EVER PLAY THE game of Telephone?
I did when I was younger. A group of people would sit side-by-side in a circle and one person would whisper a statement to a person next to him. That person would whisper into the next waiting ear and the message would make the rounds until it returned to the original speaker.
Without fail, the message had been mangled during its journey, usually with hilarious results.
It’s not so funny anymore.
Messages posted and reposted on Facebook and other social media are often untrue. Either they were untrue at their conception or the message was twisted during transport.
The result would be hilarious if it weren’t so disastrous.
The most result example I have seen was a posting that said that “covid vaccine causing HIV (AIDS) in those vaccinated in Australia. Vaccine halted!!!”
Of course, that isn’t what happened. The vaccine was developed only in Australia, at the University of Queensland, and it didn’t cause HIV; it produced false positives for HIV tests in some of the volunteers inoculated in a trial study.
Because it might undermine public confidence in vaccines in general, the prime minister of Australia canceled a large order and made plans to use other vaccines.
Yet the message posted by some anonymous person and reported by others implied that the vaccine was one produced in the U.S., and that it caused HIV. Absolutely not true. And a perfect example of Facebook Telephone.
I remember my first real run-in with the falsehoods posted on Facebook.
A woman had been hit by a car and killed when she tried to cross U.S. Highway 101 using a walker. Facebook posts said that a taxicab driver had hit her. This conclusion was drawn from the fact that a taxicab was pulled to the side of the road near where the woman was hit.
A taxicab was indeed sitting on the shoulder near the wreck. But it wasn’t because the driver had hurt the woman. He had seen her struck by another car and stopped to hold the woman’s hand while she died on that cold asphalt. He comforted her in her last moments alive.
I don’t know if anyone ever apologized to that wonderful man. We did a story, but who knows how much it helped? After all, many trust Facebook more than they do allegedly evil news organizations.
If I sound bitter, I am. I remember years ago the Peninsula Daily News published a story about a man who rescued some weekend warriors stranded on rocks in the middle of a flood-swollen river. He had recently undergone knee surgery and his leg was still in a cast, but he got out there in a boat in very bad weather and devised an ingenious way to use a rope to bring the fishermen to safety.
Good news story, right?
Not to the trolls.
One of the comments left on the story once it was published on the PDN website accused the hero of being a meth dealer. Checking into it, we found that the rescuer had the same name as a man living on the North Olympic Peninsula who had been arrested — if memory serves, not convicted — for investigation of methamphetamine sales. Two completely different men. One huge leap to a conclusion.
Eventually, the trolls killed the comments on our website. The misinformation and outright nastiness had grown to the point that we couldn’t possibly police it, even if we were willing to swim in the sewer day after day.
Comments still are made on our Facebook page. We can’t stop them. We do our best to cull out the worst, but otherwise, people have free reign to say whatever nonsense they please.
I remember finding incredible accusations against Hillary Clinton and the Obamas on the internet in the weeks prior to the 2016 election. I figured that most who saw the videos would not want to admit they were swayed by allegations that Bill and Hillary Clinton drank children’s blood or that Michelle Obama was actually a man, but that they might carry such accusations in their back pockets, so to speak, when they voted.
Fueled by the blossoming of conspiracy theories and paranoia, the blatant disregard for truth on social media has grown from a snowball here and there to an avalanche. Once I tried to correct it. Now I just try to get facts out there in hopes that they will help in some way.
This column was written so I could correct at least one posting because I fear that it could influence decisions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to the general public.
No vaccine has caused HIV. That is simply not true. Overall, it seems safe. Severe allergic reactions have been rare in trials, according to news reports. Although no one can know everything about a new drug, there is no reason to suspect anything nefarious of the medical professionals who urge us to get vaccinated.
A COVID-19 vaccine is our best hope for stopping a pandemic that has sickened 72.6 million and killed 1.6 million worldwide — 16.8 million sick and over 306,000 dead in the U.S. as of Wednesday and climbing.
It’s our best hope for getting businesses back on track, for protecting people living in small spaces with others such as nursing homes and jails.
It’s our best hope for getting out of the house.
It will take time. It is not now known if those who have been vaccinated still will transmit the virus even if they don’t themselves become sick. And the vaccine won’t be effective in a population until most of the people have been vaccinated.
So we have to continue to wear masks, wash hands, avoid large groups, stay home if possible. And get vaccinated.
It’s difficult when so many of us are hurting, but please, be patient.
And don’t believe everything you read on Facebook.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached by leaving a message at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].