Context Is Key
A frame from the viral Haiti UFO video
One of the most important things to consider when evaluating the legitimacy of information found on the internet is context. The original context of a piece of information includes vital details about its creation or distribution, such as who created it, and why. It’s common for information on the internet to be distributed without its original context. This results in the information being misinterpreted and misattributed, as people try to fill in the gaps for themselves. This is often how urban legends get started. A story with a small grain of truth to it is distributed without context, new contexts are invented.
Information distributed without context is prone to misinterpretation
The End is Nigh, at least if you believe Harold Camping. Camping, a former engineer and Christian broadcaster, used numerological principles to calculate the date of the Rapture , in which “the Elect” are taking up to heaven, and non-believers are left behind. The date that Camping chose for the rapture was May 21st, 2011, based on various calculations taken from the Bible. On this date all of the true followers of Christ (about 3% of the population) would be called into Heaven. Everyone who have ever died will be raised from their graves, those who died as saved Christians will be taken up to heaven, the unsaved will have their lifeless bodies scattered across the earth. A series of massive earthquakes would occur around the globe, at 6pm local time. Exactly 5 months later, on October 21st, 2011, the world will be completely destroyed.
Naturally, May 21st came and went, and nothing happened. In a statement made by Camping on May 22nd, he was “flabbergasted” that the Rapture did not occur, and was seeking answers as to why. On May 23rd, he made a statement on his Open Forum radio program, saying that May 21st was actually an “invisible” judgement day, in which all humanity was judged spiritually. The “true” date of the rapture is October 21st, today.
He has already started the backpeddling. He’s gone from “May 21st is definitely the day”, to “May 21st was the spiritual rapture, the end of the world is in October”, to, in a recent statement “The end is going to come very quietly, probably in the next month”.
Camping was awarded the 2011 IgNobel award for mathematics, “For teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations”
Its easy to dismiss guys like Camping as harmless, delusional crackpots. He clearly believes what he is saying is true, and probably thinks that he’s helping people by warning them of imminent apocalypse. However doomsayers like Camping are dangerous. Camping spent an estimated $100million promoting the May 21st event, purchasing thousands of billboards across the US and several caravans painted with warnings of the Rapture. His radio show reaches millions of listeners across the country, and a good number of them trust his predictions.
Aside from the massive waste of money spent on advertising (how many homeless people could $100million have helped?) there are more dire consequences of the words of doomsday prophets like Camping. In March, 2011, Californian mother Lyn Benedetto told her daughers to lie down on their beds, then cut their throats with a box cutter, before attempting to cut her own. All three survived the incident. When questioned why she did it, Benedetto said that the Tribulation was coming, and she wanted to prevent her daughters from suffering. The children are now in the care of child services, and will likely be psychologically scarred for life from the incident.
On the predicted day of the Rapture, 14 year old Nastya Zachinova, terrified by the predictions of Camping, hung herself after school.
The predictions of guys like Camping affect lives. No matter how crazy they may appear to the majority, there will always be some people who believe them. Some of the believers will already been in an unstable state, and the confident predictions of an influential person like Camping may be enough to push them over the edge. After the failed prediction of May 21st, Campings followers have been declining, however there are some who still believe. When his October prediction inevitably falls through, more and more of his followers will start to realise that they’ve been conned.
Which brings me to my own prediction. Today will come and go, the world will NOT end, and in the next few days and weeks we will see a statement from Camping explaining how he must have made a miscalculation and the actual date is X, or that perhaps God has spared the earth for another millenia. What we will NOT see is Camping admitting that he’s wrong, apologise for wasting millions of dollars on spreading fear and propaganda, and announce that he will no longer try to predict the end of the world.
Source: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons
I decided to post a follow up to my previous post
on the Occupy Wall Street photoshopped image, to clarify a couple of details and dispel some of the rumours going around.
Firstly, the origins of the image itself. The original photoshopped image was produced by digital artist Scott Lickstein, who intended it to represent a “virtual 99% turnout”, ie what the OWS protests would look like if all of the people supporting the movement online could turn up at the protests in person (thanks Terrance for the info). Whilst Lickstein’s other work certainly has a political bent to it, this piece was never intended to mislead people into believing it to be a real image. I mention this because it appears that Lickstein has had accusations levelled at him of deliberately faking the image to misinform the public and/or discredit the movement. To the best of my knowledge this is not the case.
The crowd in the original Google maps image along the south-east side of Broadway is real, and captures a protest of New York City fire fighters against the cutting of twenty fire companies by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in June, 2011 (thanks Erik for the link). Lickstein expanded the crowd to fill the streets around City Hall to represent all the online supporters of the movement.
The image was picked up on the web by some people believing it to be real, and several individuals added their own captions to the image implying that the image is a real representation of the protests, and that the mainstream media was covering it up. This was when it came to my attention, and I decided to demonstrate that the image is fake and try and prevent it from being further disseminated as truth. I was not the first person on the internet to point it out as a photoshopped image. » Continue Reading…