I really don’t get why people do this. Someone’s Facebook status warns that Facebook is going to start charging, asks us to give money to a charity, or alerts us to the disappearance of a child. In the old days people would ask their friends to cut and paste the information to their Facebook status. Today we just have to hit the “share.” There, that status is our status! When you do that, you have put your name on something without checking it out, without knowing where it came from. Is that charity real or false? Do you really want your name associated with . . . a fake charity? Outdated information? Downright lies?
That’s just what happened this morning on Barbara Hannah Grufferman’s Facebook page. Now, I think Barbara is the cat’s pajamas. Not only does she write compellingly about being over 50; she just ran the New York City Marathon. She is also totally beautiful, always upbeat, and introspective–a perfect model for baby boomer women. (Those of you on Twitter can follow her at @BGrufferman. Her tweets are clever and informative.) So naturally she’d be interested in an essay by Andy Rooney about women over 40–one came her way, and she posted it. And people shared it–even after a couple of commenters pointed out that Andy Rooney did not write this. Indeed, Rooney called this piece “a saccharine collection of comments” when it was brought to his attention in 2003. Today, when I saw it on Barbara’s status, I recognized the essay from years ago, and I remembered that Snopes.com, the people who verify or debunk Internet rumors, had found the author years ago, one Frank Kaiser, who tends more toward the sentimental than to Rooney-esque acerbic wit.
So you’d think that after the first person posted the link to Snopes people would stop sharing. Nope. The comments still glowed; people still shared. Even after I reiterated the Snopes findings and added a link to Benjamin Franklin’s encomium on the merits of older women (http://bit.ly/vmkUfp; I got two likes for that–it’s a riot, and the guy was no prude), people are still sharing this little piece about older women that Andy Rooney didn’t write.
Sure, I was trained to be a scholar, that is, research stuff. My urge to dig into information and find sources has also been an asset for my forays into journalism. It also means that some of my friends probably think I’m a bit of a pain in the rear. Really, so what that a status is all about Poem in Your Pocket Day, even if Poem in Your Pocket Day was six months ago? It’s just Facebook.
Still, there’s something wrong here. The first thing that gets me: People don’t bother to check their sources. It’s non-thinking like that that enables schemers to rob people of their money. (Yeah, if his investors had really checked out Bernie Madoff, they wouldn’t have handed over those bags of moolah. Notice who didn’t invest with him: hedge funds, other investors–people who read the fine print.) Sure, no one is going to think badly about the people who “shared” Barbara’s status. Andy Rooney may not have liked the piece, but others do, evidently. Still, do you want to be the one passing on false information?
And that kind of leads to my second gripe: Wrong attribution. In school we learn about plagiarism and are told not to do it. People’s words belong to them. This piece is really popular, and Frank Kaiser should be getting the credit. (Except that having Rooney’s name on it gives it an extra oomph and it’s bound to get more clicks.)
Everyone on social media does this–passes on information without checking it out. But when people start the blame game, it’s often older uses of social media who are cited. We are careless, people say. I maintain that baby boomers are really smart and really smart users of social media.
So if you like Frank Kaiser’s essay, give him credit in your share. Go to Google. Or, here, I’ll give it to you: http://bit.ly/uG0ipJ. Be the first one on your Facebook to get it right.
Think I need to lighten up? Or is this one of your pet peeves too? Let me know in the comment box. You can always find me there or on Twitter. I’m @wordwhacker.
(There is, by the way, a very real missing child, who is getting social media and news attention as of this writing. On November 5, 2011 a girl from Wayland, MA ran away from home and was last seen in New York City Port Authority tapes. People are looking in Brooklyn for her. Here’s an early report, http://bit.ly/sg4gvH, and another from yesterday’s Huffington Post http://huff.to/rJ91rF.)