Don’t be too fast to post, cautions social media expert
They thought they were helping to apprehend a man wanted by police for raping four young children including his son.
They shared posts on Facebook, they called the police when they saw him, and they threatened him. Once, Toledo police responding to a call put him on the ground and handcuffed him.
Google Chad Lesko’s name and you’ll see it was all a lie, allegedly perpetrated by an ex-girlfriend, the mother of his son. The woman posted the allegations on a fake account under the name of Nicole McCarthy. The post went viral, garnering some 35,000 shares, according to Gina Fielding, a social media expert from East Toledo.
Fielding became familiar with the case when it broke last May. She was working with a local radio personality who took up Lesko’s case along with other journalists in an effort to set the record straight. But, after stories about Lesko’s innocence were aired, and the woman admitted to spreading the false information because she was angry with Lesko, there was a bigger issue to consider—how do you stop something like this from happening and ruining someone else’s life?
After getting the word out to refute the false charges, Fielding assessed the impact on the Internet. While there were 35,000 shares for the false story, there were only 6,000 for the true story.
“The bad information got all these shares, but the good information didn’t get as many,” Fielding said. “The reason for that is, I think, when people see such a post they want to get this monster off the streets. Not very many of us have the ability to go out and actually do something, but you can help with a click of a button…They see it on Facebook and they think they are doing a good deed, but they don’t realize it’s a lie.”
Fielding and a friend, Cerise Claussen, thought something could be done to stop erroneous information from spreading. They came up with the line, “Verify before you share a lie.”
Fielding took that line and launched a website by the same name. The site provides a free and easy way to check a post before you share it. She verifies posts in three categories: missing persons, wanted persons and sex offenders. She searches public records and has relationships with local police. Her goal is to answer the request within minutes to hours.
The process is simple: when you see a post that could damage someone’s reputation, click on it, copy the url to the post from the address bar and submit it to www.verifybeforeyousharealie.com. You can Tweet it, post it on the verify Facebook wall or email it.
This small effort can prevent the long, stress-filled road sharing a lie poses for the innocent victim. Fielding said Lesko, 23 at the time, suffered multiple anxiety attacks and was hospitalized because of them.
Fielding works for AMZ Media so her website is a part-time passion. She doesn’t verify celebrity gossip, missing pets, urban legends, cheating spouses, anything political or if a coupon is too good to be true. This is a site strictly for verifying missing persons, wanted persons or sexual offenders.
Fielding recently investigated another post earlier this year about a rape at a local mall, but she sensed a problem with the story. “It was terrible, but it happened in 2003 and was recycled and being shared as though it was recent. We’re a headline based society and we read a headline and we click a share button. We don’t read into the articles and we don’t do a Google search to see whether it’s true or not. We just go right into it.”
Even if you conduct an Internet search, you must be cautious, Fielding says. “If you see 10 links that corroborate what you’re looking up, you automatically assume it’s true. But, what you don’t realize is these 10 people have gotten it from someone else, so you have to check your source when you’re looking for the truth.”
Besides causing grief for someone falsely accused, sharing a post can have other unintended consequences. Fielding gives us two to consider:
A woman in an abusive relationship goes into hiding, but the spouse posts a pic of her claiming she is missing and provides contact information. By reposting, you could put her back in danger when someone sends contact information to the spouse;
• An old post about a missing child subsequently found murdered gets recycled. The mother of the child sees it and has to relive the heartbreak.
If you think these are isolated cases go to toptenze.net and view the Top Ten People The Internet Wrongly Accused. Here, you will see how sick some people can be.
Fielding leaves us with two cautionary notes about the Internet—it’s lightning fast and it’s forever. Even if you succeed if removing a false post, someone somewhere has saved it and the post can resurface later.