Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Truthiness and the Stupid EffBee Meme

If you're on EffBee, you've seen the recent meme going around again, about how you need to copy and paste a whole post in order to survive some apocalyptic thing that will destroy your privacy and such.

I saw it first in this go-around on one of my cousin's posts.  So I checked on Snopes, and dropped a link into the reply section to say there's nothing to worry about.  And my cousin replied, basically, "yeah, I thought it wasn't true, but it couldn't hurt to put it in, so I did."

For the past several days, I've seen that pattern repeated several times.  Person A posts the meme, Person B links to a Snopes type article, or says that it's a hoax, or whatever, and Person A says that they thought it wasn't true, but it couldn't hurt to post anyway, so they did.

On one or two, I've seen Person B or another come back and say, yes, it does hurt, and they should delete the meme.

That pattern of response interests me (way more than the meme, because our privacy is already all gone if we're on EffBee and such).

I've seen several faculty members, including one who's a historian of WWII post the meme and then come back with the response that it doesn't matter.

Does it?

If we post something untrue at base, doesn't it matter?

I guess maybe I'm rigid, but it seems to me that it does, that we debase the truth when we unthinkingly post falsehoods or promulgate lies.  It's orders of difference from denying the Holocaust, but it's the unthinkingness, the multiplication that makes people think that the message is more likely.  It's the "hey, lots of people think that vaccines cause autism so it must be true" multiplication of falsehood.

If my cousin (and others) really believed that disaster was on its way, then I'd just think she was uninformed.  But she doesn't really believe it, she just unthinkingly passes it along, and then responds with a shrug.  There's a weird intellectual laziness.  She's got the energy to ctrl c and ctrl v into her status section, but not the intellectual energy to think for even a second before hitting post.

Okay, so my cousin is my cousin, and my Mom does the same things with email memes, but it worries me a lot more when academic colleagues, the people who are supposed to teach, encourage, and support critical thinking do it.  (One of these colleagues also posted a meme about how Planned Parenthood is being misrepresented, so don't believe that part.  Yes, posting lies matters.)

On the other hand, I'm given a bit of hope by the fact that the first comment on pretty much every posting of this meme I've seen has had a Person B who calmly explains the hoaxiness.  And now I've got a couple of posts either mocking the original (Batman slapping Robin for starting in on it, or one about mythical beasties giving the message) or a preemptive missive (along the lines of "hey, this stupid meme is going around again, don't believe it").


  1. Bardiac, thanks for this because it finally made me go and investigate a question I've wanted the answer to for a long time: what is the credibility of snopes.com? I find that many people just trust snopes and reflexively checks things on it rather than informing themselves about its practices and thereby reading it critically. I know I do this and yet I've encouraged students for years to investigate the practices of something like Wikipedia. To me this is a species of the same kind of intellectual laziness you're describing that says "this is true because I trust the source whether or not I know that sources to be reliable" And what did I find? Their FAQ says:

    "Q. How do I know the information you've presented is accurate?

    A: We don't expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, unsourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we've used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves."
    Read more at http://www.snopes.com/info/faq.asp#6itvhTGD2RcOIVlH.99

    So the Facebook meme post on Snopes references argumentation and source material from 2012 even though the page was updated yesterday. A good critical thinker might well wonder whether there could've been substantive changes since then.

    Further, they do say that they might list something as a "urban legend" that actually happened or has some element of truth in it, but its frequency or some element of it has been exaggerated: http://www.snopes.com/info/faq.asp

    Thanks again, Bardiac, for inspiring me to become less intellectually lazy about snopes!

  2. Thanks, Earnest. Good point. I actually dropped a link from a new source (msnbc, perhaps? I can't remember) that I found when I did the snopes search and didn't find anything exactly correlating on Snopes. The closest article I did see on Snopes (for a similar meme) had links to facebook's own page and cited several recent news articles.

  3. Amen. It irritates me to no end when people who should know better mindlessly repeat things without verifying them. I guess it shows that getting a Ph.D. doesn't require common sense!

  4. I was shocked by the number of people I saw reposting either the announcement about the privacy statement ("reported on channel 13") or the supposed charge to keep your posts private ("reported in the media"). I did think the vagueness of the supposed sources should have made people stop and think! Especially, as you say, those of us who supposedly teach critical thinking.

  5. Great point. Well said. This kind of reminds me of something from the Book of John in the New Testament. I am not religious, but I remember reading in John that there is only one unforgivable sin: Denying the Holy Spirit when you actually believe in the Holy Spirit. This really interested me and has always stayed with me, and I often think of broader generalizations and applications of the idea. It's one (just one) of the reasons I don't like Trump. I think he says and does all kinds of things he doesn't really believe (even the whole birther thing). I know I've made a leap here, false analogies, etc., but there is maybe a little bit of a connection. Anyway, I like what you have to say here. It goes beyond critical thinking. It's intellectual honesty/integrity. I know we don't always act according to our beliefs (it's really difficult to do it ALL of the time; for example, I don't know where ALL of my clothes come from and how they were made), but what you're talking about is easy to avoid. Anyway, back to work. Thank you!