By now, most of you have probably seen the photo and animation of Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez tearing up the Constitution. For a few days you couldn’t go on social media without seeing the image. According to the Washington Times, the image and news stories about it were shared about 70,000 times on social media.
The image was fake.
It was, for sure, an impressive forgery. I remember when I first saw it. It appeared in my Facebook feed after a friend had shared it. I was unaware of the original photo featuring Gonzales tearing up a shooting range target because it came from a Teen Vogue photo shoot and, obviously, I don’t read Teen Vogue. But still, alarm bells went off the first time I saw the doctored image, and knew I couldn’t trust it.
So, I asked the individual who posted it about it. He assured me that it was real, that it had been posted all over… but I was not convinced. A simple reverse Google image search told me all I needed to know. The image was fake. Just as I suspected.
Despite how easy it was for me to determine it was a fake, I still saw the image getting shared. Any time I saw it posted by a friend on their wall, or by a stranger in a Facebook group, I would alert them that the image was a fake. Some people conceded the image fooled them.
Others didn’t care.
“Even if it’s fake, it’s basically true, because that’s what’s she’s trying to do.”
You will get no argument from me that Gonzales and other survivors the gun control movement are exploiting are attacking the Constitution and whatever else the powerful people pulling their strings right now want them to, but that is no justification for sharing images you know to be fake.
There’s no excuse for gun rights activists to have been so easily duped. Yes, the forgery was impressive and convincing, but it was also such a convenient image that played right into the hands of defenders of gun rights that the first reaction to the image should have been to question its veracity, not share it blindly because it reinforced their beliefs.
I’m reminded of a viral image of Donald Trump that was being shared throughout his presidential campaign and even after he won and took office. It featured an old photo of Trump and the quote, supposedly from a 1998 issue of People magazine, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” There were a number of different versions of this viral meme, but they all shared the identical quote.
Yet I saw it. Repeatedly. Constantly. Liberal friends on Facebook shared it like gospel. “Ah hah! You see!” It was, for them, the ultimate gotcha moment. Trump had not only called Republicans dumb but also trashed Fox News. The quote was bogus, of course, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. What made the viral nature of this meme even more ridiculous is that liberal fact-checking sites FactCheck.org and Snopes had already debunked it back in 2015!
Whenever I saw the image posted by a liberal friend on Facebook, I would link to one of those sources and show them the meme was bogus. The most common response I got was some absurd justification that it sounded just like Trump and he totally would say something like, and even if the quote can’t be proven he probably believes it anyway, yada, yada, yada, Trump’s a racist! I have no doubt many still believe the quote is accurate.
These people didn’t care that the meme was fake, it reinforced what they wanted to believe, and that was enough to make it true to them.
Donald Trump has often been the target of fake news that has gone viral. Even by “legitimate” news outlets. Last year ABC News falsely reported that Trump had ordered Lt. Gen Mike Flynn to contact Russian officials during his presidential campaign—a violation of the Logan Act. There’s a laundry list of false stories about Trump that have been retracted after they were revealed to be false. Left-wing journalists are clearly not doing their job and are allowing their own confirmation bias to justify reporting stories before they can be verified. Meanwhile, when these false stories go viral, their corrections and retractions tend not to.
There is no excuse for either side reflexively sharing things on social media just because they reinforce your opinion. I still see conservatives in various Facebook groups or on Twitter sharing stories from YourNewsWire.com and other sites that have been long established as bogus. I see mostly conservative examples of this problem because over the years I’ve seen my liberal friend count dwindle on social media, but they’re sharing easily debunked nonsense on social just as much.
But, conservatives, we can do better, and should do better. We can’t criticize the liberal media as “fake news” while sharing bogus memes and false news stories ourselves just because confirmation bias makes it so easy to want to click the share button. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Just because the left does it doesn’t give us a license to be similarly reckless.