Ok.. I am sure that you heard that… Paul McCartney died! Right?
Back in November of 1966, “Paul McCartney is Dead” became an urban legend and conspiracy theory alleging that Paul McCartney, of the Beatles, died in a car crash and was secretly replaced by a look-alike. All the clues were right there on their album covers and in their song “I Am The Walrus”. Every Baby Boomer alive remembers that hoax.
How did that hoax spread so fast and effectively at a time before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, cell phones, YouTube, or the Internet?
It isn’t so much the kind of hoaxes or fake news, those have been around forever. The problem is today, the ability to spread those stories so quickly and efficiently to so many people. Just like the world’s population density and increased international travel, allowed SARS to spread so quickly and efficiently. Facebook is the perfect medium for spreading hoax and fake news viruses effectively.
From “Party-Line” telephones in the 1950’s and “Call Trees” in the 1960’s to the Internet and blogs in the early 2000’s, to social platforms we have now, we have used all forms communication platforms to spread both real news and fake news. Only the technology we use, and its effectiveness has changed.
Even back in the mid 1990’s there were so many “fake news” stories circulating, that the company and now famous web site, Snopes was founded. Snopes is the internet’s fact-checking resource for investigating urban legends and hoaxes since 1994, founded by David Mikkelson before anyone even heard of the Internet.
Facebook is simply another way to disseminate information albeit at an alarming global rate. Currently there are 2.45 billion monthly active users posting 17 billion location-tagged Facebook posts and more than 250 billion photos every day.
The big question here is, should Facebook be held responsible for verifying and fact checking 17 billion posts a day? I don’t think so. Facebook was never intended to be a New York Time, Wall Street Journal or a Forbes news outlet. It is only a generic informal communication platform not a news outlet. Readers have to take some responsibility to fact check what news they consume.
Whether it’s fake news, hoaxes, or just common gossip, people love being tantalized by the endorphins these stories create when read. We as humans, all seek this type of chemical stimulation. Facebook is no more than the dealer that pushes feel-good all-natural legal drugs; Endorphins, Serotonin, and Dopamine.
I was surprised when one news-worthy story somehow slipped through the Facebook torrent of news this week. You would think that something as important as “Scientists Recreate a Tyrannosaurus Rex Embryo from Chicken DNA” would have been trending.
It wasn’t because as much as we want to believe our next family vacation will be to Jurassic Park, this story was also fake.