Facebook, fake news & snakes

There are some things in life, like good wine, pretty women and clotted cream, that can be both a blessing and a curse. A  modern example of such is Facebook. On the one hand it is a blessing, enabling people to re-establish communication with old friends, and especially old friends now spread around the globe, for whatever the reason.

But while Facebook is a wonder in keeping people in touch ~ and you’ll be surprised at how many elderly people use Facebook for just this purpose ~ it can also be a curse. Parents of a teenaged child or young adult will be familiar with the sight of their offspring hunched over their cellphones, tapping out messages to their friends. Endlessly, and frankly to the detriment of their social and physical development.

But there’s another reason why Facebook is a curse. And that’s because it’s a very fertile source of misinformation and scaremongering.

This was brought home to me recently when an august nature group named the African Snakebite Institute (ASI) sent out a newsletter to its impressively-large membership warning of the dangers of believing what one sees on Facebook and on the internet in general, citing three examples of videos that are widely circulated showing either dangerous practices or snakes that simply don’t exist.

For example, one video clip shows a man “hypnotising” a cobra. In the video, says the ASI, “it looks like an Egyptian Cobra and the handler puts pressure on the snake as he strokes it (especially in the region of the heart) and the snake immediately shams dead. It is then nonchalantly picked up ~ a dangerous practise as the snake may strike out unexpectedly. This is risky and not recommended.

“Playing dead is just one self-defence strategy for some snakes.”

Another popular video cited by the ASI shows a man free-handling three Puff Adders,  reportedly in Northwest Province. “Not just does he freely handle and even kiss one of the Puff Adders twice, but he drops one and catches it in mid-air. Many snakes are reluctant to bite and in this video he really pushes his luck. While he is not bitten while  this video was shot, it is only a matter of time before one of these snakes will bite. Not a safe practise at all and certainly not recommended.”

Photographs of giant snakes often do the rounds, invariably around 10% longer than the known length. “In most cases, however, the length of a snake is guessed and then there is forced perception where the snake is held close to the camera and the photograph taken using a wide angle lens.

There have also been a number of films since as far back as 2010, showing what is supposed to be a giant Anaconda “and the snake in these photographs is clearly one made for a film set. “Although the bulkiest snake in the world, the Anaconda is not the longest (that would be the Reticulated Python of Asia at around 7,5m) reaching a maximum length of around 6,5m.

“In some of the photographs the snake is on the back of a low-bed truck. High resolution photographs reveal that the items posted are in fact toys.  The images were created for a student project entitled “Vietnam Army caught the giant snake” in 2010, according to snopes.com, a popular and credible myth-busting website.

And, pushing the bounds of credulity to the max, says the ASI, “In June 2015, a story in which the same photographs were used, also included the following information:

‘The world’s largest Anaconda was caught in the Amazon forest. This snake had eaten 257 people & 2 325 animals. It is 134 feet long and 2 067 kg. This anaconda was caught alive by a long struggle after 37 days and killed by the Royal British commando force.“

This is a perfect example of the accuracy of the view of Adolph Hitler’s PR guru, Joseph Goebbels who said something like “tell a lie often enough, and make it big enough, and people will believe you.” Who, after all, would have counted, so precisely, the number of human and animal “victims” of the snake? And if you can despatch an elephant, which weighs much more than two tons, with one well-aimed bullet, it sure as hell ain’t gonna take longer than a month for a British Commando force to shoot a snake. Which brooks the question, of course: what would a British commando unit be doing in the Amazon in the first place? Invading Brazil? What bull-turd!

But if the entire German nation were taken in by the lies of Hitler and Goebbels what hope does a poor maligned snake have of a fair appraisal on the internet?.

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