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An Ode to Hoaxes

No one likes being duped by stories that go viral on the internet, but there’s an inspiring aspect to our collective reaction to them.

Two people gossiping

Earlier this week, Charlie Bothuell, a father in Detroit, Michigan, pled for the public’s help finding his missing 12-year-old son.

This morning, just as Charlie appeared on television to speak about the search for the boy, Headline News’ Nancy Grace revealed breaking news–the boy had been found… in Bothuell’s basement.

It’s too early to tell if the boy’s disappearance was a publicity stunt or something far more sinister–authorities are investigating accusations of child abuse, and frankly, all the details are sketchy–but if indeed the father knew his child’s whereabouts all along, it’s only the latest is a spate of high profile hoaxes that have fooled the media.

No, KFC did not ask a disfigured girl to leave their restaurant because she was “scaring away the customers.”

No, a New Jersey couple did not stiff a waitress because of their religious beliefs.

No, a six-year-old boy was never in danger of floating away in a weather balloon.

It doesn’t feel good to feel duped, tricked, or betrayed. As my friend on Facebook wrote about the KFC hoax, “If this is true about it being not true, it reaffirms my hatred of people over 3 who I don’t know.” A little harsh, but I understand the anger.

That’s why Mysterious Ways does our best to verify everything we can when we publish a story. There’s no way to know if Evangelina Garza was telling the whole truth about her visions of heaven–but we do have the document from the hospital that proves the doctors believed she was dead.

If it turned out she was there for a dizzy spell, well, that would undermine her story just a bit.

It surprises me that more established media outlets don’t do the same basic sleuthing. I mean, is it that hard to call up the KFC and get some evidence before going public? Then again, in the competitiveness to “get the scoop,” a lot of online publications don’t take the time.

Still, I don’t believe, as my friend does, that these hoaxes reveal a bad side to humanity. On the contrary. I think it says something that so many of us found ourselves engrossed in these stories, clicking through articles for more details, leaving outraged comments–”I’ll never eat at KFC again!”–and discussing our reactions with friends.

These stories pushed our buttons, tugged at our hearts, and got us to reach out and engage on an emotional level. Bottom line–these stories showed how much we care.

When it turns out it was all fake, sure, we get a little mad. But we shouldn’t ignore what these hoaxes revealed about us. Hoaxes are so effective because they target something elemental about human nature.

We always stand up for the little guy. The disadvantaged. Those with disabilities.

We believe love, not hate, is the best way to resolve our differences.

When someone is in danger or needs help, we take action, and pray for miracles.

Look, for instance, at how KFC responded, even after they learned the girl’s grandmother was lying about the story. They insisted they would still donate $30,000 to help cover the girl’s medical bills–a need that was real.

If a hoax reveals our goodness, our optimism, and our faith now and again, I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. I would rather live in a world where people respond passionately to injustice and evil, rather than one where everybody ignores or doubts its existence.

Feeling fooled? Don’t let your passion turn into anger. There are plenty of real problems facing people in this world. Put your passion to work solving them.

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