In a time of tragedy and confusion like last week’s Boston Marathon bombing, social media can be an effective tool for sharing information. Sites like Twitter and Facebook often spread information much faster than traditional media but this instantaneous news isn’t always accurate. Truth and facts can easily be buried in misinformation, rumors or even conspiracy theories.
In the week following the Patriot’s Day attack in Boston, several false stories went viral across the Internet. Here’s a quick recap of the five most popular pieces of bogus information that showed up on social media after April 15th’s tragic events. If you catch any of these fake stories on your Facebook timeline or your Twitter feed, don’t spread them.
Hoax #1. The Man Who Would Have Proposed
This viral story was circulating on Twitter within hours of the bombing and was spreads across the Internet pretty quickly thereafter. The tale is shared along with a compelling photo of a man in a red shirt, leaning over a woman on the ground at the site of the bombing.
The photo was heart-wrenching on its own, but it was the caption that really tugged at the heartstrings. It said, “The man in the red shirt planned to propose to his girlfriend as he crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, but she passed away.”
As it turns out, this story was not true. The photo came from Getty Images and the original caption described the picture simply as a man comforting a woman at the Marathon finish line. As Mark Blank-Settle, from the BBC’s College of Journalism, explained:
“On days like this, Twitter shows its best and worst: loads of info at huge speed, but often false and sometimes deliberately so.”
This didn’t stop a Will Ferrell “parody” Facebook account from spreading the false proposal story, however, and it was shared almost 100,000 times.
Hoax #2. Young Girl Killed at the Finish Line
Another one of the most emotionally compelling images from the Boston Marathon bombing was one of a young girl in a runner’s bib. The caption explained that she had not only been running for the Sandy Hook victims, but also that she was killed at the finish line by the bomb blasts.
Neither of these details, however, were true.
A quick look at the photo will show that the young girl is wearing a racing bib from the Joe Cassella 5K, which is in Great Falls, Virginia. In fact, the Joe Cassella foundation has publicly acknowledged that this photo and its story are false.
Hoax #2. Donations for Retweets
Almost immediately after the bombing took place, false Twitter accounts started popping up, promising to donate a dollar for every retweet.
Both “@_BostonMarathon” and “@Hope4Boston” were sharing and spreading a ton of fake information, getting loads of shares and retweets in the process. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Twitter itself shut down both of these fake accounts.
Hoax #4. The Government Turned off Our Cell Phones
There was also relatively widely-circulated story that the government had temporarily disabled cellular service in the Boston area to prevent any further bombs from being remotely detonated. While this action might have made sense, it simply wasn’t true.
Understandably enough, the ensuing chaos caused almost everyone in the area to hop on their cell phones at the same time. Standard cell networks simply aren’t designed to handle so much congestion, so the cell phone networks in the area responded with some serious sluggishness. It wasn’t Big Brother shutting down anyone’s phones.
Be Careful Before You Spread Viral Stories
Now that social media like Facebook and Twitter are such prominent methods of mass communication, we’re reminded that we need to be extra vigilant when it comes to false information.
While social media is a great way to stay informed, it’s also a great way to get yourself tricked. False information is a best-case scenario when it comes to the ways that people can be scammed over social media.
Don’t share “news” unless it comes from a verified source. Always make sure you double-check things that you read online, especially if it’s something asking for your time or money.
Tell us, how do you make sure you avoid false information online? Share in the comments.
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