Noah Hertz

… or how I learned Tom Hanks was not executed by the U.S. military

Recently, a concerned reader sent me an email linking to a story alleging that shots of the Pfizer-produced COVID-19 vaccine contained poison and were deliberately being used to kill recipients.

This claim has been debunked because there is no truth to it. But, you know what? I clicked the link.

Clicking a random link in my inbox probably wasn’t the smartest decision for a number of reasons, including this one: I did the exact thing the writer of the fallacious article wanted — I clicked it, and the website’s owner received ad revenue because of my visit.

Just about any website you visit nowadays has ads. The Beacon is no exception because operating a website is not free. To paraphrase something I was once told by a college professor, “If something is free on the internet, you are the product.”

The internet does the exact same thing television — which some of us were once told would rot our brains — does. We’re inundated with pictures of products we’ll want to buy. The difference is, I don’t have to ask my parents to call a toll-free number. I can click the ad and buy it myself!

Just as bad are headlines or claims that are technically true but lack important context. You can get a taste for this by reading anything about the COVID-19 vaccines. Reports of side effects are often stripped of context, which is where you get claims like “Man dies after taking COVID-19 vaccine.”

It can’t be understated how great the internet is for keeping us connected, but there is also a rampant spread of misinformation and disinformation.

Misinformation refers to, as The Associated Press puts it, “false information shared about a particular topic that could be mistaken as truth.” Disinformation is the intentional spread of falsehoods with the intent to confuse or mislead.

The repeatedly debunked claim that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has any link to the development of autism in children is misinformation. Spreading claims about the supposed links between vaccines and autism on Facebook with the intent to either stop people from vaccinating their children or to sell something is disinformation.

Disinformation gets clicks, because it confirms our biases. We’re all guilty of having biases, myself included.

The concerned reader who reached out to me also advised me to investigate another website. When I visited this one, the top headline of the day was “Military executes Tom Hanks.”

Now, some cursory research let me know that this, in fact, did not happen. But you know what I did? I clicked the article, and I was immediately greeted by ads.

Looking around the website some more, I found a disclaimer that the site “contains humor, parody, and satire.” This site, though, was shared to me as if it were a completely reliable news source.

We could all stand to take a media literacy course or two because, if we’re going to have constructive discussion about the many issues we all face — including the global pandemic that continues to spread and claim the lives of members of our community — we need to be on a level playing field. We need to exist in the same universe.

In my universe, Tom Hanks appears to still be alive, but many of my neighbors aren’t.

I would hate to learn that I played a role in any death because I believed a lie designed to sell ads.


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