A hoax warning on Facebook tied nicely into a workshop I've been working on regarding internet safety. The warning came from one of the pet rescue pages, and was a warning about a nasty Halloween hoax regarding Pitt Bulls - a "Kill Pitt Bull Day." The pet rescue site administrator wisely referred to Snopes.com, which is one of the best places to check out the accuracy of internet stories. The warning in question can be found at http://www.snopes.com/critters/cruelty/pitbull.asp.
Hoaxes have been around since the beginning of communication, with many of them forming the base of urban legends, which are now studied as part of folklore. Of course the speed that hoaxes spread has increased from months to hours with email, and now minutes with social media. Nor is it just hoaxes, but information that has been scrambled in the transmission or context.
Some of these stories make it to the news, radio or TV, and make it seem that the internet is a frightening place; bogged in misinformation and pit falls for the unwary. This leads to many individuals being terrified to use social media, or even the internet.
And yet, hoaxes and misinformation does get spread, and it is not all done by malicious individuals. The one true statement that can be made of the internet, and particularly social media, is that people mainly skim text. They only read in depth if the material is of great interest.
Of course, when you skim material you don't always catch the full meaning. This holds true for photos and the partial context of Facebook, or Twitter. We see something that looks "neat" and go sharing it on.
This also holds true for email. Lately there have been many emails that come through appearing to be from Facebook and Linked, or financial institutions. Granted internet users are savvy about such spam, but many people aren't. Then they get burned, and in turn, frightened.
What all of this comes down to is being internet "savvy."
Take that extra second to see what a post is really about, or if a email doesn't look right, and if you still are questioning its validity - check on http://www.snopes.com. They are still one of the best sources about the truth of internet stories.
Cathy Mosley brings her 26 years of storytelling and writing experience to the realm of Social Media. To help small businesses.