Calling out my friends on Facebook, in a nice way

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Posted 10/10/17 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

Like most of you, I have a couple hundred “friends” on Facebook. By and large, the term “friend” maybe isn’t the best way to describe the group of acquaintances among whom I regularly share thoughts, opinions, articles, personal information or photos of my latest trip.
And depending on how your security settings are configured, your own personal network can reach much farther than the people you personally know.
Maybe that’s why I feel compelled, as a journalist, to try to set the record straight when I see people sharing posts I’ve seen debunked eslewhere. One could argue this is a poor strategy for increasing my network of friends, yet I persist. I just don’t understand the desire on the part of many of my friends to share memes, posts by strangers that advance an extreme agenda, or statements that purport to be the “truth” over facts that are widely verified.
Last weekend, for instance, I engaged in a lengthy online conversation with an acquaintance who shared a post by a resident of Puerto Rico who claims CNN is lying about the amount of support getting dispersed there. I looked into the validity of the post by consulting my favorite myth-busting source, snopes.com. Snopes’ investigation concluded the post was quite possibly one made by a Russian troll.
So I posted the Snopes link. In response, the same friend posted an NPR report about containers of aid not being delivered by Puerto Rican truckers to their own people. That may be another piece of the story, but one does not disprove the other.
Another example: For probably the sixth time in a week, I saw friends sharing a photoshopped picture of a football player burning the American flag. Once again, Snopes provided the proof the  photo was taken a few  years ago, with a burning flag added. It was false.
Likewise, when my son shared photos that were supposed to have been taken inside the Las Vegas shooter’s hotel room, along with a number of other unverified, unsubstantiated claims, I cautioned him not to be too quick to buy in to conspiracy theories. 
Conspiracies rarely are successful because it is impossible to win the silence of the disparate group of people necessary to fully suppress reporting of actual events. Yet, I don’t think it was even 48 hours after the mass shooting in Vegas when people were sharing all kinds of unverified “first person” accounts about other shootings in other casinos -- yet no proof anyone died or was injured at these other locations.
What is the truth? This is becoming the central question of our times.
Most Americans feel a responsibility to be somewhat informed on the day’s news. Hearing about disasters or tragedies stirs us up. We want to reach a point of understanding and when reports are in conflict, it’s uncomfortable, because it’s tough to hold conflicting truths simultaneously.
But instead of watching multiple news sources that may be in conflict, we digest a steady stream of posts from unverified Facebook sources with agendas more extreme than a liberal leaning on CNN or a conservative leaning on Fox. 
Through the loose connection of acquaintances that is our friends list, we expose ourselves to all manner of opinion, news and, too often, false information. If that information helps push us toward a resolution of our conflicting feelings, the tendency is to latch onto it. So much more so if it comes from a “friend.”
Despite the seeming innocuousness of a great deal of material on Facebook -- our social networks are also being “infected” by those who want to exploit our conflicts.
The truth is complicated. Any time you see an extreme position -- a report that varies substantially from most of what you can see for your own eyes, it should be regarded with suspicion until verified by multiple sources. Otherwise, we’re open to being played by forces that want to enflame rather than illuminate.
I’ve probably done more writing lately to debunk posts on Facebook, just within my circle of friends, than I have for the newspaper. This may not be a good way of winning friends, but I can’t bear to let false information go unchallenged.
Someone suggested to me reporting on CNN is more damaging than a single false post on Facebook, but I disagree. Most of us are spending way more time on Facebook than watching any broadcast network. And if you think our enemies don’t know that, and aren’t trying to exploit that, you’re playing into their hands.