Is Social Media Making Us Suckers? From Images to Hoaxes, What’s Real?
Jen Cohen Crompton

I was listening to the radio last week and heard that Justin Bieber had cancer and his fans were encouraging others to shave their heads in support. I was a little confused by the story, and to say the least, a bit skeptical, but continued listening to the radio. Then I heard it—the declaration that this rumor was really just a hoax fueled by the power of the Twitter users who found humor in making people react. Through social media, fans spread the rumor and the “news” made it into the feeds of Bieber fans causing a false sense Bieber fever panic.In the same weekend, according to Twitter, the singer Ke$ha died, and Morgan Freeman also joined the social media grave due to the efforts of a bogus Facebook page mourning his “death” (which at last check was up to almost a million likes).

These thoughts nested in my head as I sat with my iPhone incessantly checking friends’ status updates while waiting for Hurricane Sandy to arrive, wreak her havoc, and depart, unveiling the mass destruction it left behind. As I checked, I quickly saw my newsfeed fill up with striking images—images of preparation, hope, destruction and resilience. And although I was intrigued by some of these postings, I kept thinking about the false post phenomena and couldn’t help but ask, “Are these real?”I apologize for my cynicism, but I just couldn’t “like” or share some of the images of the hurricane unless I knew their origins and could confirm they were real. I think it is my experience in media that made me feel as though I needed to be responsible with what I personally shared and posted. I needed to be sure that what I said or did was real and if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t want to become a source of false hope, devastation, or just a component of the virtual whispering alley that spreads falsities.

As ironic as it may have seemed, during the same time, I was watching TV and saw the State Farm TV advertisement, State of Disbelief, which mocks the idea that we are believers (or suckers) for the Internet. It mocks that too often we take the attitude of “because it’s online, it must be true, right?”

Although I will not lose faith that we can become responsible social media users, I still think we are too often tricked by hoaxes and compelling images, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate real from fake. We need to be more critical and keep in mind that if it seems too odd or crazy to be real, then it probably isn’t.

Unfortunately, by the amount of participation in these hoaxes and sharing of the images, I think social media might just be making some of us suckers…

Jen Cohen Crompton is the President of Something Creative LLC, a marketing company serving local, national and international B2B and B2C companies, focused on integrated marketing strategies and using social media and analytics to drive results. Follow her on Twitter at @JenCoCrompton or find her on LinkedIn.