Terrible Facebook rumour ruins a good thing

If you’re a Facebook user and noticed that several of your online friends had changed their profile photos to cartoon characters last week, it was part of a campaign to raise awareness about child abuse.

Facebook users were asked to change their profile photo to a favourite cartoon character from their childhood as a way of spreading some good cheer and childhood memories as a way of raising awareness about the issue. Lo and behold, the campaign was tainted soon enough when a nasty rumour was started.

I wasn’t aware of the rumour until a cousin of mine (who happens to be the mother of four boys) posted a link to her Facebook page that showed up in my newsfeed claiming that the campaign was actually an evil scheme by so-called pedophiles to identify children online. Don’t ask me how they’d do that, but that was the rumour.

I’ve seen so many rumours about pedophiles on Facebook that it just boggles the mind. The minute a rumour gets started – and it doesn’t matter how silly it is – parents put their brains in sleep mode and just start posting links like crazy as a way of informing other parents of the imminent (non-existent) danger that the rumour (treated as fact) is causing their offspring.

Again, and I’ve written about this many times both in this column and online, before you jump the gun and start posting “scary” links, take five seconds and search for the rumour in a search engine such as Google.

Let’s say the “scary link” is about cannibals recruiting lonely senior citizens to Christmas dinner… only the senior citizen is going to end up as the main course. As silly as it sounds, I can guarantee you that, if I started that rumour tomorrow on Facebook, a bunch of people would flock to repost the link and e-mail it to their parents and senior citizen friends to warn them not to accept any invitations to Christmas dinner from strangers.

Before reposting the link, simply type (in this case), “cannibal,” “Christmas,” “senior citizen,” “invitation,” or something along those lines into Google. I can guarantee you that, if the rumour is rampant, one of the many hoax-killing websites out there will be on top of it. The results at the top of the page that shows up after you click “Google Search” will definitely contain the word “hoax.”

If that’s the case, click on the link and read about it. If the rumour has been identified as a verified hoax, just stop the insanity by refusing to repost the rumour. Also, advise the person who linked to the story that it’s a hoax so that others will see that they shouldn’t repost it. And please… don’t repost it “just in case.” I’ve seen many people post obvious hoaxes “just in case” they’re true.

Verifying a hoax online these days is child’s play. Take the time to stop these rumours in their tracks. And even if the link says, “This is not a hoax! It’s been verified by Snopes!” (or another hoax-killing website), take the time to verify it anyway. Many times, you’ll find that it is indeed a hoax.

Don’t hurt your credibility online by constantly posting rumours. People will just ignore you and the times you actually post something worthwhile sharing, people won’t see your links because they’ll likely have hidden you from their newsfeeds because of your previous hoax-spreading ways.

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