How we shrug off responsibility of verification.
I should have known as early as spam email forwards that this was a thing. This idea of shrugging off the responsibility of verifying what we read and pass on. I had to grow up and enter a world of never ending messages via whatsapp groups to truly realise just how widespread a problem we have.
Sent as received.
It's night usually when I finally settle in to check my whatsapp messages. Mostly messages from the few groups that I remain part of. As I scroll through, I keep seeing similar messages interspersed with the back and forth on that screen.
Sent as received.
Followed by a block of text with the occasional hyperbole screaming at me in capital letters. BEWARE! SEND THIS TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS! THIS SAVED MY LIFE! The rest of the it is a mish mash of various reportings and a message to be aware of various death ridden consumables, or miracle benefits of fruits. Or possibly some kind of terrible event that happened across the world. Or of alien sightings. Or of a miracle healing. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I always read these messages.
And when I'm done, I do my usual routine of fact checking. I google things. Search for text on snopes. In nearly every case, I discover within five minutes that what was sent was either a complete hoax or just completely overblown. Yes, a 100 cups of coffee in one sitting can kill you. But caffeine isn't a murderer as a result of that, and no, little Bobby did not die mixing red bull and panadol together. Sometimes I'll confront the person sending the message and say it's a fake. And then I receive the words:
Sorry. Sent as received.
I'm tired of seeing this message. It's especially frustrating to read this from adults. Sending as received does not absolve you from blame. It does NOT make you innocent. You are complicit in spreading falsehoods. Even worse, it makes you complicit in spreading a lazy attitude towards thinking critically and seeking out the truth. Sending as received is not an excuse. It is an admission of guilt. The responsibilty of seeking out truth is not a transferable asset.
It's made even worse that not a single person I've contacted regarding a forwarded falsehood has ever been willing to retract whatever they sent. Not a single one of them will go back to all those whatsapp groups they so dutifully spammed and message again with an apology and statement of the actual facts. And then a few weeks later, I'll see another message from them appear on whatsapp.
Sent as received.
I'm about to ride a moral horse. If you can't stand it, please disembark here because I'm about to dispense some action for us to take.
Because if the people who "send as received" won't change, then it's time for others to push back against it. We live in a world where dissemination of falsehoods has never been easier. Where opinion passes for fact. If we as adults don't stand up to correct falsehoods from being spread, then we have no right to tell children to find courage to think critically and demand answers. And if don't do that, we are driving ourselves into a rather bleak looking corner. Even if that isn't true, do we really want a world where you can simply craft falsehoods in an easy to digest hyperbolic wall of text and send it with a guarantee that people will treat it as gospel?
It might be uncomfortable. If you are someone who sends forwards, stop! Stop and do basic google searches until you can choose a fact based position. Please don't forward things on the whim of "this might be true, so why not? What harm could it do anyways?". It does a lot of harm eventually.
If you are someone who simply reads them and doesn't believe it, please do the research and speak up. Share the facts. It might feel like you are sucking the fun out of a conversation. But you have to do it. Because this will be the first step towards making other people comfortable with calling out absurdities. And it'll be the first step towards making those spreading falsehoods uncomfortable with what they are doing.
But whatever you do, don't ask the sender for the source of their information. Spare yourself the frustration of receiving the reply:
"sent as received".