Blog #6: Fake photos make me cringe

The unwritten rule that online content must have photos has blurred the line between fact and fiction. Every blogger, every news editor, every website designer needs a visual to complete the story. If there isn’t an original photo to go with the piece, a stock photo with a generic cutline will do.

As a journalist it makes me cringe. I think this reliance on stock photos is the media industry’s biggest flaw. It is going to lead to a crisis of credibility.

Recently, I was watching the Garth Brooks biography, Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On. There are frequent references to the house in Hendersonville, Tenn., which he and his first wife shared with a large number of people (5? 7? I can’t recall) in the late ’80s. On screen, as Garth is talking about it, there is an image of an average brick bungalow. At no time does it say whether this is the actual house, or just a similar house in a similar neighborhood. The filmmakers let the viewer assume this is the actual house Garth lived in with all those other people.

Is this the house where I grew up, or just a generic shot that fits my narrative? You’ll never know in today’s media world. Photo: Pexels by Pixabay

As a viewer, I’m trying to imagine how so many people fit into such a small place. That’s why it matters to me whether this is the actual house or not. But it is now standard practice for filmmakers, journalists, bloggers, and social media influencers to choose any image that illustrates their point without specifying whether the photo is fact or fiction.

When I was taught journalism, this would not have been acceptable. But today, many of the people producing media content are not journalists, and the line between real and fake has crumbled to dust.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

Hoax, Lies, and Videotape

Fighting an “Infodemic” on Social Media

Picture of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General spoke these words on Februay 15, 2020 at the Munich Security Conference, a month prior to COVID-19 being declared a pandemic. At the time, COVID-19 was considered a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) with China having 66,000 Coronavirus cases and only 505 cases in the rest of the world. He praised China for buying the world time to prepare but warned the international community about the looming threat to healthcare workers, access to personal protective equipment, the havoc this virus could cause on health systems and how rumours would hamper response. To counter the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, the World Health Organization turned to assistance from social media companies.

News reports about COVID-19 bombards us every day, adding to anxiety that we may already be experiencing due to isolation. Social Media is a great tool for connecting people during this crisis, but as mentioned in a previous post, the threat of sharing misinformation can be just as dangerous.

Picture of various social media applications on a smartphone
Photo courtesy of Pexels.com/@Pixabay

Along with donating millions of dollars to health and economic relief efforts, companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others, are investing in the news industry and in fact-checking. The result is a crackdown to remove false or misleading information about COVID-19 on their apps. Links to false cures and hoaxes have been (or are in the process of being) blocked. Instead, platforms are providing valuable and accurate information to their customers (click on the links for more information):

  • Google users will find information on education and prevention and redirects to the local resources
  • Along with offering content from experts and support groups, Reddit has bookmarked a list of free ebooks and audiobooks for those in isolation
  • Both Microsoft and LinkedIN offer support for remote learning and working
  • YouTube is producing video health panels as part of their #StayHome campaign
  • Facebook‘s newly launched Community Help forum is for people to find or share support in their community (a grassroots neighbours-helping-neighbours initiative)

As Dr. Ghebreyesus concluded in that speech, “In our fractured and divided world, health is one of the few areas in which international cooperation offers the opportunity for countries to work together for a common cause. This is a time for facts, not fear. This is a time for rationality, not rumours. This is a time for solidarity, not stigma.

Pick a social media platform of your choice, search for the COVID-19 content posted by its staff and share this information with a friend or on your timeline. #AllinThisTogether #StayAtHome #StaySafe

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Facebook Hoax, Lies and Videotape. How @Facebook and other social media are fighting the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’. Read more at https://bit.ly/2JFT4oR

Twitter Hoax, Lies and Videotape. How @Twitter is fighting the #COVID19 ‘infodemic’. Read more at https://bit.ly/2JFT4oR #FakeNews

Fake News! Social Media Promotes Herd Mentality

The Lemming Condition (Arkin, 1976) is a children’s book that changed people’s perceptions of the group dynamic and independent thought.

It details the unusual “condition” of the lemming.  In the book, these rodent-like animals run like sheep over the cliff for no apparent reason.  One follows another, to a certain death, with no time for rational thought…Until one day one of them – Bubber – is asked the question of why?  The story is about Bubber as he begins to question for himself why his species does this.  When he realizes he can’t come up with an answer, he decides not to follow the herd.  Independent thought rules the day – great teaching moment for kids.

In reality, lemmings don’t really decide to commit mass suicide every so many years.  But, in 1958, Walt Disney produced a nature documentary called “White Wilderness” showing lemmings throwing themselves off cliffs – most to their deaths.  In 1996, David Mikkelson wrote about this on Snopes http://bit.ly/2zL5mKo and confirmed that producers actually staged these scenes after purchasing countless lemmings from various Inuit children.

White Wilderness (Disney 1958)

For years, this was seen as being the truth because Walt Disney wouldn’t lie, would they?  We see such a strong comparison here with today’s ‘fake news.’  What can happen when something appears on Facebook or any other form of social media that causes an instant reaction?  Do we, as a species always apply critical thinking to all of our actions and reactions, particularly when we’re in a rush to respond before the next person?  I believe that a tool as powerful as social media has a tremendous power for negative and positive behaviour.

We must always filter what we read and say through OUR frame of reference to ensure the media responses we make align with OUR authentic values and codes of conduct.  This takes time and wise stewardship of our own time online.  I am not in favour of over control or overt censorship.  However, we must think first and then act, or we will be like the lemmings running off a cliff and believing Walt Disney’s production.  I believe rational thought will win the day when applied to social media and all other areas of human interaction.

Facebook Post:

How can we have independent thought when so much of social media centers on being part of a collective?  Are we all lemmings as we head toward the cliff along with the herd?

https://algonquincollegesocialmedia.wordpress.com/?p=72580&preview=true

Twitter Post:

When was the last time you researched a post before responding?  Are lemmings fake news? #lemming #fakenews #herdmentality

https://algonquincollegesocialmedia.wordpress.com/?p=72580&preview=true

Works Cited:

Arkin, A. (1976, January 1). The Lemming Condition.

Disney, W. (1958). White Wilderness Part II The Lemmings and Arctic Bird Life.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txI3D1waMfU

Mikkelson, D. (1996, February 27).  Did Disney Fake Lemming Deaths for the Nature Documentary ‘White Wilderness’?  Retrieved from https://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp