Cynicism is my only refuge

The Alex From Target hoax hoax and Syrian Hero Boy hoax join a towering pile of examples of times I’ve been duped.

I’ve always been gullible. Kids would make up stuff or one-up my stories. I didn’t know enough to know they were lying. There I’d sit, defeated and sullen, having been out-foxed in the churning social proofing of childhood.

As I got older, my inept attempts at trickery continued.

In college, I helped form the company Flannel and intended on joining it full time when I graduated the following year. All was good, even up until I moved up to Grand Rapids–whoops! Just kidding. No job. Things changed. Sorry.

When I looked into joining the military, my recruiters spun quite a story of how I needed to ship within 10 days to take a job as a print journalist. Only general’s sons or diplomat’s nephews got great jobs like this, they said while I stood at MEPS, going through my physicals to potentially become an officer. If I didn’t say yes in the next 15 minutes to enlist and ship within 10 days, I would never see the same opportunity again, they said. I had to act right then for an adventure of a lifetime, they said. Of course I know now it was a pile of lies. They were enlisted recruiters who just lost a delayed-entry program recruit. They needed my high test scores to fill the empty slot and save their monthly quotas. “Duh!” you might say. Well why would I think uniformed dudes lied to recruits? They were heroes, right?

When I posted an ad to sell my laptop right before basic training, a scammer created a very good forged cashier’s check (the FBI was impressed, at least) and got me for $3,000. Tough luck. Too trusting.

I’ve had my identity stolen four times–most recently a couple of months ago by thieves from the UK who cleaned out my bank accounts.

It extends to the Internet. I believe all sorts of stuff.

I believed Y2K was going to shut down the power grid. I saw Blair Witch Project in the first week of its release and was fooled with others in thinking it was real. My first Nigerian Email scammer had my attention (thankfully I didn’t go through with anything). I believed a lot of those forwarded emails about HIV needles or anti-war liberals spitting on veterans. I clicked on one of those “you have a virus” windows that looked like a system message that turned out to be a virus itself. I thought the $250 Neiman Markus cookie recipe was legit.

I believed Lonelygirl15. I thought a kid got picked up by an eagle. I thought the twerking girl on fire was real. I thought Elen Gale and his Diane in 7A thing was real.

And don’t get me started on the media.

I can’t believe anything anymore.

I’m for seriouses. Every story that causes an emotional connection, I have to stop and think “Wait…is this total BS?” Kid with cancer, Girl Scout cookies, guy saves kitten…”Is this made up? Who profits from this? Who gets attention?” Trolls have had their way with me too many times.

Which is the point of trolling, I realize. Any time they can get you to think of them getting one over on you, they earn troll karma toward their mansion in troll heaven or something. I don’t let myself get drawn into arguments by trolls–that’s easy–but subtle fabrications are much harder to spot because we want to believe in the goodness of others or interesting and unique stories.

The over-the-top stuff is pretty easy to find and discount. Well, it’s usually easy. Well, I’ll say it’s usually easy for me. Unfortunately I see many of my friends and family posting and re-posting fabrications and lies–sometimes from years ago.

And in the past I rushed to point out how a story is fake or lying or misrepresented. I’ll keep any snark out of it and will gently include a link so they can read how the information is false, outright racist or colored with exaggerations.

But I would see people react. They would take umbrage and even defend the obviously faulty info. They had taken my response as me correcting them. They had taken it personally.

Look, I’ve been trolled all my life! I am passionate about helping others avoid the embarrassment and violation that comes from being trolled. When I point out something is false or someone is mistaken, it honestly isn’t because I get some sort of pleasure from being right or the know-it-all. Who want’s to be that jackass? No, I truly want my friends and loved ones to elevate above the misinformation and live their days more informed.

But it doesn’t stop–it never can. So long as some people know they can scream “fire” and get reactions out of people, they will. And enough times people who go along with trolls will say “I don’t care” and post the misleading stuff anyway.

I suppose cynicism is the only option, then? I’d rather it not be, but it’s a lesson I learned in journalism. Don’t trust anybody. Don’t trust anything. Confirm it with a few sources, then maybe…just maybe, it might be true.

But even then, who knows? What does this person have to gain from posting this?

A video of cute kittens, eh? You sure they’re not Photoshopped? What’s your angle?

###

About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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