Yesterday, we posted a video of a girl who got all of her Facebook friends’ avatars tattooed on her arm. Fortunately for everyone, the story was confirmed today to be a hoax. Basically, the takeaway from this story is that everything on the internet is a scam. That story about the girl who quit her job via dry erase board? Fake. The picture of the cat whose owner painted it to look like Pikachu? It was photoshopped. The story about the Fox News ticker getting hacked? Probably a hoax. Basically, everything on the internet is fake except for Anthony Weiner‘s penis pictures.
We live in a culture where you choose which news channel to watch based on your own political leanings and where the best way to disagree with someone is to label them biased. So often, pundits like to point out that they’re stating real facts, thus negating the meaning of the words “real” and “facts.” Because the internet provides so many ways to obtain information, it’s easy to spend a couple of hours in a Google or Wikipedia wormhole and come out on the other side thinking we’re experts on something. Regular people now think they’re more knowledgeable than reporters, scholars, or other experts. I can’t have a conversation with a friend about a news story without someone replying, “Well, that’s not what really happened, because I heard…” The internet hasn’t necessarily made us smarter, but it has made us more willing to think we know the truth better than other people. We follow a celebrity on Twitter and think we have some sort of insight into their personality or that if they retweet us they’re our friend.
As someone whose job is to write things on the internet, I understand that I’m part of the problem. After all, I fell for the Facebook tattoo story too. And witnessing so many internet jokes, scams, and hoaxes, I’ve gone too far in the other direction. I assume everything is fake or – more often – some form of viral marketing. To be honest, there’s still a part of me that thinks Rebecca Black is either a creation of the CIA or somebody’s future-award-winning doctoral disseration in cultural studies. But even though so many of these stories end up being hoaxes, there’s one question I ask myself before vowing never to write about memes again: did I enjoy it? The girl-quitting-via-dry-erase story may not have been true, but it still made me laugh when I first read it. And shame on me for believing in it, but at least my shame was only witnessed by the burning embers of my laptop screen.
Many of the people who like to rail about the internet and how evil it is are people who often don’t understand how it works. Yeah, you shouldn’t just take some random dude’s Livejournal page at face value. But the internet is how people found out about Osama bin Laden’s death half an hour before President Obama addressed the country and how Iranian and Egyptian protesters were able to get the word out about what was going on in their cities. For every person who believes an article on The Onion is real and winds up on this blog, there’s another who learned something that they wouldn’t have learned otherwise. If you complain that the mainstream media isn’t covering a particular story enough, odds are good that you can find an outlet, however small or obscure, that is. And if there isn’t a publication covering the story you think is super-important, you can create your own blog and do it yourself. Or you can create your very own internet hoax where a girl quits her job while tattooing her arm with pictures of Pikachu Cat. Your call.