Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, was rushed to hospital after he choked on a piece of hash brown while having breakfast with his children. His wife called 911, but his bodyguards thankfully were there to perform first aid. True? Absolutely not; it is a hoax in its entirety—a fictitious story from a highly imaginative hacker. And CBC picked up the piece and went with it as well. We, the naïve readers, especially when CBC validates a story, accepted without hesitation.
In Texas, 30 bodies were found in a mass grave; some of these bodies were dismembered and others were of children. Again, not true, but a made up story by a local psychic. This story was picked up by one of the most credible news organizations, Reuters; soon The NY Times joined the bandwagon, promoting the story and sending it to its automated Twitter feeder. From there, the story enjoyed a life of its own and continued to grow.
On Twitter similar fiascos are even more devastating since names and identities are hidden. The Gay Girl in Damascus is a case in point. Amina Arraf, aka the Gay Girl in Damascus, had been hailed as a gutsy blogger who wound up having quite a following. One day, her cousin used the Gay Girl’s account to report that Amina had been abducted and is held by the Syrian authorities. All hell broke loose on Twitter with activists around the world asking the Syrian authorities to release her.
Then a growing skepticism emerged. Does Amina Abdulla actually exist? She was connected to the world only via cyberspace. No one knew or had talked to Amina in person. When she was asked to forward a photo of herself, she used photos of a Croatian woman who lives in the UK. Needless to say Amina Arraf could have used this subterfuge technique to avoid being found by the Syrian government; however, she could also be anywhere or anyone in the world, depicting a fantasy or a persona.
Actually the latter is true since only today has it come out that the real identity of the Syrian lesbian blogger is a middle-aged married American man based in Scotland, which explains “her” perfect command of English. Good grief! Did this nonchalant and blasé fellow realize that he played a major role in inciting the world against a country? Where is the world going to?
As far as Egyptians are concerned, we too are in the same boat. We fall victims to reported information as everyone else in the world. We are still under the impression that everything posted, tweeted, and written is valid, honest, and definitely true. Not true!
Egyptians, like everyone in this new world, must pay close attention to what they read and what they post, or retweet for that matter. We must become skeptic and shrewd by nature. We should stop believing everything that is being reported. The fictitious stories are in the hundreds—we all know them. In fact, we have all believed them at one point or another.
I can understand the hallucination on Twitter and Facebook since tweeters and Facebook followers are at the mercy of every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Still, the end result is that hundreds of stories circulate in cyberspace and come out at the other end as real and honest-to-God truth.
I have often said we must become skeptic readers; we have to question the authenticity of every word, photo, or video unless it is validated or is from an extremely reliable source. It seems even this action is not enough. We must reach a higher level of skepticism or else we will continue to be duped.
So, where does the ordinary news finder go when even the NY Times, CBC, and Reuters err? I’m afraid to the same reliable sources we have always gone to. But first we must ask these sources to perform due diligence and the necessary fact checking because amidst these baffling hoaxes we have no one to rely on but them.
I suggest we doubt everything said, realize that most of what is reported is suspiciously incorrect or at least embellished, pause and ponder before we report, check the validity of stories, filter the acceptable from the unacceptable, and weed out fictitious hearsay. I suggest we become stringent disbelievers before we become promoters of false information.
This is a truly tough hurdle to overcome. Beware and behold!