Step 1: Take Sharpie out of junk drawer

Step 2: Write “gullible” across my forehead.

Yep, that’s me. I got sucked in by Facebook but in a totally different way than I wrote about last week.

I was perusing a new connection’s Facebook page and saw a post I desperately wanted to share. It contained directions on how women can protect themselves from rape.

It was entitled “Through a rapist’s eyes” and declared its content the result of interviews with convicted rapists. It contained lots of capitalized words and exclamation points and that one dire message: REPOSTING THIS COULD ACTUALLY SAVE A LIFE.

Here’s what I wrote when I shared it to my personal Facebook page:

While this can be a hard read for some, as it brings our attention to the negative side of society, it’s a very worthwhile read with noteworthy content; I’m sharing it because it can save a life from a horrible crime and I’ve spent many hours listening to women’s stories of how they were victims of a sexual assault. Note: this blog isn’t addressing date rape or other types. Its focus is on “Stranger Danger.”

Then, a friend pointed me towards a Snopes link, showing the post as a marketing vehicle. The post originated as an email way way back in 2001, written by an employee at the St. Louis office of the global public relations firm, Weber Shandwick. The employee was among a group enrolled in a self-defense class taught by St. Louis instructor David Portnoy, who claims to have trained with actors Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

My social media shame

Yep, I got sucked in.

When I realized it, I was mad … more than a little pissed off. I’m also embarrassed that, based on my background, I got duped.

Even though the instructions appear to be common-sense based, it victimizes women with made-up facts, convincing us that by following these instructions we may somehow be immune or protected from sexual assault.

Had I done some critical thinking on each point, I may have seen through the post, done more research and never shared it.

For example, one of the instructions addresses the length of a woman’s hair. When I think of all the sexual assault clients I’ve counselled over the last two decades, hair length was never a determining factor. Not even a common thread!

In fact, hair length is mostly irrelevant. (In special cases, it may fit the specific profile of a serial rapist’s victims.) Yes, an attacker can (and will) pull your hair, but he will use any leverage he can: date rape drugs, such as XTC, Rohypnol and Ketamine; restraints, such as choke holds or duct tape; and the oldest of time, alchohol.

So why was I so gullible?

The psychology of getting duped

We’re inundated with information. Some people take advantage of our trust by creating hoaxes. Our friends post links to satire sites like The Onion and The Beaverton and we chuckle when someone gets caught believing the link to be real.

Why did I get caught?

I could tell you it was the end of a long day and I was tired, easily duped into thinking, “YES, everyone should read this, because it’s awesome and it’s true.”

And well nuts, I did just give you my big excuse.

However, it’s more likely that the subject of sexual assault is important to me. I’ve seen the pain and torment its victims and their families endure, even decades after the horrible event that affected their lives.

Brent Coker, a psychologist at the University of Melbourne, says some posts motivate us to like and share based on our affinity to the subject..

“Part of what makes something go viral is it evokes some strong emotions in people and it creates something we call cognitive arousal and that motivates people to act,” the online behaviour expert told an Australian ABC affiliate.

He also noted we’re likely to believe the people we welcome into our social media realms.

“Consumers will trust each other, our friends and colleagues,” Coker said.

Check, check and check … DAMMIT.

A tough lesson to learn

Look, hoaxes aren’t new. PT Barnum fleeced Americans with the great Cardiff Giant hoax in 1869.

Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds caused mass panic throughout the listening U.S.

Facebook and other social media, however, have made us sitting ducks for believing truthiness. Misinformation can be shared faster than the speed of light and even smart people, like me, get sucked in.

Personal growth demands that we learn from our mistakes. So, here I am … learning.

Learning how to be better at spotting truthiness.

Learning how to be more diligent with my likes and shares.

And learning how to be a better member of my social media communities.

It’s so easy to scroll through my news feed and click a button to say hello, acknowledge an event, or share something that’s close to my heart.

But before I share in the future, I have to look at it with a more critical eye and, if I see red flags like the aforementioned hair length, to do better research. That research is often as easy as sharing the post privately and asking for another’s opinion, executing a Google search or consulting or Urban Legends.

I’m not saying I won’t be sucked in again. (It will probably take me a lot longer to forgive myself again if I am.)

But I do promise to be more diligent in the future.

Lesson learned!

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