening, Trend Micro has a Threat Encyclopedia (http://bit.ly/gtO0fT) which appears relatively current.
At the end of the day, people will always spread such myths, misinformation and urban legends. We just need to smarten up and keep ourselves informed.