He Said, She Said: How False Information Gets Spread

By Anna Stolarek

Did you know that four out of ten posts that we see on our Facebook news feed page contain unreliable news?

Although this calculation does not seem like a lot to some people, it certainly makes one think in terms of what is real and what is fictitious. We find ourselves in a new reality where going outside to search for answers ourselves is completely out of the question. As of right now, technology is one of our biggest connections that in some capacity gives us the privilege to see what is going on around the world. Still, there are people who have doubts. Doubts that what they see on their television screens and social platforms are frankly speaking well constructed fabrications.

Big questions hover over our heads: Can one easily misinform and disinform others? What sources can we really trust? Who can actually provide us with legitimate information? By the way, did you know that what you just read in the first sentence about Facebook was completely made up by me? Now, I cannot help but wonder how many of you opened up a new tab after reading this statistic to see if it was indeed accurate and how many of you just accepted it as the ‘truth’ without giving it much thought.

There are moments where I am genuinely trying to convince myself that we are smarter than this. That humans are better than this. It honestly astounds me how easily we fall into the trap of false information. Yes, I said we, because I refuse to believe that I have never read something completely false, which I simply did not take for granted. Still, the question is not when the process of misinformation or disinformation occurred, but how many times we actually fell for it? How many times have we accepted things as legitimate? How many times have we unintentionally spread the fabricated text to someone else? When does it all start spiralling out of control?

The sad truth is that we will probably never get the answers to most of these questions. It can never be guaranteed that the so-called truths we know of are one hundred percent accurate. I can also say with absolute certainty that I did not know the answer to the last question for a very long time. However, just a couple of weeks ago I finally managed to crack the code. The simple answer is…false assumptions.

It should not come off as a surprise that most human beings can be very judgemental. And as I am sure you know judgement goes hand in hand with assumptions. Sounds harsh but that is the unfortunate reality. It honestly blows my mind how easy it is to make up your mind about a person. One can take a quick look at you, judge your appearance, listen to your utterance and in a blink of an eye you are marked as a vile member of society. In the same aspect, the social media world is also very much similar. A simple comment can make things really ugly, even when one posting that said comment means no real harm. If you think that statement is a massive exaggeration, allow me to share a story with you.

Would you ever believe that one could be suddenly accused of being an anti-feminist and follower of a certain political party by simply posting a short video of a plane? If you think that such a thing is impossible, I have to unfortunately burst your little bubble. This particular accusation was aimed at one of my Facebook friends who happens to be an aviation enthusiast.

I can already hear what most of you are probably thinking: What do you mean? On what grounds was he accused of a such thing? How could one be called out for posting a harmless video of a plane? Seems rather ridiculous, right? Without further ado, allow me to show you how people fall into the so-called black holes of false assumptions.

On April 14th, one of the biggest transportation planes in the world the AN-225 Mirja landed in Warsaw. On board of the aircraft, large quantities of masks, medical protective clothing and shoe protectors were sent from China to aid our country that was in desperate need of new gear. As I have mentioned previously, my Facebook friend is fond of planes so he decided to post a harmless video of this particular plane as it flew around.

What followed next was something that took him completely off guard.

A lot of people started messaging him and accusing him of ridiculous things. Why? False assumptions, that’s why.

As I am sure you know, AN-225 Mirja was arranged to arrive in Warsaw owing to a certain political party. This particular political party is, frankly speaking, not everyone’s favourite, due to their controversial views and ideologies. When certain individuals noticed his post on their Facebook news feed page, they started to falsely assume that he wholeheartedly supported this political party, not once thinking that he might have posted such a video for the sole purpose of sharing his excitement that one of the biggest planes landed in Poland. He (rightfully so) found this entire backlash ridiculous and believed that a lot of people blew this entire thing out of proportion. I could not agree with him more.

I mean, how terrifying is that? Being judged falsely by others all due to their mere assumptions? That is completely bonkers!

What does that mean for a lot of us? Do we have to write long explanations about what we are trying to convey in our message every single time we post something to avoid any conflicts and misunderstandings? I do not know about you, but to me it sounds very exhausting. If we want to post something we should be able to do so without other people ripping our heads off every single time they find something questionable due to their constant overthinking.   

Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that this article gave some of you a little bit of clarity. Although there are a lot of unknowns in the world one thing is known for certain. These are trying times for all of us. So let us do ourselves a favour and let us take a step back before we jump to our own conclusions. Remember, just because you feel like or you think that something is real, it does not make it real. Things can be deceiving, even your own thoughts.

And, for starters, maybe we need to take more of a break from social media, and treat our minds to some good old-fashioned responsible and reliable sources of information. Curiously during this coronavirus pandemic, that thing our parents and grandparents used to read – a newspaper – has gained incredible popularity these days. And it’s right here for you, online.

Sources that you can trust: