Social media is an excellent source for up-to-the-minute information and can provide a way for those rebelling against oppressive governments to communicate with the outside world. However, the power of social media can also be used for less pure motives, and mistakes made through social media can have both rapid and lasting repercussions.
On August 25, posts about kidnappings, bomb threats and gunshots at an elementary school in Veracruz, Mexico spread rapidly on Twitter and Facebook. As it turns out, there was no cause for alarm, but that didn’t stop concerned parents and other community members in the Mexican port city from panicking.
The tweets created such widespread panic that the state government has declared these actions to be acts of terrorism. This serious charge could put the suspects, a private school teacher and a radio presenter, in prison for up to 30 years!
This isn’t the first occasion of false information spreading across social media sites. According to the Guardian, the charges facing those accused of spreading this false information are the most serious ever for inciting chaos or violence through Twitter.
The Ease of Spreading False Information
Sharing false information on Twitter is as easy as typing and making it look creditable is almost just as simple.
Need an example? Avril Lavigne, Eminem, Adam Sandler, Aretha Franklin, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Carter and Bobby Brown are among the list of celebrity death hoaxes started on Twitter in 2011 alone.
Sure, “Avril Lavigne dies in a snowboard accident” could cause concern, but most people aren’t seen as a creditable source when it comes to celebrity gossip nor does a tweet like this typically insight panic. However, a tweet like this still spreads across Twitter as truth.
Now imagine someone tweeting about a matter of public safety, such as “The Empire State Building is on fire” and you have a tweet that could create real panic. Pair that with a well-known network news handle like @CNN to create: “Breaking News: @CNN reports that the Empire State Building is on fire” or worse “RT @CNN: The Empire State Building is on fire” and you have a seemingly creditable report ready to create widespread chaos.
Sometimes spreading a rumor is just as dangerous as creating it. According to some reports, those accused of spreading false information in Veracruz, Mexico, claim that they only repeated what they had heard online elsewhere. However, those individuals are still looking at a prison sentence.
All that being said, the power of social media shouldn’t deter you from using it, after all there is a lot to be gained from engaging in conversations on Twitter and other social networks.
Instead, before sending your next tweet, take a moment to think about what you’re sharing. There are a number of lessons to be learned from the events in Mexico and these celebrity death hoaxes: one being, always check your sources. If a tweet seems extreme, consider checking out the original source before sharing it. Just as you shouldn’t believe everything you hear, you can’t always believe everything you read.
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