Ask most anyone if they use social media, and the answer is likely to be a resounding, “YES!”
Whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn or any other platform, social media is a part of life.
For the most part, social media serves as a vibrant hub for interaction, uniting friends, colleagues, clients, and like-minded individuals across the globe. It’s a platform that fosters connection, dialogue, and shared interests.
Yet, beneath the surface of these positive exchanges, there lurks a more sinister aspect of social media.
As we use the internet more and more, it has become a place for all kinds of human behaviors. While most people use it in a good way, a worrying trend has started to show up. Some people are making up sad stories and bad events to trick others into giving them attention, more clicks on their posts, and sympathy.
An unsettling number of individuals are fabricating tragedies and misfortunes as they manipulate emotions from unsuspecting victims of their deceit.
Prominent examples of this trend are not hard to come by. A recent example is Trevor Daniel David, a social media influencer and YouTuber who orchestrated a plane crash to garner views and attention. Currently, he has racked up 3.5 million views on his YouTube Channel.
He’s also racked up the possibility of serving time. According to sources, he has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge. As if that weren’t bad enough, for his twisted thirst for views, the FAA revoked Jacob’s pilot license in April 2022.
Other incidents include a woman who made false claims that her children were under threat of being kidnapped. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Bay Area mom influencer, Katie Sorensen, didn’t just open herself up to criminal charges in December, she also flung open the door onto a billion-dollar industry and some of the ways it shapes the way we view women and consume media in 2021.”
According to the Daily Mail …
- Katie Sorensen made a report to Petaluma Police Department on December 7 claiming a suspicious couple was following her and her kids in a Michael’s store
- Several days later, she posted videos to her mom influencer account claiming that two of her children were ‘targets of attempted kidnap’
- Police released an update saying there were ‘inconsistencies’ between her report to them and the story on Instagram
As it turns out, the story Sorenson told was completely fabricated.
Numerous individuals have feigned illnesses to elicit sympathy and engagement on their posts as well as drive traffic to their crowdfunding page.
But why is this happening? And more importantly, what can be done to prevent such exploitation and manipulation?
There are obvious reasons including vanity metrics and financial gain. Yet, there’s more.
The Psychology Behind the Trend
The motive behind these behaviors is multifaceted, with factors ranging from the need for validation, desire for attention, to the quest for fame or, as mentioned, financial gain.
The advent of social media has created a platform where popularity is often equated with the number of likes, shares, and comments. Some individuals, seeking this form of validation, resort to creating or exaggerating personal tragedies.
The term “vanity metrics” is a direct result of this trend.
Vanity metrics are data points that might sound impressive on the surface but don’t provide much value or insight into the effectiveness of a strategy or the health of a business.
In the context of social media, vanity metrics can include numbers like followers, likes, shares, or comments. While these numbers can be high and look impressive, they often don’t provide a clear indication of how well content or strategies are performing in terms of more meaningful goals such as generating leads, conversions, sales, or customer retention.
For instance, having large numbers of followers on a social media platform may seem beneficial, but if those followers aren’t engaging with your content or becoming customers, then the high follower count is just a vanity metric.
It’s called a ‘vanity’ metric because it’s often more about boosting ego or appearances than providing useful, actionable information.
More valuable metrics – often called ‘actionable metrics’ – include measurements like the cost of customer acquisition, customer lifetime value, active users, engagement rates, or conversion rates, depending on the specifics of your business or goals.
Actionable metrics are what those interested in sustainability are interested in, but I digress.
An additional factor in social media fake tragedies is the anonymity and distance that the internet provides, allowing individuals to construct false narratives with little immediate consequence. When coupled with the ‘attention economy’ of social media, this encourages a culture of sensationalism and fabrication.
The negative effects of this trend are numerous. For one, it creates a culture of mistrust online, making it harder for genuine pleas for help to be heard and taken seriously. It also exacerbates the mental health crisis by presenting a distorted reality where personal tragedies are glamorized for attention.
Addressing this issue requires a multi-pronged approach.
Educate and Raise Awareness: The public must be educated about this trend, so they can identify potential instances of exploitation and make informed decisions when engaging with content online.
Platform Regulation: Social media platforms should take on more responsibility in combating this issue. By using advanced algorithms and AI, platforms can identify and flag potential instances of fake tragedies. Repeat offenders should be penalized or banned to maintain the integrity of the platform.
This is not an easy solution and there are plenty of people who don’t want content policed, yet, in some cases, it does make sense.
Promote Healthy Social Media Use: Encourage healthy social media habits. This could involve encouraging users to diversify their digital consumption, not equate likes with self-worth, and limit their screen time.
Again, this is easier said than done. The fact is social media can indeed contribute to increased screen time and potentially lead to behaviors that resemble addiction. This is due to several factors:
Instant Gratification and Reward Systems: Social media platforms are designed to provide immediate rewards (likes, comments, shares) that trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can create a cycle where users continually check and recheck their social media for these “rewards,” leading to increased screen time.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Social media can amplify feelings of FOMO, causing people to spend more time on these platforms to stay connected and up-to-date with the activities of their social circle and the world at large.
Infinite Scroll and Autoplay Features: Many social media platforms have design features like infinite scroll and autoplay that encourage continuous usage. These features can make it easy to lose track of time and spend longer than intended on the platform.
Personalized Content: Algorithms used by social media platforms curate content that aligns with a user’s interests based on their past behavior. This can make the content more engaging and potentially lead to extended screen time.
While these factors can contribute to increased screen time and potentially addictive behaviors, it’s important to note that not everyone who uses social media will develop an addiction.
Like with any activity, the risk can increase with excessive use and when it begins to interfere with daily life and responsibilities, then it is a problem.
Ramifications of Deception
Legal Measures: Depending on the severity and impact of the deception, legal measures may be applicable. Laws regarding internet fraud and harassment exist in many jurisdictions, and using these tools to hold individuals accountable can be a powerful deterrent.
While the internet and social media have opened up new avenues for communication and expression, it has also created new platforms for deception and manipulation.
Recognizing, understanding, and combatting this trend is a collective responsibility that falls on users, platform developers, and regulators alike.
What You See May Not Be What You Get
In the digital age, an essential piece of wisdom to keep in mind is not to take everything at face value, particularly on social media and online platforms. The anonymity and reach of the internet have made it easier than ever for individuals and groups to misrepresent facts, share misleading information, or even impersonate others for fraudulent purposes.
One area where this is especially prevalent is in the realm of financial transactions. It’s not uncommon to see requests for financial assistance or donations on social media, often accompanied by compelling personal stories or urgent pleas. While many of these are genuine, some are unfortunately scams designed to prey on the goodwill of others.
It’s crucial to approach such situations with a healthy degree of skepticism. If you are considering giving money to someone you don’t know well or haven’t met in person, take the time to verify their story and identity as much as possible. Look for inconsistencies in their narrative, check for other online presence, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Senior citizens, especially the elderly, can be particularly susceptible to these issues. Maintaining open and regular communication with older family members like parents and grandparents can be very beneficial.
Although constant reminders might seem like pestering, these could potentially prevent significant emotional distress and financial loss. It’s important to continually reinforce the message that the online world, unfortunately, does have its share of unscrupulous individuals.
Even when a request appears to come from someone you know, it’s essential to be cautious. With the rise of sophisticated AI technologies, it’s becoming increasingly easy to mimic a person’s online presence or even their writing style. This has led to scams where individuals think they’re helping a friend or family member in need when in reality, they’re giving money to a stranger.
If you receive an unexpected request for money from someone you know, always verify it through another communication channel. A quick phone call or text can often reveal whether the request is legitimate or a scam.
In conclusion, while the internet and social media have brought many benefits, they also require us to be more cautious and discerning. Always remember to think critically about the information you encounter online, especially when money is involved.
By acknowledging the issue and taking proactive steps, we can help maintain the integrity of the digital world and ensure it remains a space for authentic and meaningful interactions.
What has been your experience? Have you fallen for a story that turned out to be fabricated?