How to Disappear Completely

Here’s another story that illustrates the power — and the mischievousness — of social media. A girl from Netherlands told her friends and her parents that she was going on vacation to South-Eastern Asia. In fact, she never left her house in Amsterdam — and spent several weeks posting fake statuses, check-ins and pictures on her Facebook. She even faked her Skype calls by decorating her room with Asian umbrellas. This was a part of her graduation project aiming to illustrate the double nature of social media.

A picture took and a picture faked: that's how Zilla Van Den Born deceived her parents and friends
A picture took and a picture faked: that’s how Zilla Van Den Born deceived her parents and friends

Well, I wouldn’t call this experiment entirely correct. Basically, it’s not about social media, it’s about trust. When someone close to us tells us that he or she is going to a trip, we’re not likely to assume that he (or she) is lying and this is all a part of some kind of research. Naturally, her parents believed her — why shouldn’t they have? Besides, it would be even easier to do such a trick in a pre-digital era, when you could tell that you’re calling someone from Australia, and they wouldn’t have any means to prove otherwise.

Still, somehow this resonated in my mind with another falsified story I stumbled upon this week. Gawker has it: some guy called Alex Jones (I’ve never heard of him before, but from what I know now I assume he’s not very professional) published a post on his website about a sex toy lesson given to 6th graders in a school in Jacksonville. Many American right-wing websites jumped on it and expressed their outrage. It soon turned out, though, that the story was completely fabricated — and the images actually came from an event that was held 2 years ago in Brock University in Canada. The aim of the event was to teach safe sex practices to gay students; and, of course, the attendance was completely voluntary, and all the people in the audience were grown-ups. Now I don’t know why this Alex Jones decided to make that up, but I definitely do know that if some of those websites that were so shocked by this story had thought of checking if it was true, they wouldn’t look so ridiculous and unreliable.

My point here? Pure and simple: always perform an accuracy check. More often than not it’s not a technical procedure, but something that distinguish a journalist from a non-journalist.

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