Don’t fall for the Internet hoaxes, fakes

Published 12:07 am Friday, July 5, 2013

Sharks on the freeway, the Statue of Liberty being swallowed up by gigantic waves, a statue of Ronald McDonald floating inside a flooded Virginia Beach restaurant — all made headlines on social media during last year’s Hurricane Sandy, none of these jaw-dropping images were true.

Neither was the photo of three soldiers standing next to the Tomb of the Unknowns as torrential rains fell from the sky.

The image was shared more than 53,000 times and liked more than 43,000 times on Facebook during last year’s natural disaster. Thousands of people looking for a bright spot in the news, left uplifting comments on the post.

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NPR, The Washington Post, Internet magazine Slate and others re-posted the photo not knowing that the image was taken months prior to Hurricane Sandy. All posted corrections when they realized how gullible they were.

Still, the photo was cool and the soldiers at Arlington Cemetery should make every American proud.

Hoaxes and fakery have become the norm on the Internet.

During the most recent U.S. presidential election, entire organizations were created to combat the lies and half-truths that were being disseminated on the Web.

It is hard to know what is real anymore when you are scrolling through the Twitter parallel universe or Facebookland.

That may be one reason for a growing new trend in newspaper readership.

You might think with all that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other hundred media sites have to offer out there on the Web, that traditional newspapers have been left to wither and dry up.

Pundits predicting the end of newspapers pointed to the increasing use of smartphones and media technology among today’s youth generation known as the “millennials.” As a result, this group of youth between the ages of 18 and 34, would forsake the traditional news for the information downpour accessible with a tap and a swipe of their fingers.

Surprisingly, a new study of media consumption shows that the opposite may be happening. Scarborough Research and studies conducted by the Newspaper Association of America suggest that the “millennial” generation still sees newspapers and newspaper websites as a vital source of information.

According to the study, which interviewed 20,000 people across the country, 57 percent of “millennials” read newspapers, online or in print, at least once a week.

What may be more interesting is that many “millennials” recognize that not everything they see and read on social media Websites is to be believed. As more and more rumors and lies are perpetuated and shared on the Internet, it appears that traditional news sources are being sought after.

According to Scarborough Research, 60 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they viewed newspapers as a “trustworthy” source of news. The same percentage held true for newspaper websites. By contrast, only 43 percent of the same age group viewed news from social media sites as “trustworthy.”

Fifty-five percent of people in that age group said that newspapers operated in an ethical manner, with the community’s best interest in mind compared to 45 percent who said the same thing about social media.

As the digital landscape continues to change, no one know what the future of newspapers will look like. For now, it looks as if newspapers will continue to be a reliable source of information in this world of fake clouds, Photoshopped sharks and Internet hoaxes.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at