Lots of nonsense and misinformation gets spread around the Internet; it was true back in the “AOL days” (wow, now I feel old) when fake email chains got blindly forwarded, and now it’s still true in this age of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). I and many of my skeptically-minded friends and colleagues also identify as atheists, extending our skepticism of pseudoscience into the realm of religion, but that doesn’t necessarily make atheists think any more critically than many of the religious believers whom we often criticize.
Case in point: this morning I opened Facebook to see the following post from one of my atheist Facebook friends; the last comment is particularly relevant:
Of course, there could be a number of reasons why Facebook would block a specific link, but note how quickly this comment thread jumped to the assertion that Facebook was banning atheist pages and links. You see similar comments all the time from many religious believers, which ties into the oft-emphasized (and completely false) claim from pastors and politicians alike that there is a “War on Religion” on Facebook or the Internet. Fortunately, someone else jumped into the thread rather quickly and corrected this erroneous claim by linking to the following article from Snopes.com
On 24 May 2015, the fake news web site IFLScience.org (a spoof of the popular IFLScience.com site) published an article titled “Facebook to Ban Atheism from their Social Network over Cyber Bullying.” Echoing earlier fake news claims that Facebook was banning religious content…
… Of course, the statement (and claim) were cut from whole cloth, as IFLScience.org is one of many fake news peddlers making hay out of outrage-based shares on social sites such as Facebook. As noted in an earlier snopes.com article, the IFLScience.org site has successfully duped readers into mistaking their “satirical” content for that of its more credible doppleganger by way of initial visual similarities. However, there are a few notable differences:
- IFLScience.org uses the tagline “100% Mostest Official and More Sciencey.”
- As of May 2015, IFLScience.org only has a few hundred likes on Facebook, while IFLScience.com has millions.
- The IFLScience.org Twitter icon links to the satirical Christians Against Dinosaurs Twitter page.
- The logos used on IFLScience.org and IFLScience.com are only similar to one another on first glance:
For more tips on spotting fake news sites, check out our article on its most common tells.
And if you stop and think about these false claims in more detail, they make no sense given the broader societal context: recent surveys show that secularism is on the rise in the United States (and Facebook is centered in the U.S.) and that the religiously unaffiliated comprise roughly 23% of the population now. So if nearly a quarter of the population in the country which is home to Facebook identifies as non-religious, then how does this claim that “Facebook is going to ban atheism” make any sense? It doesn’t.
The lesson here is that whether or not you are religious, it is far too easy for us to believe satirical stories and spin them into conspiracy theories which seem to target things we hold dear. When it comes to something that means a lot to us, we often emote first and think rationally later, and the tools of social media make it far too easy for us to continue spreading such misinformation. So before you hit “Share” or “Forward”, take a moment to investigate a little bit and be certain that claim you’re passing on is accurate.