The internet has brought about many great things, as I’ve written about before. It’s given access to activists and independent outlets. But because it allows everyone to have a voice, people can say whatever they want… including things that aren’t true.
News travels fast on the internet. If you were an internet user in 2012, you probably heard about one of the biggest viral sensations in internet history (heck, you may have even participated – this is a no-judgement zone): Kony 2012. This is a wonderful example of how people are willing to believe almost anything. Even though Kony isn’t necessarily an internet hoax, it does show how things can explode on the internet, and that is exactly what hoaxes try to do.
Some of the biggest internet hoaxes that people actually believed – not the chain email ones that your grandparents send you every so often that you know very few people take seriously – are incredible. This isn’t just ignorant people sharing them on Facebook, this is legitimate news sites reporting on these false stories.
For example, a conservative activist named James O’Keefe fooled many when he recorded secret videos and heavily edited them to make it appear as if liberal non-profit ACORN was actually assisting in crimes. And it was swallowed by mainstream media hook and sinker. More recently, you may have heard the story that Planned Parenthood sells aborted baby parts, which was “proved,” again, by video evidence. This story was shared on social media and promoted by conservative news sources, but turned out to be flat-out untrue.
It is sometimes truly phenomenal how people will click “share” without fact-checking or even doing a simple Google search. While hyperlinking may be extremely important in order to gain credibility as a journalist, if you’re going to clickbait and sensationalism… you may be able to get away with fantastical stories and no second thoughts.