“It must be true. It’s on the Internet.”
Gossip and rumors have been around for centuries. Much like feathers being loosed from a pillow they are almost impossible to contain or retrieve once they have been set free. Even when they are found to be false their poison and impact lingers. Social media has been an especially bad breeding ground for ideas and slanders that are not always grounded in truth. It’s so easy to post a photo or a statement and watch it go viral. The hard part is retracting it when the truth proves it to be false.
I see such posts constantly. I have believed information that was later proven to be a hoax. There are so many examples of urban myths that somehow become accepted as facts. One such post has been making the rounds for almost five years. It is a photo that depicts an In and Out cup bearing the phrase “Hail Satan” on its bottom. The image is actually a photoshopped creation that was initially intended to spoof the In and Out Burger practice of putting biblical references on cups. Over time it became an indictment of the owners of the burger chain as devil worshippers. The truth became lost in the furor with individuals vowing to never purchase another burger again. Now it is not uncommon to see the picture on Facebook walls with commentary about how horrible the In and Out Burger franchise must be.
Too many people see such things online and instantly react. Few take the time to actually do some research to determine the veracity or falseness of such information. There are even those who believe that evidence revealing the truth is actually just a ploy to fool us. They are convinced that the false information is in fact the reality.
We humans have a tendency to believe that life is much more complex than it actually is. We tend to fall for weird theories and accusations because they somehow manage to explain things that we don’t really understand. The real scriptural references that actually are on the bottom of In and Out Burger cups seem far too strange to many of us. It’s somehow easier to believe that the owners of the company are closet devil worshippers than that they are simply trying to spread the Word.
What is sad to me is how quick we are to believe rumors and gossip, particularly when the furor swirls around the rich and the famous. It is as though we secretly enjoy watching the mighty fall. We almost celebrate the demise of those once deemed to be great as though our former perception of their goodness was just too good to be true. We boast that we have suspected all along that they were in fact terrible people. We indict them without much thought and pull them from their pedestals almost gleefully.
I don’t mean to defend egregious actions or to imply that supposedly good people are never capable of doing wrong. I simply wonder why we are so quick to condemn without making any efforts to find the truth. We live with a justice system that requires us to consider an individual as being innocent until proven guilty and yet our social media driven society has had the opposite effect. Today it seems that someone is guilty until proven innocent. We merrily post accusations without considering whether or not they are factual. Like those feathers from the pillow they are almost impossible to collect. The false information stays out there for all time and reputations are often ruined even after the true story is told. We frivolously play with people’s lives, sometime for our own entertainment.
We all have weaknesses. Even the most exemplary among us endure moments and thoughts that they would be reluctant to reveal to the world at large. Mother Teresa wrote of the times when her faith was tested to the breaking point and she found herself actually wondering if there was a God. How would we have perceived this amazing woman if someone had posted her most private thoughts on the Internet, out of context and slightly exaggerated? Why do we seem to expect perfection in our heroes and almost celebrate when we find that, like us, they have feet of clay?
I am a stickler for fairness and justice. I simply refuse to become part of group think. I am probably the best juror that might ever listen to a criminal lawyer because I seriously consider the idea that one’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I am unwilling to condemn someone without explicit proof. Until I see all of the facts I am more than willing to keep an open mind.
I once had my wallet stolen from my purse when I was working at a school filled with a large number of gang members. My pocketbook held a great deal of money at the time because I was leaving for a conference at the end of the work day. I had just set out my purse and my suitcase in ready to leave with some fellow teachers when a commotion unfolded in the hallway. I left my classroom to assist a group of teachers who were attempting to quell the disturbance.
Once things were sane again I retrieved my things and joined my colleagues for the drive to our destination. One of them suggested that we purchase some snacks for the trip from the teacher’s lounge. I agreed and reached into my purse to get money from my wallet. Sadly, it was gone. After a frantic search I realized that I was not going to find it. My stomach lurched and I was heartbroken by the thought that someone had taken it.
An investigation and attempt to find the thief later ensued. There was much finger pointing and the majority of it was aimed at one particular student. While the circumstantial evidence seemed strong, there was no proof. I chose to stand behind the young lady until presented with rock solid information linking her to the crime. Even with my support her name was besmirched and the rumor mill castigated her for doing such a dastardly thing.
Several years later a city worker found my wallet in a sewer several blocks from the school. It still contained my driver’s license and all of my credit cards. Only the money for my trip was gone. Suddenly I had the proof that I needed and it was solid evidence of the girl’s innocence. She rode home on a bus every single day and would not have been walking in the neighborhood. It had to have been another student who had quietly gone under the radar, someone who lived within a short distance from the campus. This discovery did little or nothing to save the accused because a damaged reputation had already followed her all the way into high school. There were those who remained convinced that she had been the culprit in spite of the evidence to the contrary. It seems that once the genie is out of the bottle, it is sometimes impossible to put him back.
It’s a good idea for all of us to pause for a moment before jumping to conclusions. We need to check for authenticity of stories and photographs before falling under their spell. We don’t want to be complicit in spreading a false rumor. I know that I have been taken before. It is so easy to jump to conclusions and think later. It’s time that we try a bit harder to search for the truth first and then and only then decide if it is in everyone’s best interest to spread the news. There will still be feathers of gossip floating around but at least we will have done our part to be fair.