I’m currently watching a really interesting demonstration. We all *know* that many memes floating around Facebook and the internet are simplistic or misleading. Some are even outright false. So what do we do about that?
My first impulse is usually to verify the images I see and only pass on the ones that are, at least, mostly true. I acknowledge it’s a grey area. Opinions don’t have to be objectively true, but they shouldn’t be based on made up facts. For example, saying “I think Islam is dangerous” is not the same as saying, “Muslims are all terrorists” or “Islam is a religion of death”. I’ve seen all of those floating around, and the second two are just not based on facts. Someone’s feelings or impressions are not falsifiable the same way. When I see something floating around that is factually incorrect, I not only don’t pass it on, I also try to leave a comment with the evidence I’ve found contradicting the image.
I believe this is important. We live in a time when it is easy to talk to hundreds or thousands of people at once. Not every conversation matters very much, (hey look! a cat picture!) but some do. And political conversations ought to be based in reality, not fantasy. That’s why I thought my experience this past day or so was both disturbing and enlightening.
Someone in my feed commented on the following picture:
When I looked at the comments, it had only been up for about 15 hours, and it had already been questioned and there were comments with a factcheck article about this very quote (actually Ted did not actually say it). Cool. One of those comments got my attention though, because it said:
“Please research before you crucify an innocent man.......although that is common practice for the progressive left.”
This was just way too tempting, so I clicked on this user’s page. And lo and behold, I found this:
Spoiler alert: not Jefferson.
Now, to his credit, when I mentioned that he had a fake Jefferson quote in his feed, he said “Thanks.” Which is what an adult does. The disturbing part was what happened when I clicked on the page he’d shared this from. It allowed comments so I left one, with the article explaining that this quote appears nowhere in Jefferson’s writings. It was a pretty new image, so my comment is pretty high up in the feed. Guess what happened?
Anyone want to guess?
Well, let’s see... 900 more people shared it.
Oops, make that 3,000.
So does it make a difference when concerns about the truth of an image are raised in the comments? Eh, I’m not sure. I did follow the Ted Cruz pic back to its source:
And I didn’t have to leave any comments on this one, because half of the comments I scrolled through were doubting the authenticity of the quote or sharing articles that disputed it. Seriously, I counted. Out of the first 40 (of a total of 220), 19 were against the quote and 20 were either credulous or just taking an opportunity to say something nasty about Ted Cruz. I was particularly fond of Bizzaro Ted:
To be completely fair, the Cruz meme has been shared on that page for 7 days (December 12), not 2 (December 18). But on the other hand, the Jefferson meme has only been up for 2 days and it’s already been shared 3,548 times. The Cruz meme only 2,964 times. It’s also interesting to note that there are 220 comments on the Cruz meme and only 15 on the Jefferson meme. The second highest rated comment on Cruz’s meme is disputing the meme and it was posted a day after the picture appeared on the page.
I looked again at the Jefferson picture this morning, to see what had changed.
Hey, I got a reply! And something else:
What’s up, Abe??
I find this proliferation of fake historic quotes especially interesting because the conservative pages and commenters I see seem to embrace this idea that they’re authentic Americans, promoting the historic vision of our Founding Fathers and most beloved presidents. So what does it mean that none of them seem to care that they are spreading bullshit instead of history?
This does not absolve liberal or progressive pages from doing the same things. Recently, the page that created the Ted Cruz meme was written up by Politifact:
To be sure, “Stop the World, the Teabaggers Want Off” does have a disclaimer. On the “About” section of its Facebook page, the group writes, “This page is for entertainment purposes. It is NOT meant to be taken seriously. It is primarily satire and parody with a mix of political memes and messages.” But this caveat would be far from obvious to anyone simply seeing the group’s memes on their own news feeds or those of their friends.
In contrast, the “Capitalism” page I found the Jefferson meme on, is very confusing. It does not claim to be satire. In the “About” field on their page, you get this:
I went to their site, http://capitalismisfreedom.com. Unfortunately.
I kind of hope it’s satire.