Jared, the famous face behind Subway, is dead. #RIPSubwayJared is trending on Twitter, and sources say he was found passed out in a bowl of wonton soup at a Chinese buffet. Actually, Jared is alive and well, but just recently he was yet another celebrity to be hit by a death hoax. Hell, Bill Cosby is far from finished (knock on wood), but seems to be "dead" every six months.
Social media facilitates the spread of hoaxes on a massive scale, far more than email ever could, and tools like Photoshop make it easy to trick the average eye. All it takes is a few initial "likes" or retweets for a hoax to go from obscurity to popularity, from a cold to the swine flu.
Everyone Wants To Be The Onion, But Only The Onion Is Good At Being The Onion
I hate to break it to you, but you're probably not that funny. I'm not either despite convincing myself a tweet I just sent out is the most hilarious thing ever, and ends up being lost in the void of shit nobody cares about. Very few do satire well, and far too many confuse a hoax with satire. They're two totally separate things.
Before You Share, Look At Where
99.99 percent of hoaxes can be shut down by looking at the source. Does it come from a website you've never heard of? Was it started on Facebook or Twitter? Are major news organizations not covering it? A quick Google or Altavista search will set things in motion. Snopes is a great resource dedicated specifically to debunking stories.
Don't Believe Your Eyes
No medium is safe from trickery thanks to software that anybody can buy or be torrented for free. There are true editing wizards out there, and they can pull off a convincing fake in the same way a 75-year-old artist from Queens can trick people out of $80 million. As the saying goes, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is."
Be The 1%: Read
The world's problems could be solved if people actually read what was directly in front of their face. If it's an article or Facebook post or whatever, take a few seconds to skim it over. In many cases, the language, wording, grammar will hint at its validity.
Don't Trust Your Friends
Sure, they may have proved reliable when you needed a good excuse to get away from a crazy person, but they can be just as gullible as everyone else. Especially when hoaxes are attached to topics that invoke very strong emotions, i.e. George Zimmerman sells painting of Trayvon Martin for $30,000, it's very easy to get caught up in the story without first consulting the facts.
Photo credit: Andrew Baker