When All The Doubts Are Crystal Clear

When are people going to learn?

I try to avoid posting on current events in this blog unless there is a clear connection to the business of writing and publishing fiction.

However, the latest FaceBook outrage has made me very angry.  Posting when I’m angry is something else I try not to do, but, you know, screw it.

Social Media Donation Fraud has become a major industry in the US, and it needs to stop. 

Okay, quick recap of the story, for those of you who have missed it.  A three year old girl was at her grandparent’s house and was badly mauled by the grandfather’s dogs.  She was taken to a local emergency room and treated, leaving the child with visible facial wounds. This much is verifiable.

The child’s grandmother later posted on FaceBook that she had taken the child to a local restaurant and was told to leave, because the child’s scars were scaring the other customers.

Instant outrage.  Instant boycott of the restaurant in question.  Verbal abuse and threats of violence against the restaurant’s employees.  Huge internet call for donations, large amounts of cash donated (including from the restaurant) free medical offered.  The picture of the child with her decorated bandages was reposted approximately seventy times a second.

And now the rest of the story comes out.  It never happened. 

The restaurant has hired an independent investigator and surrendered surveillance videos and sales records.  No video of a child matching the description of the wounded child in the videos.  No sales receipts for the order the grandmother claims to have made.  No witnesses who saw the incident.

The grandmother–who, we must assume was at least partially responsible for the mauling of the child under her care–has made an estimated $135,000 by lying on FaceBook.  She used her granddaughter’s traumatic injury to defraud a whole lot of strangers out of a whole lot of cash.

Did she plan it?  Who can say.  I expect that there was a grain of truth in the original story–maybe someone stared at the child rudely and the grandmother just embellished the tale to make it more pointed.  I doubt that the initial intent was to defraud anyone.

However, once the story got picked up and shared, she had an obligation to publish a retraction and get it posted in as many places as she could manage.  By staying silent and letting the donations roll in, she committed fraud, no matter what her motivation in publishing the original post.

What happens now?  That’s the tricky part.  The child really is badly injured, and does need medical attention to repair the damage done by the dogs.  Denying her the aid that has been offered on the basis of her grandmother’s perfidy does seem the height of cruelty.

On the other hand, I do believe that the grandmother should be prosecuted for fraud.  There is also the question of the mauling itself, and whether that involved negligence on the part of the adults in the house–I can’t speak to that obviously, but I assume that the local authorities are in the process of investigating it.

This is happening much too often, people.  The speed at which information can be shared over the internet makes the promulgation of rumors outstrip the determination of facts.

Let’s put the breaks on.  Stop and think before reposting calls for help.  If the need is genuine, the cause will wait.  Sadly, we must assume the possibility of fraud in any reports of a tragedy or an outrage.  Give it time, wait for the evidence to be collected and investigated.  If, after time has passed and numerous sources have reported the story, it seems to be genuine, by all means give as much as you can.

Think about it.

The latest story (that I have found) is here.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
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12 Responses to When All The Doubts Are Crystal Clear

  1. kingmidget says:

    More often than not everything I see on FB is a myth, a hoax, an urban legend. And everything I see on FB about Obama is 100% untrue. The promise of the internet was that we would all become more engaged and more informed. Neither of those have happened. Yes, we are more engaged — but it’s a shallow engagement built around what’s behind the computer screen and it has weakened our real relationships. And, yes, we are more informed — but it is about superficial crap like the latest celebrity gossip and a funny cat video, while most of what passes for substance is typically almost entirely wrong.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I see the internet as a tool and like any other tool it does nothing on its own–you have to be willing to use it. We do have more sources of information than we used to, both good and bad, and it takes discernment to decide which is which.

      There is a great deal of legitimate information on the internet, primary sources that would not have been available to most of us twenty years ago. One simply needs to know how to find them.

  2. In an ideal world, the grandmother’s punishment would be that she has to sort through every individual donation and send each donater a message explaining what happened, and offer them the choice of whether they want the money back, or they want to donate the money to the child’s medical bills. Plus, obviously, a public apology — and I imagine the restaurant will want some sort of reparations for the lost business.

    It’s a really awkward situation, because on one the hand it’s great that people care so much about people they don’t know. On the other hand, people need to stop and actually think about what they’re doing. Quoth “Wizard’s First Rule”, by Terry Goodkind — “People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.”

    • MishaBurnett says:

      People tend to pass on what fits their preconceptions without doing much fact checking. The film “Shattered Glass” shows that point vividly. Because Stephen Glass wrote things that his editors and readers wanted to be true, he got away with outrageous lies for years.

  3. ioniamartin says:

    Absolutely, and thank you for taking the time to write and post this. Perhaps I am jaded, but I am always leery of cries for help on social media. The more out of bounds the story sounds, the more my hackles raise.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I tend to wait before passing judgement. Most of these hoaxes fall apart within a week or so. What is frightening is how much support can be raised for a false cause in the first few days.

  4. Great post. Up here in Canada we’ve had a few instances of people faking cancer in order to garner donations, even though we have universal health care, and the person was proven to not have cancer. These cases are particularly disturbing in the way they take advantage of the goodness in people. I’d like to think that the decent nature of people overrides the critical thinking that sometimes is required. I also have to remember the internet is, relatively speaking, brand new and as with any new technology it is going to take some time to work out all the kinks.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      We need to develop a new form of intuition–the instincts of pre-digital days don’t always serve us well when confronted with the verisimilitude that computers can provide. And, of course, different people will learn at different rates. I suspect, though, that most of these scams won’t work on my grandchildren (provided my kids start working on making me some grandchildren…) By then, scammers will have gotten more sophisticated, unfortunately.

  5. I remember reading about that poor little girl and being horrified at the actions of the restaurant. I didn’t know donations were being made but I doubt it would have made much difference much difference if I had because my donations, when I make them, go to reputable charities where I chart where the money is going.
    That aside, how terrible for the poor little girl, to be used in such a way. Not only does she have that terrible incident to contend with, but now the actions of her family on top of it as well. I think that makes me sadder than all the rest of it.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It does add further abuse to what she has already suffered to be used in that manner. And I’m with you on only giving to charities that have been verified. Most of the time, when there is a legitimate need, an existing charity will offer support, and take earmarked donations.

  6. This is why I make a point of not reposting such online appeals. There’s just no way to know which are genuine, sadly, and I have no way to perpetuate those which are not.

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