Probably not many of us. In fact, with the way the world is going these days, you’d probably have a hard time determining whether what you read or were told was intended as a funny joke, as more of that “fake news” we’ve been hearing about, planted or leaked to advance some political agenda or another, or as a honest statement about something that has really happened. Part of the fun of a good prank or hoax is playing on the hoaxed party’s credulity, and picking your target to avoid the inherent skeptic and instead trick the hopelessly naive among us. But who can truly be deemed naive, or skeptical, about what has or has not happened in the weird reality we now find ourselves in?
Think about it: if someone told you that the President had tweeted something outrageous, how could you possibly evaluate whether it was true or not without checking? If you accepted what you were told at face value, would it be because you were a gullible “April fool” or because, in reality, the President has tweeted a series of ill-advised and intemperate things and these days just about anything could come out of his mouth? In fact, is there anything that any one of our current political leaders, Democrat or Republican, could purportedly say or do, about Russians or surveillance or climate change or leaked diplomatic communications or any other of the prevailing topics of the day, that are so inherently unbelievable that your fakery senses should start tingling?
When reality itself is so bizarre that any statement about an actual event could be considered a prank, and vice versa, April Fool’s Day isn’t quite so much fun anymore.
Hey, you don’t suppose Kish put salt in the sugar bowl, do you?
If you check your Facebook page, you may see a posting from someone in the Facebook universe reporting that Jackie Chan, the likeable martial arts action hero, died while filming a stunt for a new movie. According to the posting, he fell twelve stories in the mishap, and you can watch a video of the failed stunt.
Relax, Jackie Chan fans — it’s a hoax. Chan has dealt with these death hoaxes before, and is alive and well.
Why would someone engage in such a sick hoax?
In this case, it’s not just some disturbed individual. Instead, its part of an elaborate effort to get your personal information. If you’re a Jackie Chan fan and you click on the link, the spammers can access your Facebook profile page and post things on your timeline — which means your Facebook page could, in turn, be used to scam your Facebook friends.
It’s appalling how many people are out there, thinking up new ways to try to defraud people and using the good name and popularity of people like Jackie Chan to achieve their illicit aims. It bears repeating: be careful what you click on. If something seems interesting, run a Google search first. It could save you from fraud issues in the long run.
As for the spammers and their ugly, twisted ilk, I’d like to see Jackie Chan have a few minutes of kung fu fun with their faces.
One significant part of the weirdness, for me, is this: how can you have a “girlfriend” who you’ve never really met? I recognize that the internet, cell phones, text messages, tweeting, and social networking sites permit long-distance, virtual relationships. Before you took that significant emotional step and started calling someone a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend,” though, wouldn’t you want to satisfy yourself that the person actually existed? Wouldn’t you want to walk with them, smell their hair, and see how they looked when they laughed or ate their food? Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I think a lot of the “girlfriend” concept is satisfying yourself that the person in question is someone you like to be around, and not just some disembodied voice you hear on the phone at night or get an “LOL” from in response to a text message.
Another part of the weirdness is trying to figure out the motives of whoever was involved in perpetrating a colossal hoax. Why would anyone put the time and effort into maintaining such a complicated bit of deception? What satisfaction would any stranger get by concocting a phony person, convincing Te’o to fall for the facade, and ultimately making him look like a naive and pathetic Mr. Lonelyheart? Aside from being astonishingly cruel, you’d have to think that anyone involved in implementing such an elaborate, time-consuming scheme needs to get a life of their own. And if Te’o was involved, why did he do it? He had a great career at Notre Dame; why would he feel the need to add a gloss to it by inventing a non-existent girlfriend and then knocking her off?
A final part of the weirdness: why did the sports news media just swallow this story without doing very basic fact-checking — like trying to confirm some of the core elements of the story? It makes you wonder how many of these heartwarming, overcome-all-odds sports stories that we hear are outright fiction.
Today still more members of the news media — in this case, Reuters and CNBC — fell for a hoax. On the basis of a dubious press release, they reported that the Chamber of Commerce had changed its position on climate change legislation. CNBC read the fake press release on the air, and Reuters reported it, in an article that was then picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
I was struck by the explanation of the Reuters spokesman quoted in the linked article. The spokesman is quoted as saying: “Reuters has an obligation to its clients to publish news and information that could move financial markets, and this story had the potential to do that.” My old professor at the Ohio State University School of Journalism, Marty Brian, must be rolling in her grave at that one! Consider that the quote from the Reuters spokesman equates an admitted hoax with “news and information” and suggests that Reuters’ paramount obligation is to publish whatever comes its way, without doing anything to determine its veracity first. That concept is antithetical to true professional journalism, which values accuracy above speed and insists upon sourcing and careful fact-checking — particularly of a story that reports that a vocal opponent of legislation has abruptly and inexplicably changed its position. Doesn’t anyone at CNBC and Reuters have a reporter’s gut instinct, or at least a willingness to take a moment to check the Chamber of Commerce website to see if the press release even is posted there?
Normally I would decry the efforts of the hoaxers, but I have come to believe that they probably are performing a salutary function for the world at large. Why attach credibility to what you read from the news media if they don’t even bother to check press releases before publishing them?