Monday, 26 October 2015

Going Viral.... How A Paranormal Story Develops On Social Media.

I've been crazy busy over the last week, hence no blog posts. To compensate for this I thought I'd reproduce a piece I wrote for another site. A look at how a paranormal story develops on social media. Originally published 06/04/15.  

Is it me or has the "DERP" level reached maximum in the paranormal world this week? 

There's that Baby video that is just spreading like a virus. Which no one with HALF a brain could describe as paranormal in any way shape or form. Now there's a "skeptical" theory circulating about it that the baby was pulled by fishing line!

That's almost as unnecessary a mechanism to add to the story as a ghost is! If there is one thing worse than no skepticism, its bad skepticism!A hell of a lot of this stupidity is down to social media how its used, and what kind of stories and opinions gain traction.

On Friday 27/02/15 I posted this photo on several paranormal pages on Facebook. The reason I chose this picture is, initially it seems very spooky, but it only takes a moment of close examination to see that this is a camera strap hanging in front of the lens of the camera. The big clues are reflection of the flash from the metal clasp of the strap and the fact the its immediately in the foreground of the picture.

I gave additional clues as to the identity of object by describing the time period in which the photos were taken. 

So what was my reason for doing this? Was I just basically trolling the paranormal community on Facebook?

My intention was to see how a "paranormal" thread develops from the outside, what happens to commentators that hit on a rational explanation early on in the thread? Why do the threads continue after a rational explanation is offered? Does the rational explanation have a major baring on the rest of the thread?

The bigger question being would any of this tell me why a community filled with intelligent reasonable human beings, spreads rubbish like the recent "Baby falls over" post  and the creepy but easily explained Hampton Court Grey Lady, after a rational explanation had been offered?

Before I go any further I would like to thank anyone that commented, whatever their opinion happened to be. I hope no one feels to "tricked" by this, and understands why I couldn't be totally honest about the post. I have to say the results were pretty impressive. On the majority of pages there was an immediate skeptical response, many of the commenters knew exactly what the image in the picture was, and some went into great detail expressing this. 

These were just a few of the impressive skeptical responses early on, in various groups. There were many more.

I admit I was a little disappointed. I thought my photo had been debunked immediately, and that was that. Then an all too familiar thing started to happen. The paranormal explanations for the photo started to pile up.

The early skeptical responses were buried in the threads, simply by the weight of numbers of the paranormal responses, and by the very nature of how social media threads work. Very few people have the patience to read a whole thread before commenting. Some took note of the skeptical explanations and simply poured scorn on them.

My favourite example of this was the chap above who insisted camera straps didn't exist in the 90's!

 Then of course there were the commenters who claimed special abilities that allowed them to "know" that the photo was paranormal in nature:

This highlights an issue that skeptics have when they debate believers, especially believers claiming special skills or powers which have yet to be proven in any way shape or form.

The skeptic knows that she cannot claim anything with utter certainty. She is bound by likelihoods and probabilities. Certainly she can reach for Occam's Razor and select the most parsimonious explanation, but this still doesn't constitute certainty. The best we can offer is "beyond reasonable doubt". Even with the most open and shut cases.

Add to this the fact that skeptical explanations often require linking to additional sources, a scientific paper perhaps. If the person, or more often than not, the people you are debating aren't prepared to go and look at this, the skeptic's point goes unmade.

Now, if your opponent is claiming preternatural abilities they can dispense with this. Their abilities allow them to cite absolute certainty. This can be especially frustrating when the concept of the burden of proof is misunderstood or misapplied.

"Prove that this ISN'T a ghost" is a cry that I'm all to familiar with. To many the reasonable response "I can't. But I don't NEED to." sounds like a cop out, and i've often met with the smug "See! They admit they can't prove its not a ghost."

The skeptic is almost always hamstrung in the court of public opinion.

Take for example the moron who decided to respond to a well produced experimental paper regarding the validity of the Ghost Box by Nyack Paranormal, with a YOUTUBE VIDEO! A "debating" tactic straight out of creationist playbook. Now while the response is moronic, no one can argue that its far easier to digest. Reading that well-produced paper takes time and effort that watching a Youtube diatribe just doesn't. That's why creationist do it. It plays directly to their spoon-fed lazy audience.

Again note here, this chap making the rebuttal claims special abilities so he KNOWS the ghost box is a valid method of communicating with the dead. 

Unfortunately that's about all he knows. He is clearly unaware of the power of suggestion, and that telling people what they hear on the recording is what leads their brain to interpret the random audio in that way. Interesting that he did this and I still didn't hear much of what he claimed was there.

Of course, often where a skeptical explanation is offered its met with anger, accusations and name calling. I actually had to pull the thread on one group, because of the aggression that ensued. 

So what did I conclude from this. The paranormal community has good strong skeptical voices, and in that I am including many "believers" too. But these voices are too easily overcome. Its a case of empty cans rattling the loudest, unfortunately. The very nature of social media is simply more conducive to the loudest and most often heard voices, and in the paranormal community, this relates to the hard-core, unquestioning believer, who simply accepts anything posted to their group as paranormal.

That's what click-baiters like Before its News, the Paranormal Examiner, The Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror are, quite literally, banking on. They know its these people that will facilitate the sharing of their utter garbage. That fact that these stories have often been resolutely debunked won't matter as long as there are those prepared to ignore the debunkings and continue to share.As I write this several groups and sites are going potty over seance photos released by the "Vivaldi Psychic Circle" displaying tricks debunked almost a hundred years ago! The cheesecloth is just a bit glowy now that's all.

Nothing ever happens. A sprit "manifesting" in a seance now....

..... and then. 

I have little to no doubt that if these Vivaldi group images continue to spread, they will be picked up by a UK tabloid, which to some may lend the air of credibility to them.

That is what happens with these types of stories now, they circulate on social media until they are picked up by a news site turned into an article, which is dumped back on social media to circulate again, this time generating money for the organisation in question.

And the paranormal community, skeptics and believers and all shades between, will get to look like laughing stocks all over again. 

No comments:

Post a Comment