Cairo Death Hoax Spreads Through Facebook

Most Facebook hoaxes are piddly matters that don’t have much significance in the real world. Most of the time, the hoaxes just spread rumors about celebrities or try to trick Facebook users into filling out surveys. In the midst of political upheaval in Cairo, though, one hoax had Indonesians wondering whether one of their most revered activists who worked for the UN Relief and Works Agency had been killed in the turmoil.

The name Imanda Amalia might not mean a lot to Americans, but she has been a popular figure in Indonesia for over two decades. Last week, a rumor started on Facebook that she had died in Cairo during the political protests.

Even Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wondered whether the news was true.

It was not. Imanda Amalia is alive and well in Cairo, offering assistance to the people there.

This raises a good point about the nature of media and online social networking sites. To some extent, websites like Facebook make it possible for people to get unfiltered news directly from those who have experienced important events. Instead of relying on large media corporations that have been blamed for tainting their coverage with subjective interpretations (or even 100 percent lies, as has been revealed in Egypt now that Mubarak has been removed from his office). On the other hand, how much can you trust news that comes from unknown people without any accountability.

Facebook might give people the opportunity to report their impressions, but there is no reason to expect that those impressions won’t contain the same misinformation found in major news broadcasts. In fact, it seems likely that Facebook posts will contain even more inaccuracies and hoaxes since no one is held accountable for their posts.

It’s a question without a answer. At the moment, all that we can do is read the news and Facebook posts with a critical eye so that we aren’t duped into believing hoaxes.

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~ by facebookhoaxes on February 14, 2011.

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