The Internet Lies
Samiul Bashar Samin
The Tumblr Literally Unbelievable hosts nothing but screen shots of people on Facebook taking at face value the joke news published by the satirical site The Onion. I punctured the myth that there was a rampant feminist who made a class of six- and seven-year-olds cookies that looked like vaginas. I fact-checked a viral story about a woman with a third breast. And, of course, I knocked down the ubiquitous fake Facebook privacy statement. I even received a response from a friend who insisted that the yonic cookies could happen because ‘feminists are just that crazy’.
While some internet myths are ephemeral and silly, designed to make us laugh, others tap into our deeply held beliefs about society and culture. The fake Facebook privacy statement has staying power because it connects to our ambivalence about security and technology.
In November, Rolling Stone magazine ran a story about the alleged rape of a woman named ‘Jackie’ at the University of Virginia. In response to the story, the university banned fraternities and sororities on campus and launched an investigation. Rolling Stone later retracted their story, noting that there were several inconsistencies with Jackie’s story and that, upon further investigation, they no longer believed her account of events.
In the ensuing scrum over the truth, the story has been twisted and retold to fit various narratives. There are the people who hold it up as an example of women ruining men with false rape accusations. For others, the story is a cautionary tale about the minefield of reporting a rape. But somewhere lost in the midst is a very real woman, who is receiving threats and having her privacy violated. Facts are at our fingertips, but instead of liberating us, they seem to become a casualty in the war of ideas. If you Google long enough, anything becomes the truth.
There is more at stake here than just ideology and truth. When Amanda Reith in Pennsylvania saw her daughter in a viral image, she felt outraged and upset. Reith’s daughter is now a healthy teenager but in 2007 she underwent treatment for stage IV neuroblastoma, and the image showed her aged seven, bald and smiling, in a cheerleading outfit and holding pom-poms. Reith had shared the picture in a community forum in 2009 and was later shocked to see the image being shared on Facebook with the message: ‘“Like” to show this little girl you care. “Share” to tell her she’s beautiful. Pray for her to beat cancer.’ Ostensibly, Facebook users were sharing and ‘liking’ the image to support a little girl with cancer. In reality the Facebook page that published the picture was using it to garner ‘likes’ with the intention of selling the page to someone else or using it to sell products.
Without realising it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress. And maybe that is what internet memes accomplish. They take the confusing pieces of the world and order them into a mosaic (or news feed) that makes sense to us. And instead of curing us of our myth-making, the internet has made this practice even easier, no matter what pain it might cause to others.