(Editor’s note: If you want conspiracy, go here).
As the names of the children and staff of Sandy Hook are formally released to the public, social media will be flooded with memes of remembrance and tributes. While some of the people creating these images have only the best intentions, many more are spreading these viral images for underhanded and sometimes illegal purposes. Here’s a list of ways that you can help and avoid becoming a victim.
1. The Facebook ‘Like and Share’: We’ve all seen the photos on Facebook – a little girl hooked up to machines in a hospital bed, asking you to like and share if you would like to see an end to cancer. Some even show a once healthy, now sadly deceased child, imploring you to help them break a world record for likes, so their sweet baby in heaven can see how much she touched lives, or imploring you to wear a certain color on a certain day in her memory, and to pass this message to everyone you know. Even more touching is when the creator of the page claims they will donate $1 for every hundred likes and shares, if you like their page first.
Problem is, most of these are completely fake memes, usually taken from pre-made photos of grieving parents without their knowledge. Every time you like and share one of these images, the algorithm in the social media platform you are using assigns that image a level of importance – the more people who like and share, the higher importance that image has. That explains why sometimes you see the same image three or four times on your news feed. When people ‘like’ the page that created the meme (usually a name like “All The Newtown Babies Are Now Angels”), that page also rises through the algorithm rankings. The creator of the page then sells the page wholesale to the highest bidder in online marketer forums. The name of the page is changed (usually to a cheap product page) and your facebook feed gets flooded with sales spam.
(Edited to add: I just screencapped this from a ‘memorial’ facebook page – parents of very much alive children are finding their kid’s pictures on ‘Shooting victims’ photo collages. Stay classy, scam artists!)
2. The ‘Commemorative Sales’ page: I’ve seen this across every social media board – a link to a page where a commemorative car magnet or mug is being sold, with “a portion of the profits” going to help the grieving families. Any time a sales page says “portion” of profits, they usually mean less than 1% of whatever they make off the scam, if that. You are better off donating directly to the community than buying whatever trinket is being offered to you online.
3. The Celeb quote or real-time update: This is a rather cruel trick, even compared to the above, where an anonymous meme will proclaim the dying words of a victim, or attribute a celebrity quote to further their own cause. The meme will say something like “Little Jessica’s last words were: ‘I hope people know my mommy and daddy were the best for me’ – LIKE and SHARE if you support traditional marriage!!!”, or ‘If only everyone in Sandy Hook had guns, this tragedy could have been avoided “ – Morgan Freeman’. These are almost always completely false, and preys on the emotional side of us to try and score political points for whatever the creator’s cause is.
If you are ever in doubt, go to a fact checking site like Snopes to see if the story you are spreading is real or a lie. They are unfortunately already very busy picking out fake images spreading from the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, which means there are going to be a lot more scam artists working in the next few days.
So how can you avoid scams, while also helping the victims of a tragedy? Here are some top tips:
1. If you want to donate to a community, go to their local webpage (almost every town has one) or local affiliate news station’s site. They will have detailed information on how to assist the community, from financial donations to blood drives. Your re-tweets or upvotes will not help anyone – they need cash for counsellors, funerals, and to repair buildings.
2.Many larger online entities will have donation pots available online for site-or –community specific donations. Amazon, Ebay, PayPal, and other larger retailers have a safe and secure way to donate money. If it’s not a webpage you’ve heard of before, don’t give them your credit card details! You are simply asking to be a victim of credit card fraud.
3.Contact your local Red Cross and ask to send your donation specifically to the victims of the tragedy. Larger charities have a great support network, and can get your donation straight to the source.
These are all completely safe ways to help in any post-catastrophe situation which ensures your donation will have the greatest bang for its buck when helping the victims and their families.
And finally, if you feel laws should change after a horrific incident, sharing a commemorative ribbon online and then forgetting about it in a week will not work. You have to pick up the phone and call your representatives from the House of Representatives, Senate, and White House to see change. A picture shared on Twitter or Myspace only makes you feel good for a second – a letter to your legislator could save future lives.