Social media can be a wonderful thing – sometimes. It has the ability to connect people all over the world, letting people learn about one another and forge friendship over thousands of miles. It’s also where many Americans go to get their daily news.
Unfortunately, it’s also the single-most common source of misguided hate. When the wrong piece of news gets spun by fake news outlets, or even just misconstrued, it has a tendency to drive people into a frenzy. The result? Mob mentality. Violence. Loss of jobs. Sometimes, loss of life.
Just how often does it happen? Way more often than you probably realize. Just take a look at these five horrifying examples.
• Back in 2015, two Florida hearse drivers were fired after a local spotted the hearse alone in the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts. In the back was a flag-draped coffin. It contained a deceased military veteran who was being transported to another nearby city. The two drivers were in a local coffee shop allegedly buying snacks for the drive.
The bystander was incensed; he recorded the unattended hearse and posted it to social media accusing the men of shirking their duties. Both were fired and it was only later revealed that they had stepped inside, mere feet away from the vehicle, for less than five minutes.
• In August, 2018, in Acatlán, Mexico, two men were burned to death as a result of fake texts sent through WhatsApp. The message, allegedly sent by an unknown individual, gained traction rapidly. It read, “Please everyone be alert because a plague of child kidnappers has entered the country.”
At some point, locals came to believe 21-year-old Ricardo Flores and his uncle Alberto Flores were responsible. They accosted them and had them arrested for disturbing the peace. But as officers brought them into the police station, a mob descended on them, wrestling them away to cries that they were the child abductors mentioned in the texts. They were beaten, set on fire, and killed.
• A mother from Melbourne, Australia caught a man taking pictures in the local Target and assumed he was snapping images of her children in 2015. She took his picture and blasted it all over social media, calling him a pervert and a pedophile. The photo immediately went viral, even reaching the Daily Mail, and was shared thousands of times. He was left with a tarnished reputation and death threats. It eventually turned out that he had been standing beside a Darth Vader cut out and snapping selfies of himself – to send to his own children. The mother apologized, but the man’s photo continues to be shared with comments suggesting he is a child predator.
• Even major news outlets and magazines have fallen victim to fake news and mob outrage. Rolling Stone Magazine found itself in an awkward position after it published an article detailing the extremely violent gang rape of a woman named Jackie on campus at the University of Virginia. “Jackie” claimed she had brought the issue to the university and they refused to investigate.
Allegedly, “Jackie” had a terrible tale rife with gory details – and she had plenty of support, too. Both friends and local rape activists believed her, as did several uninvolved faculty members at the university. So, the Rolling Stone ran with it and published it, failing to fact check it and respecting her request to not contact the accused for his side.
The result? The University of Virginia struggled with reputation issues for months over it, allegedly losing support. Word got around with the accused’s name, even though it hadn’t been published, and there were death threats involved. Then, the whole thing turned out to be fake.
• You just might remember this last entry, especially if you’re an avid hunter. Walter Palmer, a Dentist from Bloomington, Minnesota, went on the hunt of a lifetime in Africa. He paid a seemingly-reputable hunting company £35k (about $44,000) for the opportunity to hunt a lion. There was little reason for Palmer to be suspicious; even conservation organizations sometimes offer these hunts in Africa as a way to cull older or sick animals while bringing in much-needed costs for projects.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the company wasn’t reputable at all – they were spearheaded by poachers. Somehow, news of the illegal hunt reached American social media, where an image of Palmer sitting with the dead lion spread like wildfire. People began calling for his resignation, making death threats against him, and even attempting to hunt him down at his surgery in the town of Bloomington.
Palmer apologized for his role in the event and implored people to try and understand that he wasn’t aware of the illegal nature of the hunt. He was eventually forced to go into hiding and shut down his practice for an extended period of time. One of his patients, who became caught up in the mob, later apologized in this article from the Star-Tribune.
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