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My Turn: Before you share, check it out

By Nancy Gaines

One night recently, while I was knitting a Christmas presents and watching a movie, my phone dinged about four times in 10 minutes. All four were Facebook messages from people I know personally sharing a video, asking me to share it with others, and warning not to post it on Facebook. I watched the video. In it a woman claiming to be a protester at Standing Rock described what she believed was a chemical attack on the people gathered there. The incident was alleged to have happened on Nov. 14. There were no pictures of the attack or statements from other witnesses, just one woman talking to the camera. The woman in the video also warned not to post it on Facebook as it would just be taken down “again.”

I will say here that i believe that the protest at Standing Rock is a righteous protest, and that it is quite likely it has not been handled well by government officials. I will confess that I have not followed it very closely and I am not in a position to say anything definitive about what is happening at Standing Rock. The women’s claim did, however, concern me, and if true, needed to be shared. But before I hit share, I went looking.

I did a search on YouTube for “chemical warfare Standing Rock.” This video came up at least three times but I found no other videos offering any other verification of this act. I then searched Facebook to see if it was posted there. It was in fact posted by the Florida Sky Watchers on Nov. 18 and is still up on Facebook. There is also a second posting by an individual that is still up and multiple links to the video. Her claim that it will be taken down seems to have no basis.

I then did a Google search for more information on this alleged incident. I found numerous online articles reporting on this alleged incident, however, all of them cited no other evidence of the incident happening other than this single video.
Which brings me to the point of what I am writing. In this age of instant media we have to be hyper vigilant that what we share is indeed accurate. Report after report analyzing the recent presidential election talks about how misleading and false news reports contributed to the outcome. We have started accepting as true anything we want to believe without bothering with verification or critical analysis.

This incident might have happened. But in an age when almost everyone carries a phone with video capabilities, why can I not find anyone else reporting this incident? Why can’t sympathetic online media outlets find any other source to cite other than this one video when they report about the incident. Anybody can say anything they want with a great deal of sincerity and post it online over and over. That does not make it true.

Do not let your sympathies cloud your judgment any more than others allow their hatred and bigotry to cloud theirs. We should not post things simply because we feel a since of outrage and want to believe they are true. Remember the boy who cried wolf? At some point people quit listening. We do ourselves, our country, and our causes a dis-service when we are not careful in what we post. At some point we will need people to listen . . .and they won’t.

Free speech is a privilege guaranteed to us by our Constitution. But in this age where everyone can share anything with thousands of people at the push of a few buttons it is also a responsibility. Guard your privilege carefully, use it responsibly. It’s not that hard to do. It took me less time to research this video and conclude there was not enough verification to share it than it took to write this comment. Life is complex. Do not settle for easy answers.

Nancy Gaines lives in Salisbury.

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