Just Because It’s On Facebook Doesn’t Make It True

Photo from: FreedomofResearch.org

Where did you learn the news of Osama bin Laden’s death? If you’re like me, it was on social media.

I heard the news that the president would be speaking on a matter of national security around 10:30 est on Facebook. As 10:30 came and went, I got antsy. What was this going to be about?

Then, at 10:46, I saw the first status update: WE GOT HIM!

My news feed blew up.

I learned that the “him” was bin Laden seconds later. But really, who were these two friends to say those words that we’ve been waiting 10 years to hear? I hopped onto Twitter and learned that CNN had confirmed the news.

OK. Is there a primary and reliable source in this mix? Yes.

I turned on the television and a news station was reporting that bin Laden had been dead for a week. A drone had dropped a bomb on the compound where he had been staying, but his body had just been recovered. Sounds good, right? Everyone began to celebrate. But none of the news stations were saying where or whom they  had gotten their info from.

Let’s jump back to the primary and reliable sources test. Here, it’s failed.

The president later announced that bin Laden had been killed in a ground raid by a special ops force earlier in the day. He is a primary source. He is a reliable source.

But why is this important? We got our man. Does it matter that some people may have gotten it wrong?

Simply put: Yes.

Reports from Twitter have said that the service hit an all-time high of 3000 sustained tweets per second with jumps over 5000 during President Obama’s speech. That’s a lot of tweets that can contain a lot of misinformation if we aren’t careful.

Case in point: Since the news broke late Sunday night there has been an outpouring of support for our troops, a plethora of quotes from the movie Team America: World Police (OK, it’s really just one quote from a certain NSFW theme song) and a deluge of Lee Greenwood lyrics. There have also been three quotes from prominent figures bringing out the reflective and retrospective side of the news all over social media.

Let’s play two lies and a truth:

  • In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not hatred. – Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson
  • I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure. – Mark Twain

Photo courtesy of Disney

The all sound reasonable, they sound like something each attributed speaker might say, they’ve even popped up on major news stations like MSNBC. Only one of them is entirely correct. One is half correct. And the third is entirely incorrect.

Father Lombardi did in fact speak out on behalf of the Vatican on May 2 to help bring clarity and reflection to the lives of Catholics struggling with the rejoicing of a man’s death. His quote is attributable and verifiable. It came from a reliable, primary source.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote is a corruption of a piece of his text from Strength to Love, a collection of sermons written in 1963. The first sentence is a complete fabrication. It is also the only sentence flying around on short form blog sites like Twitter.

Twain’s quote is the worst of the three. While Mark Twain was a cynically brilliant man whose demeanor makes this quote entirely believable, he did not write it. The full and true quote – “All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike someone they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction” – was written by Clarence Darrow in chapter 10 of his autobiography, The Story of My Life.

But what does it matter?

These quotes perfectly embody the spirit that people are feeling! Who cares if they were actually said or not?

Call me crazy and blame my journalism background, but I think we should strive for accuracy whenever possible. A quotation may seem the most trivial of things to fact check when it’s so easy to hit that retweet button, and it’s even easier to tweet or repost breaking information to try to let everyone you know know the information. But retractions and truthful information that appears counter to what you’ve already learned is where mistrust and sometimes panic fester.

Is it really that hard to do a quick search to verify what you’re saying? Probably not. It’s more of the recommendation to pause for a second between writing what you’re going to post and actually doing so.

Just because you see it on Facebook or Twitter, doesn’t mean it’s true. And it doesn’t mean you have to add to the misinformation by sending unverified quotes or facts into your own social network.

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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  1. Donna Burns says:

    Let’s not forget the adage “give credit where credit is due.” If these gentleman said something so eloquently that you use their words to express your emotions instead of your own, then they deserve to get credit for it. Mark Twain is great. But Clarence Darrow deserves his props.