Every time a serious crisis occurs, rumors, many of them false, spread like mad. We know this because it happens every time. From false accusations on Reddit to what it currently happening in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. But what is also predictable is just how easily and quickly we tend to fall for these rumors.
One such case, which would be hilarious if the situation wasn't so grim, was covered by the Washington Post's David Weigel, in the story "One man's hard lesson after the Eiffel Tower's darkness was mistaken for a moving tribute"
It began, according to Weigel, when someone saw that the light of the Eiffel Tower were off, and tweeted about the "moving tribute." The problem being that the Eiffel Tower's lights are routinely turned off at 1 a.m. Then Rurik Bradbury, owner of the well-known parody account, @ProfJeffJarvis, decided to tweet about it as well.
@ProfJeffJarvis's tweet, for whatever reason, got retweeted nearly 30,000 times. Which is crazy because the @ProfJeffJarvis account is very clearly parodic, with the made-up Jarvis calling himself a "thinkfluencer" and having an avatar of of an older man wearing one of those beercan hard hat things. But that didn't stop many news organizations from retweeting him, or continuing the Eiffel-tower-lights-off meme.
Again, these are just the kind of rumors that fly around in the midst of a crisis. The problem is that, while its easy for us to dismiss these kind of rumors after they've been debunked, some of them have the potential to destroy lives. The Boston bombing had the false suspects in the New York Post. And now the Paris attacks have this:
On the right is the original selfie of the rather affable-looking Veerender Jubbal, a Sikh man from Canada. On the left is the hideous slander someone tried to perpetrate on him, likely because, and this isn't a joke, he criticized people who play video games.
Despite the fact that the image is rather blatantly photoshopped (how do you take a selfie with a Quran?) the image spread like wildfire, to the point where Jubbal's photoshopped image was printed in Madrid-based newspaper La Razón as "one of the terrorists." Luckily a number of news outlets picked up on the falsehood and has since quashed the rumor, and spread information about the origin of the image. And Jubbal is pushing back against the rumors with his Twitter account. But this slander could follow him around for who knows how long.
It is natural that fast-moving events would lead to false information and mistakes in reportage. But we now live in the era of social media, and bad info that would be checked and double-checked before it went into print or was broadcast is now able to speed worldwide before the original source has a chance to correct itself.
It is often said that lies can travel halfway around the globe while the truth is still putting on its shoes. That sentiment has never been more true than it is today. You would think we'd have learned our lesson by now, but, as every crisis tells us, we haven't.