“Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.”
You’ve probably heard this line countless times before. Growing up, this served both as a warning and a mindset to me. We had a Computer class every year, a staple of my pre-college education. While my grade school teachers taught me the basics—how to boot a computer, how to run basic Microsoft Office programs, and how to complete those god-awful typing tests—and my high school teachers taught me how to code, they never really warned me of the perils of cyberspace or even hinted that there might have been perils to begin with.
Funny enough, I learned this lesson from my classmate in fourth grade. It was during one of our classes that while we were browsing websites online during our free time, I was enamored by an ad telling me I won a million dollars. The gullible me clicked it, and right before I typed in my contact information, my classmate stopped me.
“It’s not real. It’s a virus,” I recall him telling me, visibly holding back his laughter. Though I took his word for it, I spent the whole day hung up on not winning so much money. Years later, of course, I knew better, but back then I was too naive to know I was almost hoodwinked.
Nowadays, the adage has taken on a more prescient meaning with the advent of social media and surge of fake news. Let’s look at last month. At the height of the bullying scandal in Ateneo Junior High School, some netizens had shared the supposed address of the bully. Most people presumed it was legitimate when the address went viral. It was not.
In the days that followed, news outlets reported that it actually belonged to a pastor’s family unrelated to the incident, but by then it was already too late; trolls had already sent multiple deliveries to the aforementioned household, with the orders costing tens of thousands of pesos in total. Apart from the financial costs, the family also admitted that the actions sparked fear for their own safety. All of this occurred because some person shared a fake address which everyone just assumed to be real.
The sad part about this story is that it’s no longer something new. In fact, it’s almost par for the course to read about posts going viral only to learn that they were actually untrue sometime after, but not before eliciting angry responses online.
Admittedly, our immediate emotional reaction to sensitive issues such as the bullying incident gets the best of us sometimes, whether we like to admit it or not. In our pursuit of giving an immediate emotionally-driven reaction, we sacrifice the opportunity to pause and analyze first what the issue entails, or whether or not what we’re reading is true in the first place; we weigh our opinion based solely on how we feel at that very moment.
Even students in DLSU are not exempt from this. How often do we share posts of students lamenting the struggles of enrollment? How many times have we seen students publish stories of bad experiences with University personnel, only to find students commenting similar sentiments right below the post? The DLSU Freedom Wall alone is host to this kind of activity where students find commonality in discussing the same thing. Despite this, how can we be sure that some of these stories are not embellished or, worse, fabricated?
Perhaps this is a result of how we were conditioned. It’s hard not to blame the way social media has reshaped the way we consume and respond to events. We thrive on finding affirmation from others, and this in turn gives us the false notion that if many of us agree on something, it must be right. But this deprives us of an opportunity to hear opinions that don’t necessarily agree with our own, which can help improve our understanding of the situation.
But that’s not an excuse to blindly accept everything as truth. As individuals, it’s on us to be the ones to take the extra step and look behind the curtain. While sharing our opinion online is not in any way wrong—on the contrary, it helps because it keeps the issue alive—it would be better to give insight with an informed response.
We’re always told to think before we act; reacting to posts online is no exception.