Last week, I became a victim of toxic content. It can happen so fast, without warning. My sister, a trusted source, forwarded two photos that purported to show the Air France flight breaking in half before it fell from the sky into the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. There was a caption that said the photos had been taken by a passenger, and while the camera had been destroyed in the crash the memory stick was recovered. Even the photographer's name had been discovered by tracing the serial number of the camera. One photo showed passengers with air masks on, a gaping hole in the mid section of the plane and the tail section falling away. The second photo showed a man being sucked out into the open hole.
They were immediately shocking photos, all the more so to me because two of my students from my Data Governance course at the Bucerius Law School died on that flight. Alexander Crolow and Julia Schmidt were two bright young students from Germany and Brazil who had traveled to Brazil to tell Julia's parents of their plan to marry and were returning to Germany that night to tell Alex's parents. An event like the Air France crash it transformative when you know someone who was on it.
But alas, the photos were fake. They were taken from the TV Show lost and sent around the world in an email. Bolivian TV even showed them on the air before they discovered the fakery. But by then the damage had been done. For so many people around the world wondering how their loved-ones perished in that plane, the photos offered chilling illustration. We should have recognized the forgery at the outset since the plane crashed at night and the photos showed bright daylight through the hole. But critical thinking disappears quickly when you are emotionally involved. And of course on the internet any trusted source can inadvertedly be a conduit for toxic content. Thus knowing the source of your content is not enough to establish trusted information. You need to verify by corroborating the content with another source to establish veracity.
In the 21st Century everyone has to be a journalist.