Social media has succeeded in making us all publishers, but sadly too few of us are fact-checkers – the rise of the phoney meme is evidence of that.
It’s a familiar scenario on social media – a friend shares a meme expressing a view they agree with. It may include some shocking or impressive statistics about gun control or immigration or privatisation, or some other political hot topic.
Their friends are equally fired up by these facts, so are quick to share, and in no time it has become widely accepted as truth.
But a couple of minutes on Google (other search engines are available) will probably (in our experience it really is a majority of the time) show you these facts are wrong: those numbers are fabricated, that picture isn’t what it claims to be, and the scale of that map is way out.
A controversial issue such as the UK’s decision to join bombing raids on Syria in 2015 led to a bunch of fake memes, and some humorous responses, as this piece in The Independent highlighted.
It’s a similar story with quotes used to support a view. They will often be attributed (wrongly) to a much-admired historical figure, such as Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill. And here are comedy Lincoln classics to make the point.
The speed with which lies can take hold these days would stagger Churchill, who famously said: “A lie can get halfway around the world, before the truth has got its trousers on”. Or did he?
Snopes does a great job of fact-checking the most popular memes and other internet content, but too few people seem to look. As we write this (February 2016), even a US Presidential hopeful has fallen foul of social media. Ben Carson, who (at the time of writing) is running for the Republican nomination quoted Stalin on what it would take to bring America down.
But – you guessed – Stalin never said those words, and of course social media had a field day.
Our advice: please don’t share something until you’ve checked it. We’re sure Abe would back us up on that.