Thursday, February 24, 2011

Death by Facebook

In the world of Social Media Facebook is by far, and without a doubt, the most powerful player at the present time as far as Social Media goes. A single post on Facebook, shared with your friends, can be before thousands of people within a matter of minutes.

Such is the case of what happened recently with Jeff Dukatt, owner of Dukatt '71 in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Jeff Dukatt recently contracted with Obsidian Moon Creations to give the website for his business a complete overhaul. The same day I received the signed contract, deposit, and CDs with images in the mail, Jeff called to let me know "I'm not dead!".

The story behind the statement "I'm not dead" is quite the ordeal, and shows the power of Social Media, but also how something, whether true or false, can go viral.

"As you may or may not know I, Jeffery Dukatt, am not dead!" That is the line that starts out an article in both the Sierra County Sentinel and The Herald newspapers. What transpired is that a known man on a Thursday morning told someone at a local grocery store that Jeff Dukatt had had a heart attack and died.

The same day, this individual told someone at another store the same thing. The man at the second store called his girlfriend and passed the rumor on to her. She, in turn, "posted the information on Facebook, which was seen by several of her friends", including a reporter who passed the information along. From there, the information went viral.

Jeff was out of town at the time, and was out of cell phone range (which is common place). When Jeff once again had cell phone coverage, he had over 40 calls on his voicemail, many of which were hang-ups, but one call was from the Truth or Consequences Police. Upon checking with the police, they were doing a "welfare check" due to numerous calls they had received that Jeff Dukatt had suffered a heart attack and had died.

From customer, friends, a priest, local police, state police, and even border patrol agents, so many had heard that Jeff Dukatt had died of a heart attack. To think that this all started with one man telling someone, who called his girlfriend, who posted the information on Facebook shows the power behind Social Networking.

We've all heard the stories about the teen that committed suicide. Something like this makes one wonder if a rumor may have been started about that teen, it was posted on Facebook, which totally destroyed the teen, which resulted in his committing suicide. A simple Google search supports this theory. USA Today has a story about a teenage girl that committed suicide after nine teens bullied her on Facebook. Another in The New York Times reports another teen suicide due to activity on Facebook. Reuters has an article titled "Teen suicide put spotlight on high-tech bullying".

We live in a high-tech, digital age where information is quickly at hand, and information can be spread around the globe within minutes. What we need to do is not simply pass information along simply because someone sends it to us, and asks us to forward it. The responsible thing to do would be to actually CHECK OUT THE FACTS. Did this recent "Death by Facebook" destroy Jeff Dukatt? Not at all, but it did make is life quite a bit more interesting over the following few weeks with people from around the country calling his cell phone and store to see if the rumor, spread over Facebook, was true or false. In the end, the girl who posted the initial blurb on Facebook, recinded the statement and apologized, but by then the "damage" had already been done.

When reading something, or posting/forwarding information, be sure to check the validity of what you are posting. And don't just check with the person that sent it to you, but contact the person it's about. Rumors and gossip need to stop.

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