The social media artform destroying lives
The news broke a few days ago of a child bullied to the edge of suicide. Nine years old, physically different to his peers, the very model of someone likely to be bullied at school. The kid’s an achondroplastic dwarf, he can’t realistically physically fight back.
The video went viral. Watch for yourself.
I can’t stand more than a few seconds; it distresses me too much to see a child in such torment.
Give me a knife; I want to kill myself.…
Even you … you don’t even do anything.
— Quaden Bayles
Stung by his tearful accusation that no adult was doing anything about it — not even his mother — his mother made a video and posted it on YouTube.
It went viral. And rightly so. We, as caring members of the community, respond to a child’s call for help.
Within hours the story of Quaden Bayles was touching souls around the globe. This tiny Queensland boy, sobbing his heart out, sparked a protective response. Donations came pouring in, and half a million dollars was raised in his name.
An offer came from a rugby team for Quaden to lead them out onto the field against a visiting New Zealand team. The delighted boy accepted, and the news story warmed more hearts.
Look at that tiny boy, literally dwarfed by the huge rugby players beaming down at him.
A troll steps in
Someone used the #QuadenBayles hashtag and put up a story, claiming that he was an adult, and well-off. It went viral.
It didn’t take long for the fake story to be exposed, but that was too long; the scam story had circled the globe while the truth was getting its boots on.
There are — now — countless news items and social media posts giving proof that the boy is who he claims to be.
“Jasmein Dowe” has since disappeared, and Quaden’s distraught family have blanked their own social media in response to the stream of bullying abuse coming their way.
How Twitter users turned bullied Quaden Bayles into a scammer
And how the rapid spread of false information made the bullying worse
Arson as an artform
But, like punk rock, inciting a viral rumour is an art form in itself, and if one doesn’t care about the real-world effect on the people involved, just the spectacle of watching the thing spread like a destructive bushfire on a blazing hot day, then welcome to the world of arson and trolling.
For such a person, their idea of success is how far and how long their destructive act can continue. To ignite a global firestorm, generating headlines around the world, that is the acme of performance. Throw in a meme and see it catch fire, passing from influencer to influencer until heads of state are retweeting it.
There are Internet scammers out there, and pretending to be a bullied child for a half-million-dollar payoff is something that one of these people might do. Passing along a warning to your gullible friends not to be gulled in is a good act, and enough people will feel the same way that the warning spreads and soon internet detectives are making their self-appointed knocks at the presumed scammer’s door.
Except he isn’t a scammer, he’s a little kid feeling vulnerable, and his mother wanted to protect him.
Surely the fact that a day or so after the news broke he was celebrated in person by a football team — and we have all sorts of videos and stories about the event — would be enough to demonstrate that he’s real? It’s one thing to scam the internet with a few plants of careful video, it’s another thing to fool a whole bunch of adults in the real world.
Does anybody seriously think the video shows an adult? How could he fool hundreds of people all at once? There’s a huge difference in behaviour between nine and eighteen years. Not to mention the physical effects of puberty, regardless of body size.
But these things don’t register with those who think it’s a scam. They have made a choice, and they are looking for confirmation. And if it’s a scam, then they will naturally be suspicious, and dig in deeper. Let’s face it, these are folk that their friends identified as gullible to begin with; logical thinking isn’t their strong suit.
Blame the teachers
Logical thinking is rarely taught in schools. A few nerdy types, big on mathematics and computer programming, a few philosophy students in university, and that’s about it.
Governments don’t want the voters to be looking too hard into what their well-paid leaders are doing. Big business doesn’t want anybody questioning their advertising, where carefully-crafted images support dubious claims.
Buy our burger — have a happy day!
Vote for us — we’ll work hard for you!
Trust me — I’m a stable genius!
Sound familiar? It’s all rubbish, but it works, and like a nine-year-old child trying to work out why his life is so crappy when everyone promises nothing but magic and wonder and rainbows, we don’t have the tools to spot the holes in the arguments.
Not a new thing, mind
As a student of philosophy myself, I can generally spot sophistry. It’s been taught for millennia as a profitable way of getting ahead. Just the act of teaching it is profitable, and you may ask any professor of law about this.
In his dialogue The Sophist, Plato goes into some detail on how to spot falsity at a safe distance. It’s not just a matter of telling lies, it’s all about speaking about things that are not, as if they are.
Because how can anybody talk about something that has no existence? Surely the fact that it can be talked about gives it some sort of existence?
There have always been those starting fake news stories. There always will be. They are not the problem. There have always been rainstorms and earthquakes and bushfires. We can’t stop them, but we can do something to counter their effects.
The real problem is that people believe in well-crafted untruth, and when they believe, they suddenly have all sorts of reasons to make falsehood seem true, because who wants to admit to themselves — let alone the world — that they have been duped?
When a person supposes that he knows, and does not know; this appears to be the great source of all the errors of the intellect.
― Plato, Sophist
Logical thinking, as I said, is rarely taught in schools. Another thing rarely taught is doubt, questioning our beliefs, examining our fundamental essence. We believe our thoughts, we trust our senses, we are taught to have confidence in ourselves.
When we fall for a troll, when we believe fake news, when we put some fanciful and well-crafted story ahead of common sense and logical investigation, then all too often we spend our time telling ourselves that we are not that stupid or gullible, and we must be right.
If only everyone would stop for a moment and ask themselves a few questions when they see some entertaining internet story.
- What’s the source?
- Does it stack up?
- Is it playing to my prejudices?
- What does Snopes.com say about this?
But we don’t. We act as if somewhere inside us, we have the source of all truth, and if it sounds good, it is good.
We all want to do good. We want to put out the fire. We jump in and start doing stuff, but we rarely ask ourselves, is it real? Or is it arson?
The world would be such a better place if we all stopped for a moment to ask ourselves where the truth lies.
Just a moment. Please?
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