To Retweet or Not To Retweet – Is It Harmful, Online Gossip?

Have you ever retweeted or shared a story that was later proved to be fake news or a lie? You’re not alone. This study shows that people love to retweet lies and fake news more than the truth. That’s why it’s a good practice to ask these three questions, before you hit the retweet Did you know that gossip can be as simple as sharing news about someone that the listener hasn’t heard before, like, “Mary is going to have a baby”? But more often than not, gossip is harmful. A number of months ago, I read an article in the New York Times that makes me think about how easy it is, through the Internet, to gossip and destroy lives with fake news and lies.The writer, Sinan Aral, and his colleagues analyzed major true and false stories spread on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. Their data included approximately 126,000 Twitter “cascades” (unbroken chains of retweets with a common, singular origin) involving stories spread by three million people more than four and a half million times. The results?

“Disturbingly, we found that false stories spread significantly more than did true ones. We found that human behavior contributed more to the differential spread of truth and falsity than bots did.”

People do love to gossip and spread sensational “news”! It feels like harmless fun, until it happens to you. I’ve been the recipient of hurtful, nasty gossip online. For example, a disgruntled client created a website in my name and posted lies about me. He paid for the website for ten years in the hopes of destroying my psychology practice. Trust me, there is no legally expedient way to stop this practice. However, he eventually tired of hosting the website and let the URL lapse. I decided to buy the URL so that it couldn’t be used again for nefarious purposes, but found that I couldn’t buy my own name back unless I wanted to pay a “premium.” Apparently the group in Brazil who now owns my name thinks it’s a hot property! (You can read more in my new book, WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you.)

When you hear “news” that you’re tempted to share, why not ask yourselves these three questions before you spread it…

You’ll, at the very least, buy yourself some time to think about the consequences, before you act. While there are cases of people being sued for retweeting a false, defamatory story, common human decency should be enough to motivate us to refrain from spreading lies, because we recognize the hurt they cause. But maybe that’s the problem – human decency isn’t so common anymore.

Human decency stems from the quality of empathy. The hardships of life can cause us to become callused to the feelings of others. Would you like to increase and enhance you ability to display empathy? You’ll find practical tips in my book, WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you.

If you’d like my personal help, and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that’s convenient for you.

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