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“I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men”. Charles Darwin

But a lot of people are.

A dear friend of mine just shared a post on Facebook. It showed a photograph of a blonde child in a pair of swimming shorts, probably a boy (but maybe not). The text below read “PLEASE HELP!!! This little boy is missing and is assumed abducted. Please take a few moments out of your busy day and SHARE THIS, AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO DO THE SAME. This family’s life has been shattered, and it just takes a moment out of your day to help! Let’s utilise the power of social media and get his face out there so more and more people can be on the lookout for him. If you see this child, please call the police immediately!” That’s all it said.

With positive intent, my friend shared this post. My issue with this share are:

If it’s a genuine abduction, why isn’t it in the news?

Wouldn’t it have helped to say where the child was abducted?

Was it abducted just after the pic was taken or has it got dressed since?

Does the child have a NAME??

And on the assumption that it’s all a crock, what happens when/if someone sees a child matching this photo walking along with his father, and calls the police reporting the kidnapper’s presence?

It is clear to me that FaceBook is a marvellously exploitative medium which is also a great way to keep in touch. I’m not sure what ‘sharing’ a post actually means in the bigger scheme of things, but the sheer volume of shared rubbish suggests that it benefits someone financially, or in more negative ways. I receive umpteen ‘let me show my students how quickly this pic goes viral’ posts – if it works, why do we need another one? How about the same picture but with different names saying ‘please share I beat cancer’? What about the famous ‘USS Missouri/Lighthouse’ story from the 1989 copy of The 7 Habits (page 33) turned into a radio broadcast and circulated as ‘just happened in Israeli waters’? (Still funny, though.)

Two things strike me. First of all, otherwise sensible people are not questioning the source and veracity of what they see on the internet. And they are also blindly following the crowd when they share this stuff without knowing where it truly came from. They might have received it from a trusted friend, but where did their friend get it? There’s a reason it’s called ‘viral’.

As a fraud investigator it bemused me when so many intelligent people became victims of crime because of their blind belief that the internet is in some way regulated and that everything on it is ‘true’.

Amusingly, these same people like the current trend (bandwagon) for ‘mindfulness’, being ‘there’ in the ‘now’. Well, if your ‘now’ is wholly warped by a false reliance on everything you read on the internet, be mindful that you’re probably being conned.

Be aware – ask questions. You might learn something.