Whenever individuals perpetuate hoaxes in media, others are injured by the lies along with the causes they feigned to advance. This month two academics acknowledged and then apologized for fictive characters they invented–a Black activist and a American Indian #MeTooSTEM anthropologist. Typically social media is used as a vehicle to further the fabrication, especially on YouTube and Twitter.
In an essay on Medium, titled “The Truth, and the Anti-Black Violence of my Lies,” Jessica Krug, associate professor of history at George Washington University, admitted that she “eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then U.S. rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.”
The Daily Beast features an online video and other posts during which Krug identified herself as Jess La Bombelera.
Inside Higher Ed reported neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin, a founder of the MeTooSTEM organization, “admitted Tuesday to creating a fake friend on Twitter, running the anonymous account for years and then killing off the persona with a case of teaching-related COVID-19.”
Consumers of media and social media must guard against hoaxes, which play on common fears, desires, convictions, values and cultures of a target audience or clientele. Hoaxers create opportunities to manipulate mainstream and social media by perpetuating:
- Fear of a certain race, ethnicity, sex, disability, protected or social-class group.
- Desire to be recognized or compensated for activism, victimization, innovation and contribution on trending topics.
- Belief that certain people of a particular race, ethnicity, sex, disability or social class are inherently immoral/moral, unintelligent /intelligent, privileged/disadvantaged, etc.
- Belief in or skepticism about the paranormal.
- Conviction about political party, candidate, celebrity, religious deity, government policy, entitlement, legal case, etc.
It is important for us to know the various terms used to define these concepts.
Invention happens from within the organization–a reporter fabricates quotations or sources, for instance–and so does not qualify as a hoax. A hoax relies entirely upon manipulation of media by an outside source whose sole goal is to program agendas according to their motives. A culture vulture is an inauthentic person who practices cultural appropriation in an attempt to identify with aspects of another culture and claim it as their own.
Hoaxes harm newsrooms, agencies and organizations because they:
- Jeopardize personal credibility.
- Harm corporate brand or non-profit reputation.
- Expose personal beliefs of journalists and practitioners.
- Demean, trivialize or exploit cultural beliefs.
- Cause innocent others irreparable harm.
Harm happens to innocent parties that mistakenly embraced the fictive personae of hoaxes. In the case of a white person claiming to be Black or American Indian, the hoaxer exploits people of color.
Inside Higher Ed called attention to Krug’s author bio in the online magazine RaceBaitr as an “unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood.” The publication retracted Krug’s article and ran this notice on Twitter:
Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine covers how social media is used to perpetuate hoaxes and the damage that can do to fact and truth.
Digital Natives have been exposed to untruth their entire lives. They came of age as machines began to correlate at ever-faster speeds in an increasingly data-rich environment. Something else occurred, though. Students no longer could easily find primary sources of information, such as historical documents in libraries, or acquaint themselves with ground-breaking discoveries by world-renowned researchers; now there were multitudes of online sources. Hoaxes. Hacks. Stunts. Pranks. Fraud. Counterfeits. Conspiracy theories. Altered photographs. Doctored records. Viral videos. Facts died in the process. … Emerging generations soon learned that fact no longer was earned by traditional means, including observation, experiment and examination; accessed information was data-mined, crunched, targeted, vended and downloaded. Students look to machines for answers because that is all they have known.
Media and technology literacy is important to help students understand the implications of fabrication.
Hoaxes based on appropriated cultures and identities and promulgated on social media continue to afflict society. It is up to us not only to guard against such untruths but also to acknowledge that equality, equity and inclusion are key aspects of the interpersonal experience.
McLaughlin’s fabricated anonymous anthropologist, aka @Sciencing_Bi, not only exploited the Hopi Tribe but fears of teachers returning to the classroom and being exposed to COVID-19. That made her hoax especially harmful.
Racists, sexists, xenophobes, homophobes and supremacists often use baseless claims in hoaxes as fodder for conspiracy theories that may lead to physical and verbal violence, undermining legitimate cases for equity, equality and inclusion.