The social Web is an incredibly frustrating place to be at times. I’m aware that I’ve commented on this subject a number of times before, but it’s important: the spread of misinformation is at best irritating and at worst incredibly dangerous.
The most recent example was a result of this image:
This image has been doing the rounds recently — first on Twitter, where the supposed exchange took place, and subsequently, as tends to happen, a day later when Facebook’s denizens caught up with the rest of the Internet.
It is, of course, bollocks. This exchange took place, oh yes, but it was not between Piers “Cuntface” Morgan and Bradley Wiggins. No, instead, this is what happened:
You have doubtless noticed that the person who replied to Piers Morgan was not, in fact, Bradley Wiggins, and was instead one Colm Quinn, who just happened to mention Wiggins in his tweet, which is where the misunderstanding came from — probably from someone who doesn’t quite understand how Twitter works. (Ending the message with “@bradwiggins” could look like a “signature” to someone not familiar with the way a typical Tweet is structured.)
As usual, however, the fact that “BRADLEY WIGGINS GAVE PIERCE MOREGAN AN AWESUM COMEBAK” makes a better story than “SOME DUDE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF GAVE PIERS MORGAN AN AWESOME COMEBACK” struck, and it struck hard. The (inaccurate) story spread like wildfire, of course, with no-one bothering to actually check Wiggins’ timeline to see if he actually said the things that were attributed to him. And it spread. And spread. And spread.
Over time, some people got wise to the truth of the matter and pointed this fact out. But more and more people continued to post the inaccurate details — and then it spread to Facebook, and the whole thing started all over again, with both sides getting increasingly frustrated with one another.
I know it’s a seemingly silly little thing to get riled about, but like I say, consider the potential implications if the “fact” that started spreading was something that could actually put someone in danger, or ruin a person’s reputation. When the entire social Web starts acting like Daily Mail reporters by just blindly reposting things without even bothering to see if they’re true or not, we have the potential for a real mess. Just look at the reactions of Facebook-bound idiots who don’t know what The Onion is for a preview of what might be.
Fact-checking isn’t just for journalists. Of course, there are plenty of journalists out there who seem to think it doesn’t apply to them, either, but that’s another matter entirely. It takes a matter of seconds to check something like a Tweet is the genuine article. You should be immediately skeptical of anything posted as a screen grab of a bit of plain text that looks like it was written in WordPad, or anything described by someone as SO AWESOME/FUNNY/HILARIOUS/LMAOOOOOOO etc. And, most importantly, if something sounds like it was too awesome to be true, it probably was.
Respect to Mr Colm Quinn for his excellent admonishment of Piers Morgan’s twattish behaviour. Disrespect to all of you out there (you know who you are) who fall for this crap every time, whether it’s “OMG TODAY WAS THE DAY MARTY MCFLY WENT TO IN BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II!” (for the last time, it is October 21, 2015) or “OMG! PIERS MORGAN GOT BURRRRRRRRNED BY BRADLEY WIGGINS”.
Simple routine: before you retweet or share something, stop, check, then check again. It’s not that hard.