Thursday, 13 September 2012

Torches of Freedom and The Ultimate Internet Hoax Busting Kit

As I said in my previous post, myths, legends and stories have been around in our culture since the dawn of time. Story-telling, at it’s very core, is the way that we pass information down through the generations. Whether it’s around a camp fire, a dinner table or on Facebook and Twitter, the strongest stories, rightly or wrongly, stick around because they play on our fears and insecurities. Or, on another level, they add credence to our views. 

Politicians on both sides of the spectrum recognise the power of storytelling. Freud recognised the power of the ego, and the repressed thoughts and desires that we have within us as humans. Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, took this concept and created the machinations of modern PR - promotion of products, beliefs or services through news, and not advertising.

An idea, a concept, resonates - Bernays knew this, and used it to the advantage of his employers - firstly, during the First World War, where he was enlisted to help the war effort in the USA, and then later in Lucky Strike’s noble campaign to try and get women to smoke by linking it to a sense of liberation - ‘Torches of Freedom’ to be precise.

Lucky Strike - Torches of Freedom

Bernays believed that you, the public, were generally pretty stupid. He believed that the masses were "fundamentally irrational people... who could not be trusted."

And that’s how we got to the point we are today. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in what people that influence us, whether it’s friends, family, politicians or our news outlets tell us.

And now to social. Now, more than ever, we have more access to information, and the world around us than ever before. Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus give us a chance to share our views and opinions with the world around us to varying degrees. It also give us an easy opportunity to share our opinions with others by-proxy. Hence the spread of memes online - images, videos or status updates that express a certain view of the world that the person making the update subscribes to.

Here’s an example of one from last year - ‘RIP Broken Britain’

RIP Broken Britain MEME

As you can see, it’s easy for these memes to spread, but harder to see where they come from.

The fact that so many of these updates are made is frightening. Maybe it does show how easily manipulated we are. Was Bernays right all along?

I hope not. I think it’s time that we started fighting back against malicious hoaxes and memes spread through social media.

It’s a war we won’t win. But I think it’s one worth fighting. Which is why I’ve put together this Internet Hoax busting kit.

You can use this as your crucifix against the soul-sucking tide of bullshit that you sometimes see on social networks. From the updates about Facebook becoming a paid-for service, to copy and paste political memes, to circulars about the ‘friendly terrorist’ - we need to be vigilant.

It might not be sexy to burst somebody’s bubble, but we have to remember what the famous newspaper editor C.P Scott once said:

"comment is free, but facts are sacred".

Don’t be afraid to call bullshit on people that present their opinions as fact.

Here’s the kit. Keep it close-by. And let me know if you think there’s anything I should add to it. I hope it's helpful!

Thanks for reading - share this with your friends if you are serious about fighting the good fight in the war against social media bullshit.

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