They say that a lie has already spread around the world before the truth even has a chance to get up in the morning.
Words cannot ring more true after what we’ve seen circulating in the Middle East over the past 24 hours. Legacy media and many notable politicians have been quick to side with terrorists who celebrate death and teach hate because it makes for a great byline and makes them appear morally superior.
Yet, spreading outright lies is morally wrong. And when those lies entice others to act in violent ways, it gets violent and dangerous.
The right thing to do is make sure you’re getting the story right, before you proclaim what you believe to be the truth from a wide reaching and influential platform. But does anyone care about getting things right anymore?
It’s one thing to spew lies and hate into a vacuum; where those lies and hate are lost forever; never reaching an audience. But, it’s an entirely different thing when social media has afforded everyone with a cell phone a free and unvetted platform to reach the eyes and ears of nearly everyone in the world.
So, why aren’t we more committed to getting the story right?
Why is there a need to jump the gun before we get all of the facts straight?
Is there an award for being first to report on an entirely inaccurate story? I didn’t know that social media had turned into a race to post something; anything; even if it’s not accurate.
Since when did we devolve to this?
Strangely, most people in developed countries went to school (whether they finished or not is not relevant), and most people have taken some sort of test. Whether that test was a math test in school, an eye exam, a hearing test, or even a driving test. The purpose of the test was the get the answers RIGHT, and to pass the test.
Since when did we all want to get the answers wrong? Since when did getting things right not become important?
I’ll tell you.
The consequence of getting answers wrong on a test is that you get a lower score, or you risk failing the test altogether. There are tangible repercussions for getting things wrong on a real life test.
The same applies in a Court of Law with respect to a personal injury case. When a Plaintiff, or a Defendant lies in open Court, the lawyers are quick to point out those lies and show the Court that the evidence being tendered is wrong. When the Court finds that the evidence is wrong, or a complete fabrication, or it’s shown that the Plaintiff or Defendant is lying in order to get their way; there are real consequences for that. The lying party will not only loose the case; but they can be guilty of the crime of perjury. Parties who are honest, credible and likeable are often rewarded for these virtues; sometimes even if the law is not on their side. There are tangible rewards to a party for getting things right; and at the same time; there are tangible consequences for a party getting things wrong.
These same tangible rewards for getting a story right, or getting a story wrong; or deliberately putting out misinformation do not exist on social media.
There is no social media police to point out that you are wrong. There is no penalty for putting out a bad, or an inaccurate post. Sure, the “social media police” can freeze your account, or eliminate the account altogether. But nobody is paying a monetary fine. Nobody is compelled to retract the post. Nobody is compelled to put out an apology. In fact, the post, just gets lost in the sea of other information circulating on the internet.
There are no real life consequences for spreading hate, lies and misinformation online. Some might argue that there are real life consequences for doing such things. I’ve seen posts whereby people have lost jobs for spewing hate. I’ve seen posts whereby large donors to Universities and Colleges have pulled their funding commitments.
Is that enough? Will firing employees, blackballing students from employment, or pulling funding from major institutions in the physical world, reduce the spreading of hate, lies and misinformation (deliberate or not) in the digital world?
Curiously, these real life consequences to posts in the digital world related to the acts of individuals who are not public figures.
What happens when lies, hate and misinformation is being spread in a harmful way by public figures such as politicians; or legacy media companies? The politicians get the keep their jobs until the next election. Perhaps they are pandering to their audience in order to collect favour at the polls at the expense of the truth. It doesn’t matter what they say, so long as it garners public support and attention.
The same can be said for legacy media companies. So long as their posts garner clicks, likes, shares and more eyeballs, they are doing their jobs; the truth be damned.
All of this is contrary to what students in the Western World and developed countries are taught in school. Get the answers right! Getting the answers right is so important that some students are driven to cheating on their tests to get better test scores. It would seem that the only place where getting things wrong is ok is on social media, which is unfortunate. Most people don’t read the newspapers; or watch the news on TV; or listen to the news on the radio. They get news and gather information about the goings on in the world from their social media timelines. When those social media time lines spew hate, lies and misinformation; it’s not good for anyone. In the physical world, just like the Court of Law, a Plaintiff cannot afford to be wrong. There are real world consequences for being wrong in Court. But, there are no significant real world consequences for getting it wrong on our social media feeds. Instead, it’s a race to post, regardless of the veracity of the post. Truth takes a back seat to clicks and likes.