In one of my lectures a few weeks ago, we got on to the subject of a recent rape trial in Ireland. It had been in the news for the defence’s outrageous use of the seventeen-year-old girl’s lace thong as evidence against her. As we were talking about it one student put their hand up and told us quite confidently that it was even more disgusting because the girl in the trial had committed suicide as a result.
The thing is, however, is that they were wrong. Yes, a seventeen-year-old girl had taken her life in disturbingly similar circumstances, but that was in Scotland, in 2002. Worryingly, I knew where the student had gotten their wrong information from – Twitter. The day before, I’d seen what I imagine was the exact same tweet that they had seen, a tweet that had thousands and thousands of likes and retweets. This was in spite of the fact that there was no source, no link to an article; no proof whatsoever. It was just a person writing some words on the internet, and masses just assumed it must be true.
This only goes to show that far too many people are using Twitter as their only source of news. Sure, this makes some sense – it’s so much easier to read 280 characters than a whole news article. However, it’s no secret that people lie on the internet. And even if you see something that is true, and it does come from a reputable source, the headline can easily be clickbaited nonsense. This is clearly demonstrated if you google ‘Ireland rape case suicide’. One of the first links that comes up is a Telegraph article with the headline ‘Mother of teenager who took her own life after rape trial ‘appalled’ by girl’s thong being used against her in Irish case’. It’s not until you actually read the article that you realise there are two different cases being talked about, and two different girls.
This is all without even mentioning that publications are constantly having to issue apologies for getting caught out by fake sources, or deliberately fabricating facts and figures. Everyone has had an older relative tell them at least once how lucky we are to have quite literally the sum knowledge of the universe in the palm of our hands, how there was no such thing as Google in the sixties. And it is true, but this wealth of knowledge is disguised in a minefield of misleading headlines and lies. Twitter is an amazing platform for all sorts of news and stories, but so much of it is unfortunately either deceptive or simple ‘Fake News’. With everyone from presidents to total strangers being free to talk total rubbish on Twitter it’s hard not to be manipulated, but it doesn’t take long to click on the article or to do a bit of googling to find out the truth.