We're living in a world where we have access to instant communications, couple this with busy workloads and tools to speed up that communication and it's no great surprise that a warning you receive will often be sent off to others without you checking out the details (or in a lot of cases without it even being read) Someone is always sending out warnings in this world. But this is a problem...
Like pretty much every Facebook user my timeline was recently full of friends reposting something along the lines of:
In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). etc etc
If you didn't already know, this is a hoax. One of the many Facebook and Twitter hoaxes that keep going around and around, for instance how many times have you seen a message saying Facebook is about to start charging etc. But like most hoaxes this is well documented on multiple sites (example 1, 2) so why do I still get about 5 of these a day.
People are lazy
The reason I get so many of these is the same reason drug services get so many drug warnings (you see what I did there, I started writing about Facebook and then brought it back to drugs, I'm getting good at this stuff) it's because people are inherently lazy, not you of course, but most people. It's far easier to hit the share button on Facebook, or the forward button on an email than it is to go and check the accuracy of a warning. But it goes further than that it's the fact so many warnings are passed on without people even thinking 'does this make sense?'.
Here are two examples from my experience, one of a hoax, one a bad warning:
- A previous colegue passed on a warning of HIV infected needles being stuffed down the back of cinema seats locally. This warning went from our local area to most parts of the UK (a peer on the south coast of the UK mentioned to me she'd received it). If however he'd taken the time to check Snopes he would have easily found this is an old hoax designed to demonise drug users.
- About 2 years ago I was working in a drug service and a warning came though saying that Heroin was being cut with Ketamine. OK thats a strange cut but still not beyond the realms of possibility, but this message then went on to say that the ketamine stopped Naloxone from working (naloxone is the opiate antagonist used to reverse ODs). This had been passed on around the UK without anyone asking 'how would that work'. Even a basic understanding of the drugs involved would tell you this was wrong.
How to easily check
So, the latest drug warning has come though (or indeed the latest 'Facebook is planning to steal you children and throw them into vats of acid' warning) what can you do to check.
- Have a worker who is tasked with checking facts
- Check quality news sources
- Check Snopes or Hoax Slayer
- Google a part of the text and the word hoax
- Once you've spotted the hoax let other know when you see them spread it, for those facebook ones it's easy to add into the comments, for drug warnings email around to the same distribution list that sent it
OK so now you're checking the facts on those alerts coming in, what about the ones you're sending out? Well in just the same way you can help make them easy to check for others
- Factual information: is there a supply of drugs that has caused medical problems, then let people know exactly where, and when. Include names of hospitals involved or named workers who collected the initial reports.
- Avoid stating gossip as fact: if the only refereance you have is some guy in the NSP coming in and saying he's heard that the gear is strong that's not enough for a warning. However if you get lots of people saying it let people know, but still let them know the source of the info.
- Date all events and warnings, it may take time for a warning to circulate and even with modern communications the message will be changed over time, I've seen the same warning doing the rounds for over 6 months before.
...don't automatically think that all strange sounding messages are hoaxes, back when the anthrax outbreak started in Scotland I initially brushed it off as an obvious hoax, I really shouldn't have of course , I should have checked it out further first.
So remember check messages before sending them on and make sure your messages are accurate, dated and have useful information.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice.com. He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.