ANCHORS AND SAILS: Thoughts on fake news

“Trust me, Wilbur, people are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print.”

– E. B. White

I may have become the opposite of gullible. I rarely believe anything I read unless I check the source out myself and research it. I understand that social media can be a sewer of satire sites that people think are real, inaccurate memes, and rumors. Lately, though, it’s mind-blowing how gullible some people can be. Full disclosure, I’ve been caught out a few times, too, so that’s why I’m now a complete cynic. 

Remember the darling little seal, Shoebert, who was frolicking around Beverly? They are keeping tabs on the little guy through a tracking device, and he’s come back up this way. However, someone posted a video on a Facebook page of seals playing in the waves and said, “Shoebert, playing with friends off Rockport today.” You would think Moses himself had come down with the details carved on stones. There were dozens of responses about how cute it was and how fabulous that our sweet little friend was back. Except…it wasn’t true. First, Rockport is lovely, but the water isn’t aquamarine blue like the Caribbean, and there are no huge waves next to lava rock formations. The video wasn’t even of seals; they were sea lions, which are entirely different. When some commenters pointed out the video was not of Shoebert, people got mad at those pointing out the truth because they wanted their happy, fun story. Think about that. They wanted a happy, fun story, even if it wasn’t true, and they were angry at those who pointed out that it was fake. 

In another example, I received an email from someone with a long story about Lee Marvin, Captain Kangaroo, and Mr. Rogers. Apparently, Lee Marvin was wounded at Iwo Jima, won the Navy Cross, and was given special permission to be buried at Arlington because of his brave service. Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) was a Marine that served with him and was also at Iwo Jima and saved several lives. Mr. Rogers, despite his calm demeanor and kindness, was a former Navy Seal with several confirmed sniper kills. He wore long sleeves on his show because both arms were full of scary combat tattoos. It took me 30 seconds to find out the following: 

• Lee Marvin was wounded at the Battle of Saipan, not Iwo Jima. 

• He got the Purple Heart medal, not the Navy Cross, 

• Any veteran honorably discharged can be buried at Arlington if they choose 

• Bob Keeshen didn’t even enlist in the Marines until after Iwo Jima, and he never saw combat 

• Mr. Rogers never served in the military. 

I’m not a military historian or a professional researcher. I have no special skills that the average ten-year-old with access to Google doesn’t have. It was an email to several recipients, so I replied to the sender with the information it took me half a minute to find, and you would think I insulted his dog or something. He was livid that I couldn’t just appreciate a happy story; it was something hopeful and patriotic, and why did I have to ruin it? Seriously? I absolutely love happy stories. Every Christmas, I read Francis Pharcellus Church’s “Yes, Virginia” column to my kids. I fully believe in Santa. I’m a fan of Merida from the Disney movie “Brave,” and she’s not real. I’m team Linus at Halloween because how can anyone discount that level of faith and loyalty? Just wait, the Great Pumpkin will show up one year, and Linus will be redeemed. 

It’s not that I’m some crank who wants to ruin a good time. It’s just that there are so many amazing stories of bravery and service, especially with veterans. Have you ever watched those homecomings when some soldier surprises their family? Those are the stories we should share. Also, Mr. Rogers dedicated his whole life to the service of others; the sniper and tattoo tales are unnecessary. 

The past few years have been a poop show, so it’s easy to see why people want to hear something uplifting. But these urban legends have been around for decades; why haven’t we learned to think more critically? The Internet can be a hot mess of misinformation, but it’s also a great resource if you simply take a minute to verify the latest email forward or Facebook post. Oh, and speaking of that, stop posting the “Privacy Rights” baloney on your page. It’s meaningless, untrue and all it does is make you look stupid. Instead, take the time to find moments of joy and laughter that actually happened and start making those go viral. 

Brenda Kelley Kim
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